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The coronavirus outbreak has forced many businesses to adapt their service models to stay afloat. For companies that rely on client work, simply shifting your employees to teleworking won’t be enough to keep your business running.

During an extended crisis, design agencies and other service-based creative companies might wonder how to hold on to their clients and not lose too much business. Indeed, the UK’s Creative Industries Federation revealed that 42% of creative organizations have an income reduced by 100% since the beginning of the outbreak.

Your clients surely won’t have the same needs at this time as they normally would. Many companies will be scaling back operations, focusing primarily on keeping up day-to-day operations. They’re facing tough times just like you are, and they might, unfortunately, classify your agency’s services as “non-essential” during this time. If you’re running a creative agency, your clients have probably reduced or outright canceled their contracts with you during this crisis.

How, as a creative agency, can you avoid losing clients and lead your business successfully through the coronavirus outbreak?

Right now, it seems like businesses won’t have the need for your services, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

You can keep your clients and keep your creative agency running with these six tips:

  1. Taking advantage of free and reduced-price business products.
  2. Adapting your service model.
  3. Ensuring the relevancy of your services.
  4. Upgrading tech for betting communication.
  5. Streamlining your creative project management.
  6. Recalibrating your advertising.

Let’s look at each tip in more detail.

Use Free Trials That Are on Offer During the Pandemic

The current outbreak has hit creative industries hard, so some companies are offering free trials or reduced subscription costs for their services and products. A notable one for design agencies is Adobe, which has announced a free, two-month trial to all subscribers, for all of its Creative Cloud products. For creative businesses, that’s one less expense to pay during the crisis – or an opportunity to learn a new product.

In addition to Adobe, there are many other services, software, and products that are available for free right now.

For communication tools, check out Google’s free premium video chat, Comcast’s free Xfinity WiFi hotspots, Intermedia’s free video-conferencing throughout 2020, or Panopto’s free three-month access. These are only a few of the video and messaging services that have free trials available for businesses during the coronavirus outbreak.

Creative agencies can’t run without communication tools, nor can they function without productivity tools. Some of the best free ones on offer during the coronavirus pandemic are Microsoft’s free six-month trial of Office 365 E1 Trial, Zoho’s free suite of Remotely apps, a three-month file sharing and collaboration plan from Box, and a free eSign plan for unlimited document uploads with PandaDoc.

Finally, your design agency’s marketing efforts have probably nosedived in the last weeks. Fortunately, there are some great, free marketing tools to help you keep your campaigns up. Hootsuite is offering free access to its Professional tier for small businesses and nonprofits. There’s also Benchmark’s free trial for its email marketing tool and Chamaileon.io’s free plan for its email design editor.

Taking advantage of free offers on business tools could be the difference between keeping your creative agency running or shuttering. You’ll save on expenses and maybe learn to love a new product! An entrepreneur has a great comprehensive list of free-trial tools on offer at the moment.

 Adapt Your Service Offerings

Reducing expenses by using free products is only a small part of keeping your creative business running. Free services won’t be useful if you lose all of your clients. That’s why you should also pivot your services to better address your clients’ needs.

As a design agency, you need to repackage your offerings to emphasize that your services are still vital during a business’ crisis-mode. A presentation design agency, for example, can alter their services for their clients’ telework. A big sales pitch a client had planned will now be carried out via a video conferencing platform, so the presentation agency now offers PowerPoint templates specific to virtual presentations.

Or maybe a client wants to launch an internal communication campaign to send out COVID-19 updates to their now-remote workforce. A design agency could emphasize its business communication offerings to meet this need.

The same presentation agency, which usually hosts workshops on public speaking, could alter their presentation skills services completely. Running virtual workshops on how to give a speech or deliver a presentation remotely would be a much more useful and very welcome shift in services.

Adapting your services to meet clients’ virtual needs will be one of the easiest ways to keep your design agency afloat. Pinpoint exactly what your clients would find useful during this time, and steer your creative services in that direction.

You might find yourself outside your comfort zone or having to use some ingenuity to develop altered versions of your traditional services. But if you want your business to succeed, you can’t afford to push your limits. Responding quickly and offering new or modified services early on in the outbreak will lead more businesses to you, as they also grapple with changes to their working situation.

Ensure Your Services Will Still Be Relevant After the Crisis

While on the one hand, you should move quickly to adapt your services, on the other hand, you should ensure your offerings will continue to be relevant after the crisis. Your goal should be to fill your clients’ immediate needs whilst preparing yourself for the months ahead.

You accomplish this by avoiding overly specific new offerings. Overhauling your design or writing services to cater only toward businesses in this particular situation will give you trouble later on when the crisis has abated some. Offering a public-health or coronavirus-themed design package might sell well for the immediate future. But in several months, clients won’t be as interested. Make sure that if you do offer something coronavirus-specific, you can easily shift your model again afterward.

Or, better yet, identify a need that’s come up for clients right now that isn’t going away any time soon. Take the previous example with the presentation design agency and virtual presentation workshops. This service would be effective in the short term and sustainable afterward.

