Surviving the crisis of the coronavirus as an independent creative

I'm Craig Black, 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 terrifying 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 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. I'm a very positive person, and 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:

  • Ensure you maintain a structured routine, e.g. 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 typical working week. You should try to structure your day in a similar format to how you would generally work. This will then clearly separate "work time" from "chill time" as these can get easily mixed up when working from home.

  • Get 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, e.g. family, a roof over your head, food in the fridge.

  • Maintain 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 quality time with loved ones, getting stuck into a great book or creating a piece of artwork.

  • Embrace the downtimes, if there are things you have meant 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: eventually, this chaos will end. However, one thing is obvious: the world that we live in has 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, i.e. rather than 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 cash flow.

Something to consider is providing a discount for your client: remember, the key here is to survive.

Something to look at right away is cutting down your costs:

  • Adobe has discounted their membership programme and has a 60-day free membership deal.
  • 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 some time.

There is other financial support out there depending on your circumstances.

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 and consider looking for opportunities to take equity in the right client. Ideally, we want money now, but the payoff could be much higher 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 former state as soon as possible. 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're an illustrator who specialises in editorial design, could you adapt your illustration services across branding, packaging, digital and motion graphics?

My biggest asset has been my versatility in typography and lettering as my work can be applied across branding, packaging, installations, murals, digital and everything in between. I'm hugely fortunate to have projects continuing 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.

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); 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 and 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 outside your remit to fix that problem, be helpful and recommend someone to help them out. People appreciate this, and it will come back around and help you out—it's karma.

It's 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 now moving onto digital platforms more than ever.

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.