How Independent Creatives Can Survive the Coronavirus Crisis

Artwork by Craig Black

Designer Craig Black details the three steps he's using to adapt to creating, working and living in our completely changed world. 

I’m an independent designer, lettering artist and typographer running my own studio from my hometown of Gourock in Scotland and to sum things up: The past few weeks have been chaos.

The Coronavirus pandemic has struck and as a result the world has seemingly changed forever. On a personal level it has been really scary as my wife is pregnant, my gran is in lockdown in a care home and several members of my family are on their own serving their self-isolation sentence. On top of that, I’ve got a business to run through these challenging times.

What I am about to share with you is actionable steps that I have taken to ensure my business and my mental wellbeing will survive through these challenging times. I really hope that this insight can provide value to the community. Take it as you wish but these are the things that have worked for me and hopefully can help you on your journey.

Step 01: The mentality to win

Mindset is so important in these challenging times. Those who know me know I’m an incredibly positive person, it’s the way I’ve programmed my mind and life for the better. I always believe that there is an opportunity to be found in the darkest of moments.

My wife Ally is a mental health nurse and she recommended these tips which work for me:

  • Ensuring you maintain a structured routine. Set your alarm as you would for work, get up at the same time every day. Go for a shower, have breakfast and get changed out of your pyjamas in preparation for starting work. Schedule a lunch break and a finish time and try to stick to a reasonable bedtime as you would during a normal working week. You should try to structure your day in a similar format to how you would normally work. This will then clearly separate 'work time' from 'chill time' as these can get easily mixed up when working from home.
  • Getting daily exercise outside of the work environment to give yourself a break away from work and take time to think about the things that you are grateful for: family, a roof over your head, food in the fridge.
  • Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet – if you are eating well, you generally tend to feel better overall. Try not to slip into the habit of eating unhealthily and ordering numerous takeaways through boredom as this will ultimately make you feel worse in the long term, not to mention financially worse off too.
  • Cut down the amount of time you spend on social media and instead focus on spending 'chill time' with loved ones or getting stuck into a great book or create a piece of artwork.
  • Embrace the downtimes: if there are things you have been meaning to do for a while and not got round to, now is the time to do it. My wife and I have only just got round to putting up our wedding photos and we got married almost a year ago. Doing things like this make you feel more productive and you end the day having achieved something that you otherwise wouldn't have.

Take it day by day but also look at the bigger picture, I know we are in this crazy situation and it can all look doom and gloom but eventually this chaos will end. However one thing that is very clear, the world that we live in has definitely changed as well as people’s perspectives on life.

Step 02 :  Survival

The key is to survive during this challenging time.

One thing that has worked for me is helping my clients to extend more favourable payment terms – rather than the usual 50% deposit and 50% completion fee, I have adapted that to a four-stage payment structure of 25% fee over a project duration to help my client’s cashflow. Something to consider is providing a discount for your client, remember the key here is to survive.

One thing to look at right away is cutting down your costs:

  • There's a way to get 60 days of your Adobe Creative Cloud subscription for free (detailed in the story linked to above).  
  • Speak to your mortgage provider about the three-month mortgage payment holiday which is available to help people out.
  • Also speak to your credit card provider to see if they are also able to suspend payments for a period of time.
  • Go back to basics. Think about what you really need – what is essential for you to get by. Does that mean cutting down on the takeaway meals and do more cooking at home to help bring the costs down?
  • Look into securing revenue in the short term.

Also consider looking for opportunities to take equity in the right client. Ideally we want money now but the payoff could be much greater in the long run.

It’s important to talk to your current and past clients. Check in to see how they are doing and how you can help them out. Focus on the relationship with your client ahead of the revenue as those relationships are the key to future work.

Unfortunately some clients will be struggling and potentially unable to survive this current crisis. Therefore if they can tell you that they can’t work with you anymore, then you would like to receive that news as early as possible so you can adapt to the situation.

Once the economy turns good again, you want to be firing on all cylinders and ready to rock and roll because all these brands and businesses will be wanting to get back to their successful state as soon as possible and you need to be ready to help them get to that level with your creative magic.

Step 03:  Adapt your service

Consider pivoting either the services you offer or the markets you serve. For example: if you were an illustrator who specialises in editorial design – could you adapt you illustration services across branding, packaging, digital and motion graphics?

My biggest asset has been my versatility in typography and lettering as my work works across branding, packaging, installations, murals, digital and everything in between. I’m hugely fortunate to have projects continuing on and new ones coming in during this challenging time but I know a huge factor in making that happen is my versatility and my relationship with those clients (who I see more as collaborators than clients).

To give you an idea, I am currently working on the following:

  • Creating the logo typeface and accompanying font for a football club (my dream project, by the way)
  • Creating a wordmark for a tech company based in San Francisco.
  • Branding and packaging for an exciting wine brand.
  • Lettering artwork for a national campaign.
  • Digitally printed mural design for a well known beer brand.

I’ve realised that it’s easier to offer new services to existing clients than it is to find new clients for existing services, so your focus should be on the challenges and the needs of your client in this present time and adapt to that situation.

Creatives are problem solvers, so help your clients with their problems. And even if it’s out with your remit to fix that problem, be helpful and recommend someone on to help them out. People appreciate this and it will come back around and help you out like good ol’ karma.

Also worth asking your clients what they value most and least from the work that you do for them and see if you can use that as a stepping stone to gain more work.

Consider delivering more value as a consultant or teacher. Have you thought about creating an online workshop? Things are moving onto a digital platform more than ever  —  get on board.

Make it your goal to come out of this crisis and into the future positioned to win. Look further ahead than everyone else in the market and bet on yourself to succeed.

Having that goal will shift your mindset from negative to positive. It will truly make a difference.

One thing I say to myself every single morning as part of my visualisation process and positive affirmations is "I commit today to do what it takes to succeed. I take responsibility for where I am."

This rings so true for me, take responsibility for the situation you’re in, own it and try everything in your power to overcome all the challenges that you face and at the end of it you’ll be able to shout:

"Coronavirus ... completed it mate!"

Craig Black, in happier times.

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