When deciding how to refine your services during the outbreak, forecast how trends will change in the coming months. Telework and virtual events or presentations have quickly become the norm in the business world. But if recent trends are any indication, remote working will still be prevalent after the crisis has subsided. Services aimed at facilitating remote work would be a smart move for a creative agency.

Upgrade Your Tech for Better Communication

Another important consideration for your business to keep running during the coronavirus crisis is communication. Both amongst your staff and with clients, communication has changed dramatically since the outbreak began. The group brainstorming sessions at your office are no longer available and neither is meeting with prospective clients in-person to pitch your services. With everything going remote, you should ensure your communication tech is up-to-date.

If you have the outdated tech, it’s worthwhile to consider upgrading. Now is the time to stay accessible and agile. If your clients can’t reach you easily, they won’t want to give you their business. That’s why consistent, transparent communication with both your staff and clients is essential during a crisis.

You can facilitate better communication with the right tools. There are many videoconferencing applications out there (some of which are mentioned in the first section above). If your company doesn’t already use one, pick one and make sure each employee knows how to use it. Messaging and video apps are so ubiquitous now that you can find decent ones for little or no cost. Videoconferencing applications like Zoom or internal messaging channels like Slack are popular for keeping both staff members and clients connected.

If your team will be working and contacting clients from home, make sure they have the right tech. Everyone should have laptops, high-quality microphones – USB microphones are good – and webcams.

Keeping up engagement with employees during quarantine is challenging. Making sure they have the tools they need to keep doing their jobs will help things go more smoothly.

Streamline Your Project Management

Creative project management is geared specifically toward managing a team assigned with a creative task. Or it could also be an intermediary between technical or administrative teams and creative teams.

As a creative agency, you probably have a project management workflow in place. The COVID-19 outbreak has undoubtedly forced you to modify this process. Instead of lamenting the interruption in your creative project management – or worse, letting it fall completely by the wayside – use the crisis as an opportunity to refine your workflow. If your design agency doesn’t work on a project basis or utilize project management, then now is a great time to start.

Having your team working remotely is a chance to review your communication channels. Do you have a customer relationship management (CRM) system in place to track your advertising and navigate outreach to potential clients? Does your team send status-update emails or instant messages frequently? Do you like to generate new ideas for a creative project or new client with a kickoff meeting?

These are all important project management questions to ask yourself as people are working from home. Better communication is essential when you can’t stop by your project manager’s desk with a question on your latest client. Furthermore, automating outreach emails and workflow updates, as well as hosting project launch meetings virtually, could make your creative project management much more efficient.

Another consideration for your creative project management during the COVID-19 outbreak is updating your software. If you handle project management yourself as a designer, writer, artist, or general creative professional, then relying on software could ease some of your burdens.

Products like FunctionFox, Nifty PM, and GetFlow are designed with creative project management specifically in mind. See this list from The Digital Project Manager for a full list of software.

Recalibrate Your Advertising

During a crisis, you might feel hemmed in by advertising. You aren’t sure what’s appropriate and what’s not and you don’t want to feel intrusive upon your prospective clients. This sentiment is understandable, but as a design agency, you can’t afford to completely cut out marketing efforts. If clients don’t know that you’re still doing business, then you won’t have any business.

When it comes to marketing during a crisis, the best approach is to keep things simple. You’ll have to adapt your message to the situation and if you’ve pivoted your services. Be direct and state plainly and simply what you offer. Better yet, let previous client testimonials and reviews shine more brightly than before. Emphasize the value you can bring to clients at this time in the plainest terms possible.

Another tip for reworking your advertising is to keep your tone light. Right now, most people appreciate some light-hearted humor to lift their spirits. People respond positively to these campaigns. Your design agency’s prospective clients will be no different. The middle of a crisis is not the time to be controversial with advertising and if you want your marketing to turn heads, have it be for good reasons.


Conclusion

The coronavirus outbreak has presented unique challenges for many businesses, design agencies included.

Let’s recap the main points for keeping your creative business running:

  • By taking advantage of free trials, you can save on some business expenses or learn new products.
  • In pivoting your service model, you can continue to work with current clients and even reach new ones during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • By forecasting trends, you can ensure your new offerings stay relevant even after the pandemic has lessened.
  • Upgrading your communications tech to stay connected with your team and your clients is a must right now.
  • The coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity to streamline your creative project management.
  • Your design agency shouldn’t cease marketing efforts during the crisis, but should instead shift advertising to better fit the situation and your new services.

With these steps, you can successfully lead your creative agency through the coronavirus outbreak.

Written By
Holly Faulkner is the co-founder and director of the Purple Patch Group, a business that started life as a London events agency over 10 years ago. Through years of live events experience on both sides of the fence, managing them, and sitting front row, Holly Faulkner launched the Presentation Experts. A specialist presentation design agency focusing on creating outstanding presentations for live events, speakers, and other events visuals.

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