Although it might not seem like things have changed much around here from a reader perspective (we hope!), it’s been a slightly tumultuous time over here in TDF-land for the last few months. Aside from the increasingly grim public health predictions, there were a few weeks over March and April where, along with almost every other small business in Australia, the economic fallout of the health crisis hit us, hard. We lost a fair bit of income almost overnight, and honestly… things were looking a little dicey for a while there.
In the three years I’ve been at The Design Files, I’ve never seen our editor-in-chief Lucy Feagins anxious or afraid – she’s pretty fearless when it comes to her business. But like any small business owner over the last couple of months, Luce has had to confront some pretty scary possibilities. Although it’s been a stressful experience at times, it’s also brought our team so much closer together, and given Lucy a new perspective on all the different elements of running a business. And without sounding too cheesy, I think we’ve emerged from this more resourceful, understanding and creative than ever.
In our final Times Like These interview, Lucy shares some of the ups and downs of the past few months here at TDF.
It’s been a weird few months Luce! How well do you think the team (and the business) has adapted to a new way of working?
It’s definitely been the weirdest time… but isn’t it strange how quickly we adapt? I think most of us went into a sort of shock when our freedoms were first ‘taken away’… but it’s pretty amazing how Australians really stepped up, made so many sacrifices and changed our behaviours so drastically for the greater good.
As far as The Design Files goes, I think this time has been a pretty amazing indicator of the strength of our little team. Everyone has been working from home for around eight weeks now, and we also had to cancel all photoshoots for eight weeks. So that has placed enormous pressure on the team to keep the quality content coming daily, whilst working within these new parameters. I’m so proud of how the team has adapted without really skipping a beat, and just really risen to the challenge. And, honestly, looking at the quality of our content and the readership numbers over the past two months, you wouldn’t even know we were in the middle of a crisis.
I also think this time has really reminded me how special our workplace culture is. I have always been pretty obsessed with workplace culture and just the general happiness of everyone on the team, but right now you really feel that magic in action. Working remotely does have its challenges, but I feel that our team culture is sort of the glue that has held everything together. It’s just so clear how tightly bonded our team are, and so whilst I personally believe our best work is done in a bustling, busy, chatty workplace where the whole team connects face to face every day… I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how we’ve managed to cope and thrive under current conditions.
What have you felt has been the biggest challenge for TDF as a business?
As a business owner, the first 2-3 weeks of lockdown were intense. At that early time we weren’t getting a whole lot of clear leadership from the government, and I was really worried about the financial implications for the business. A lot of The Design Files’ advertising revenue dried up in March, and a lot of client projects we had been working on pretty much just disappeared overnight. There was just so much uncertainty, and I was incredibly worried about loss of income, and the prospect of not being able to support our team of seven staff.
After the JobKeeper scheme was announced, things started to feel a whole lot better. Honestly, JobKeeper has been a lifeline for us. I’m feeling in control again – and one positive side effect of this incredibly stressful time is that I’m feeling more financially literate about my business than ever before. I’m watching our cash flow like a hawk! (Shout out to my amazing bookkeepers Counting Clouds – best in the biz!)
Was there ever a moment you were like… I don’t know if we’re going to make it through? And if so how did that feel?
Honestly… I don’t think I was really thought we ‘wouldn’t make it through’, but at the start of lockdown, I was pretty worried. I was hearing about quite a few really great local businesses that were struggling and laying people off. It was scary. It actually made me feel quite unsettled for about two weeks. But also, it made me determined.
When I get really anxious about something, I think my gut reaction is first a sort of emotional, fear response… and then that quickly turns to dogged determination. It’s almost like defiance, ‘I’ll show everyone!’. LOL!
So, I just got stuck into my spreadsheets, my cashflow, firming up our finances and figuring out what we needed to do to get through without losing anyone.
For me, the only thing that eases that sort of financial anxiety is to face it head-on. I don’t love numbers or accounting at the best of times, but I just know that if I get really clear on the details, then I feel empowered.
I imagine it must have been extremely stressful for you and Gordy [Lucy’s husband] given that you are both small business owners…what were the conversations like between you two at that time? And how did you support each other through it when you were both kind of going through a similar thing?
Gordy is a furniture designer / cabinet maker, and he also part-owns a bar in Brunswick. Day-to-day, he’s a one-man contractor so he’s pretty nimble, but his bar has suffered due to being closed for nearly two months, so he’s been concerned about his business liabilities, and paying rent etc whilst the business has been closed. There’s definitely been a bit of boring conversation about government grants and JobKeeper eligibility etc over the dinner table at our house!
Generally though, Gordy and I are, I think, pretty unusual when it comes to business and finances. Despite owning a home together and having a kid, we actually keep our finances quite seperate. He doesn’t really know what’s in my bank account – and I don’t know what’s in his either! We’ve both always been pretty independent in that way, and that just works for us.
What have you learned from the last few months?
So many things! I’ve learnt a lot about my comfort zone from a business cashflow perspective.
In my personal life, I’ve also been reminded of how much money I spend on silly things like dinners out and drinks and work lunches and daily coffees. With most shops and cafes closed, I’ve learnt to be frugal again and it’s making me question my usual spending habits – in a good way.
But mainly, as someone who tends to race through life at full speed, I’ve learnt about the joy of slowing down a bit. There’s a lot to be said for having nowhere to go and nothing much to do on a weekend. I’m enjoying living a life without #FOMO.
Who or what is bringing you good vibes right now?
My daughter, Minnie is a constant, joyful distraction.
All the isolation musical performances artists are sharing via social media… I got really into ‘Isol-Aid’ a few weeks back, and re-lived my youth singing along to Missy Higgins!
Melbourne based ceramicist @jameslemon Instagram is consistently hilarious!
OH and free childcare is definitely a GOOD VIBE!
What are you looking forward to/optimistic about?
I think Australia has a lot to be optimistic about. Though we’re not out of the woods just yet, we really did an unbelievable job of beating this virus. We’ve made a lot of sacrifices, we put the greater good ahead of individual interest, and we should be pretty proud of that. I’m hoping that attitude will continue to manifest in other ways, long after this virus is gone.
As far as TDF is concerned, I’m looking forward to getting back to normal. I want to have the whole team back together again, I want to be able to host events and exhibitions again, and I just want to get out of the ‘holding pattern’ and really start to dream big again
.And in my personal life, I’m turning 40 in October, so I’m also looking forward to celebrating that milestone!
Follow Lucy on Instagram (where you’ll see all the cute Minnie videos!) here!