Going Into Business. And Other Ideas to Thrive in the Covid-19 Economy

Why dark times can be full of opportunity

Like you, I've had a lot of time to think about the effects of Covid-19 on individuals and businesses in my local and global community. Between meditating and trying to meaningfully connect with the outside world through artificial means, I find myself vacillating between hope and fear.

In just two weeks, I've had more than 12 art exhibitions, branding projects, speaking engagements and networking events postpone or cancel—all totaling more than half of my yearly income. If only I hadn't spent that three-month emergency fund on the last emergency.

With fewer and fewer degrees of separation, I've witnessed people like you and me lose work hours, job safety and other means of vital income—many without paid sick leave, health insurance or a Plan C—as they watch their meager savings and retirement funds evaporate. 

(Deep breath in.) 

But I've also seen individuals and businesses of all sizes thrive in what can otherwise be perceived as dark times. 

(Deep breath out.) 

It got me thinking. While the scenery is different, I've been here before. We've been here before. And rather than succumb to fear, I chose to fight my way out of the paper bag I was initially hyperventilating into.

In 2002, shortly after 9/11 and the recession that followed, I launched 86 the onions, an unconventional brand communications agency in Los Angeles with one client and one employee—both of whom were me. 

Despite the discouraging advice from virtually every trusted peer I spoke to beforehand, my beer gut insisted it was a perfect time. Marketers needed to figure out smarter, more creative ways to spend less money. And we were going to be the boutique best positioned to help solve that problem. Besides, I'd already quit my job in Amsterdam, booked an extended stay at that Robert Downey Jr. crack motel in Marina del Rey, and printed 100 branded moist towelettes—my unconventional agency business card. And you know what business cards mean. I was officially open for business.  

(Cue Eminem's "Lose Yourself.")

Within three months, little unknown me landed our first paid project. The rest of the time, freelancers and I created unconventional self-promo items, like a T-shirt with one long sleeve ("Wrong is the new right"), an onion mailer (that backfired) and a bimonthly zine (that did not) to stand out to potential clients and get coverage in the press. Within a couple of years of doing more of the insane, 86 the onions had a 12-person beachfront office, a global network of remote talent, and a roster of dream clients, including Target, ESPN, Starbucks, MTV and Mountain Dew. 

To this day, fulfilling 16-year-old me's dream of launching an ad agency on a beach with a dog and a convertible, at the age of 32, mind you, was likely the hardest and most rewarding journey I've ever embarked on. That said, I have no doubt the economic recession made it easier in many ways. 

Here's why:

Unfortunate circumstances presented me and an entire industry with fortunate problems that not only required innate creative problem-solving skills but also demanded a new business model and unique positioning in the marketplace.  

Naturally, not all agencies survived the evolution—just like many current businesses won't survive the one we're currently experiencing. And yet, several new businesses were born from the ashes, to address and serve the needs of the day. Just like you have the opportunity to do now. 

Don't start by asking, "How can I make (enter dollar amount here)?" Instead, ask yourself, "What are the needs of the day? What problem in the world needs solving to make something new and improved? Where's the opportunity to serve individuals that are not yet being served?"

Go ahead. Make a list. 

Turn your quarantine into a chrysalis, as my friend Kirk Souder says. Problems into opportunities. Dead ends into what ifs. Survival mode into thrive mode.

For me, my chrysalis led to the creation of Dept. of Awesum, a free service that connects individuals affected by Covid-19 with an industry of creative problem-solvers. You or someone you know can get creative assistance or give creative assistance in the form of actionable advice, creative development or content distribution. Please join and/or share, if you fancy.

Starting a business or side hustle right now sounds unusual, but it's business unusual out there. We owe it to ourselves and our communities to at least explore the possibilities.

If you're like me, those unwelcome voices in your head will try to barge in with every excuse not to, but the more you ignore them, the louder your cheerleaders will become. Here's what my squad has to say:

You're ready already.

Nobody knows what they are doing. Only you can write an instruction manual for exactly what you want to do and how you want to do it. Now's the time to do it. Stop waiting to live your dream.

Listen to your gut and make up your own mind.

Do your research, lots of it, but just because you can't find any believers or proven success stories doesn't mean you're not the one to make it successful.

Be less afraid of failure.

A pinch of fear can be a good motivator, but failing is inevitable. If one door closes, kick down another. You can always say you tried, which is more than most people.

Do what brings you alive.

Delegate the rest. What activities energize you instead of drain you? If money were no object, how would you answer the needs of the day? If you're solving a meaningful problem that others believe in, you'll find your support team.  

Now get out there—I mean, stay in there—and give the world what it needs most right now. You. 

Profile picture for user Chad Rea
Chad Rea
Chad Rea is a social impact artist, independent creative director, consultant, and recent founder of Dept. of Awesum (www.deptofawesum.com), a free platform that connects an industry of creative problem-solvers with individuals facing hardships during a time of Covid-19.

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