‘Hold onto your underwear,’ I thought, when the pandemic settled in. Anyone caught in the interplay between shutdown, cash flow, and desperation with their proverbial panties in a wad wouldn’t potentially fare well in re-establishing client relationships. Generally, the first thing to go in an iffy business climate are the marketing people and designers (after seeing too many years of this). Then, as businesses began to open and retain some form of forward progress, I started to slowly see the remnants of what I saw post-Katrina in the Deep South—new opportunities.
What I saw in 2005, are personal injury attorneys who relocated from looted and flooded New Orleans to my little suburb, dumping money on billboards, signage, and buildings. Some clients we barely knew had lost their marketing people in the uprooting that the hurricane caused and flocked into our little haven. We were busier than ever, and we saw our moderate-sized RV client go from being a vacation/luxury buy to actual housing.
I’ve tried to assess what pockets of work are out there for creatives in the (and I hate this term) ‘new normal’. My inclination is to tell you that businesspeople are distracted, bothered, and worried. They are thinking about what they need to do to make up ground since the shutdown for far longer than you realize, and they consistently haven’t “called you in” because they are in survival mode. Now is the time that I’d suggest old fashioned communication. Stopping by with a tray of cookies-type contact, with no ploy for business—just saying hello behind your mask, and asking if everyone is ok, then leaving promptly. Trust me; they WILL remember that visit.
Personal letters, if you can muster the writing skills, are another big standout when things are looking weedy. I can count on one hand the number of personal letters I received from marketing firms seeking work from me. I can tell you, however, that I am almost 100% in responding to these letters and moving forward with a purchase of either services or products. Part of the reason is that in the tech age actual mailed letters are so darn remarkable and so authentic. I am not talking about bulk letters; I am referring to a live stamp and hand-written address lines. Yes, type the letter. But hand address the envelope. It has a better chance of getting put on the desk of the owner/CEO.
Is there a magic formula for getting renewed web, design, or SEO work going in the current environs? No. The climate varies by county and even microcosm, which makes the equation to success that even harder to figure out. Instead of going guru, step back and think like a human (like Aunt Bea with her pie, really). The personal touch means more than ever, even if it’s touchless. If I’ve got a restaurant, I’m not only worried about the cash flow of my diminished capacity rules, I’m desperately considering whether my kids will go to college and whether I will be able to continue paying my best, most loyal people. I’m even worried about my phone bill. A kind word goes a long way, especially if it’s not opportunistic in nature.
The second level of worry that business people have to consider is their messaging and diversity environment. Never before has company culture mattered more. Make sure your own culture measures up. The consistent messaging I see ahead of us all is to muster a double-dose of compassion in our daily lives and work. Deliver the last half-hour of work free and show that on the billing. Thank people for their business. Be kind. A lot of the rejection you may see right now in the services arena isn’t personal.
I’ve never liked the red waters of competition; I’ve always favored the Blue Ocean Strategy methodology (Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée A. Mauborgne, https://www.amazon.com/Blue-Ocean-Strategy-Expanded-Uncontested/dp/1625274491/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1PWPBSLWQBZA6&dchild=1&keywords=blue+ocean+strategy&qid=1592227348&sprefix=blue+ocean+strategy%2Caps%2C198&sr=8-2
Blue Ocean Strategy is the top professional development book I’d recommend for marketers seeking to reinvent themselves or up their game. Other top reads would be Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, and The Purple Cow by Seth Godin. Godin gets a mite trivial inventing his latest quip, but nothing works better for me than his chapter on Shaving a Yak, which reminds me to stay focused on the task at hand. All these books are available in any given format, including audio. In my grumbly old school opinion, there’s zero excuse for not reading Blue Ocean Strategy at least once.
At any rate, good luck to you, and I hope you find uncommon fortune and calm waters going forward. I’d welcome an eye roll in saying you will have learned from this (I am eye-rolling myself) but it’s certainly true. Still, it’s the biggest horse pill any of us creatives have ever had to swallow unless you were in a cozy situation of having a monthly contract. You may have to get ‘sticky’ and you may have to do some form of groveling to stay relevant, but my fervent and patriotic hope is that nothing will ever completely stop business from happening in a free society. No force in heaven or earth can stop the entrepreneurial dream–yours included.