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Lessons in Lockdown: A murmuring from isolation

Ramblings
By the time this post is shared with you, I would have managed to get to grips with this pandemic and the impact it is having on both myself personally and my business. Writing this has been a great way to offload my thoughts and clear my mind, so I apologise in advance if it’s a bit repetitive or disjointed but it has proved to be quite therapeutic.

Relief
Speaking as a father, husband and son, I am relieved to say that myself and my family are safe and well for now and would like to express my gratitude to our amazing NHS and all the keyworkers of Great Britain that are keeping this country running.

Speaking as an MD, I am relieved to say that my staff find themselves in good health and that they are all bronzing nicely in this beautiful weather, but the biggest relief as an MD is to be able to say that I have paid all our suppliers. Thankfully I don’t owe any money to anyone other than Mr Tax Man for last quarter’s VAT which has gratefully been temporarily deferred by The Inland Revenue.

Before the Furlough scheme was announced, my staff were offering ways to help the business that were truly remarkable, totally selfless and highlighted what a great team I have. It gave me an enormous sense of pride knowing that when we come out the other side of this nightmare, we have each other’s backs.

If it was not for the government’s help it would probably not have been possible for me to retain my staff and I feel the government should be applauded for what they are doing to support businesses. I know that without their help I would be losing valuable members of my team and without them, I have no business.

Mr Cautious
As a person I am naturally quite risk averse and have always been cautious with money and struggle to relax knowing I have large sums of money to pay, like our annual Corporation Tax bill for example. This one especially always makes me twitchy and I have never been able to relax knowing it is looming due to its steady growth year on year. As soon as the settlement figure is received, I want it paid so it is not taunting me for months to come. Getting it paid with urgency helps me analyse what cash is left in the pot for the business and I find operating this way helps reduce the financial pressures the majority of MD’s feel.

For me personally, knowing that our suppliers and contractors are fully paid helps relieve some of the stress that I’ve been feeling during this period.

You can never plan for a pandemic, but I have always planned for those “unforeseen circumstances” where a client has been unable to settle their accounts. This turn of events can quickly see you knee deep in shite and can quickly spiral out of control. Thankfully, this forward planning has helped me enormously in today’s situation.

Honesty is the best policy
Even at times like this, I endeavour to honour our commitments and think that’s what every business or individual should also strive to do. At the beginning of this pandemic I was preparing myself to have some very uncomfortable conversations with our suppliers in fear that we would not be able to settle our bills. Avoiding the situation would not make it miraculous disappear and would only defer my debt onto someone else. It’s the knock on effect of clients not paying clients that will potentially hurt other businesses. Fortunately, I have paid up and settled, even though it means we are currently running at a huge loss on certain projects due to non-paying clients, I can sleep a little bit easier knowing my business has not directly impacted anyone else’s.

I appreciate everyone will manage this situation differently, but sadly we have a couple of clients that owe us money who seem to have gone off the radar and are not answering our telephone calls or emails. It is this lack of willingness to have an honest adult conversation that makes me question the credibility of some businesses or individuals who I engage with.

Thankfully these are the minority and most of our clients have been able to pay us for our time to date, even though they have chosen to temporarily pause their ongoing projects; and others that have found themselves in financial difficulty have kindly been upfront from the start and informed us early on so that we could reach a viable agreement to spread payments for any money owed.

Priorities
The priority for me is obviously to keep Frost going and for now, I am confident I have done all I can to steady the ship but all this is based on predictions and is completely out of my control.

As a business owner, I have probably experienced more these past few months then I ever have over the past 5 years of running this business. I’ve had to make some difficult decisions over the past two months and have had many difficult conversations with my team. At times it has been ridiculously stressful, and I have struggled to see a way out. My way of dealing with this pressure was to over indulge and I consumed a colossal amount of junk food and alcohol. For a time it made me feel better but after struggling with a Joe Wicks 30min PE session with my young daughters, it made me realise that enough was enough and it was time to lead by example at home, as well as in the Studio. My mindset has completely U-turned and I have realised that ultimately it is your family and close friends that really help you in times like these, not the bottom of a crisp packet and beer bottle! I still enjoy a beer or two but just limit that to weekends only.

Relax
As expected business has slowed, the phone has stopped ringing and large projects have been put on hold, but that’s OK. WE will be OK. Like every other agency, we’ve engaged with our clients, offered support, free advice, done pro-bono work and reduced our rates but the fact of the matter is, everyone has their own shit and stresses to deal with and no matter how hard we try, everyone, apart from the supermarkets, have pretty much ground to a halt. For this reason, I’m going to try and chill. I have ensured that our clients know we are here to help them when they are ready. We are all adjusting to this ‘new way of working’ using more of Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts than we ever did before. However, for me, that is all bollocks and I don’t like this forced new way of working and hope this does not become the new “normal”. I want to be in my studio with my team; laughing, joking, bickering, listening to the dog bark at the sandwich van on his rounds and doing work that we are proud of in an environment we are proud of. I want to finish decorating our wonderful new studio and get back to our original plan of being able to invite clients, prospects and students into our space for ‘Lunch and Learn’ days, a space that we are proud of – not the tin shed we were based in, in December.

Reflection
Although I can’t wait to get back to some sort of normal, being at home with my family 24/7 has given me a new perspective on things. Hearing all the horror stories in the press has emphasised just how precious time is and at the end of the day work is just work and family is far more important to me. I’ve come to realise how much precious time I have missed with them during the past five years of growing Frost. It is sad for me to say, but I have really got to know my children in a way I never would have if it wasn’t for this lockdown as it has forced me to take time away from my work and truly focus on them. I have two truly amazing daughters who share the same DNA but are completely unique in their own rights. I admire them both immensely for how well they have adapted to this bizarre change in their lifestyles. I’ve also been reminded of why I fell in love with my wife all those years ago.

Design has always been a hobby for me and I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to do what I love as a full time job. I am a designer by trade. Always have been and always will be. However, it is still just a job. If the worst comes to the worst, I can start again. Why? Because I know that my family are always here supporting me. They are my biggest achievement in life and they are what is important. If the only thing I gain from this lockdown is the reminder that from now on work must ALWAYS come second to my family, then I have still won.

Moving forwards
We are still working as normal as can be, we’ve been supporting the Office of National Statistics with a variety of campaign assets, RTSFC with ongoing content creative and building the first e-commerce platform for Kingsworthy Foundry, a 75 year old retailer, in record time. I know our work will transform their sales, but it took this pandemic to finally listen and get the work done! We’re also working through a business process and transformation procedure with a client that needs to evolve its process and service delivery, to be more seamless and digital.

It’s all positive and we are still doing some great stuff, it’s just being done at a calmer pace and that’s quite nice for now.

If you have read down this far then I apologise for not offering anything free or given some insight into how you should be doing this or doing that. The truth is, there are no right or wrong answers for what any of us are doing just now. We are all winging it a bit! I strongly believe you should just stay focused; try and be as positive as you can, keep communication lines going and plan for getting out the other side because how you’re engaging with your audience now, and when things get back to normal, will be vital.

That’s what we’re doing and we are looking forward to getting back to normal whenever that time comes.

There’s a lot of smoke being blown around and not enough honesty out there. If any of you can relate to this, then hopefully you can take some reassurance that you are not alone and we’re all going through the same things. If you want a chat, then give me a call.

Stay Safe and see you on the other side…