How to Step Up when the World Locks Down
Three Creative Business Owners Share their Lockdown Pivots
As my family and I ever so cautiously emerge from lockdown, I wanted to take some time to reflect on the personal and professional rollercoaster we’ve experienced. What are the lessons? With a little hindsight, what practices and attitudes can we take into “the new normal”? This blog post focuses on my experience as a creative business owner (personal reflections will follow in due course). For added spice, it’s written in collaboration with three brilliant creative entrepreneurs I witnessed take flight, defying the gravitational pull of Covid.
Jacquie Lawes, founder of the award-winning White Olive Design Studio saw the postponement of summer 2020 weddings as her chance to serve a new customer – wedding and creative industry suppliers. “If there was ever a good time for this to happen, this has been it for my business. I’d already started rebranding well before the dreaded Covid struck. But this time during lockdown provided the perfect opportunity to allow me to step away from wedding stationery and push the other side of my business as a brand designer and product photographer for luxury artisans and female entrepreneurs.” Jacquie ramped up her branding studio, Bailey & Roo, and refined the marketing and comms away from her stationery and calligraphy business, White Olive. It’s a story I’ve heard many times since March – the idea was already there, the skillset, the drive – but it took the dramatic external change in circumstances to release a now or never energy.
It reminds me of that quote (often falsely attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt – but hey, that’s a whole other blog post): “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”
One Giant Side Step
Dani from The Curated Kitchen (Wedding Industry Awards 2020 Best Newcomer) agrees. Having quickly gained a reputation for her innovative grazing tables at wedidngs and events, a few weeks ago, she launched her meze style grazing boxes as a home delivery service. What started as a simple act of kindness became the new incarnation of her business, allowing her to survive, nay thrive, under the pressure the virus put on her.
“The grazing boxes had been on my mind since the beginning of lockdown, but I didn’t have the confidence that I’d always be able to get the produce and nor could I justify it in my mind as essential travel. Then, with lockdown measures easing, I decided to surprise one of my lovely couples who had been forced to postpone their wedding, on what would have been their wedding day. I shared it on my Instagram Stories and got such a positive response that I decided it might be time to roll them out. It’s been so enjoyable to get back to being creative, but also spreading the joy and seeing the reaction when I do my doorstep deliveries!”
Aligning with my Queen Power
When I started my business 2.5 years ago, I was acutely aware of the business I wanted to have. Exactly how I was going to make it happen was always a little more blurry around the edges (still is, some days). Yet I was adamant my life’s work would be to spread a little happiness by sharing my gift for recreating symbolic moments of beauty through illustrations that would last a lifetime. I would lean into my talents, find my joy, and market it in a way that resonated with the kind of people I wanted to work alongside. I call it aligning with my queen power. I see it in Dani’s lockdown pivot too. She took what she could do, what she could control, and just tweaked her business enough that she may continue to serve her ideal customers, spreading happiness along the way. Fruit and cheese with a sprinkling of edible flowers, direct to my doorstep? Yes please, Lady.
The Mechanics of a Pivot
Dani touched on a feeling that I know stabs so many creative business owners in the gut the second they think of a good idea. We can be guilty of letting all hows, whens and how muches sabotage the spirit of the idea before we allow it to take its first breath. So, I spoke to Gemma Hales, founder of artisan studio floristry Iris & Co about the mechanics of pivoting a business in a pandemic. With weddings banned, summer 2020 floristry wilted faster than a tomato plant in a botanical illustrator’s south-facing home studio (if that reference landed, you may enjoy this blog post about my tropical studio)… Gemma turned her apartment into a garden nursery and built a e-commerce function into her existing floristry portfolio website. Within a week, she had orders and was an online house plant and plantcare retailer.
Below: my Wedding Bouquet Illustration Service, original bouquet design by Gemma Hales, founder of Iris & Co
Beyond the Comfot Zone
“I had no idea if it was going to work. I saw people pivoting and I knew people were trying to make their homes a bit brighter and nicer over lockdown. A few plant websites I regularly browse had a lot of out of stocks, so I was aware that people were shopping. However, I didn’t know if they would ever find little old me or be interested in what I was selling.”
“I think the hardest things are getting my head around the technical aspects, building the shop, reading analytics, making changes and using advertising formats I’ve not used before. Also, storage and logistics have been a big learning curve – I didn’t know I’d need so many cardboard boxes in so many sizes!”
“It’s pushed me hugely out of my comfort zone. I still have nervous times where my plants are being delivered and I worry that one might arrive damaged or a pot has cracked during shipping. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen very often at all. I love the instant gratification that comes with the shop as I see orders ping in. With weddings, a lot more time is invested in getting a booking and so receiving “you’ve made a sale” emails speaks to the impatient part of my personality that like to see the success quickly.”
Gemma catapulted herself at the concept of her business pivot, and in doing so, unearthed the solution to a niggle within her business model. I just know that beyond lockdown, she will balance the insane beauty of her wedding floristy with the quick wins of online retailing plants and botanical gifts. In that way, courage as a creative business owner will pay off, and the reward is total authentic alignment.
As for me, did I pull off a genius side-stepping pivot? No. In mid-March, I was quick to pull my daughters out of childcare/school, well ahead of BoJo’s announcements. The length of lockdown was such an unknown entity. I wrote a document I will share a fragment of below. It was called “March / April: What I CAN Do.” I wrote and underlined the following by way of introduction:
– inspire others
– grow online
– take bookings from newlyweds
– get educated in online business
While I may have aspired to the pivot in moments, I now see that document written in March was a manifesto of my intent. I’m proud to say I achieved all those things. I experienced my most financially successful month to date, in June 2020. I nestled into my alignment, and found professional contentment in my work, right where I am. To Jacquie, Dani and Gemma, featured in this blog post, I tip my oversized sunhat to you. As creative business owners, you have defied gravity and I’m grateful for the inspiration, ambition and downright determination you share.