Here’s How COVID-19 Is Boosting the Creative Economy

As I am writing this, India is entering into its sixth week under lockdown. 

Despite the economic slowdown, the last couple of weeks have been exciting for a niche group of startups. These are online platforms like TeachablePatreonGumroad, and Instamojo that helps creators and small businesses reach out to their target audience. 

Last week, Ankur Nagpal – CEO of Teachable, tweeted that they’re going to hit the annual run rate of $10M for the first time

Sahil Lavingia, CEO of Gumroad, tweeted that for the first time, they’ll be sending over $10 million to creators

Patreon, a membership platform for creators added 70,000 new creators since March with over 65% month on month increase in the amount that Creators are earning on Patreon. Platforms like SubstackMedium, and YouTube have also seen a sharp increase in the number of people who started their own thing to garner the audience in the hopes of making money eventually. 

COVID-19 is creating new and interesting opportunities for creators all over the globe. 

The story of a neighborhood gym

The fitness center I used to go to, is an amazing place. It had three floors. Each floor was dedicated to a specific activity such as cardio, weight training, and cross fit. They had personal trainers and instructors catering to the needs of hundreds of customers who religiously visited the place every day. 

But, as soon as the lockdown began, they immediately went digital. They created a WhatsApp group and started conducting workout sessions three times a week via Zoom. They’ve also opened it up for people who have been members before (An excellent way to bring in old members to the programs and eventually make them pay for the service). That’s how I got invited to the group. I’ve attended a couple of Zoom classes, and I must say it was quite effective. Apart from these online classes, they also started offering add-on services like a 30-day personal weight loss program, endurance program, etc. 

A neighborhood gym that was once physically serving hundreds of customers was able to continue its service despite the lack of physical space. 

The impose of lockdown, and social distancing has pushed several such small businesses to take a digital approach. Businesses like tuition classes, personal training, yoga studios, and fitness centers; And creators such as singers, stand up comedians, and artists are getting on online on tutoring and membership platforms to continue offering their professional services. This helps them cater to the needs of their existing customers, attract new customers, and generate an alternative income stream to keep them afloat until the situation becomes stable. 

The ‘One-Click’ approach to reach customers

When I published my first book “Written with a Cursor” in 2015, I didn’t want to go to a traditional publisher. I wanted to try something different. 

Not many people in India had Kindle back then as it was just launched in the Indian market only during 2014. When I asked my friends and peers, most of them either preferred to read the book on their smartphone or on their laptops from a PDF file.  

Also, I decided to price the book for less than 100 INR, and I realized that my royalty on Amazon Kindle Publishing would only be 35 INR for each book. I can get a 70% royalty only if I price my book at $2.99 (210 INR) or more.   

So, I created my online store using a service called Instamojo, priced the book at INR 95, and publicized the book on Facebook, Twitter, and email (to close friends and family). It facilitated payment through multiple methods, post which readers were able to download the book in three formats: EPUB, MOBI, and PDF. Without spending money on advertising, I was able to sell 70 copies within the first three days. I know this is not a huge number. But I am happy as a first-time author. Also, was able to get close 87 INR for each copy.  

Gumroad was also offering a similar service back then. But, I went with Instamojo as a majority of my readers was from India and I wanted to go with a local service provider. The point I am trying to focus on here is platforms like Instamojo and Gumroad makes it easy for creators to get up and running in no time. 

Imagine setting up your video course on the internet before 2010. You would’ve had to hire someone to build the infrastructure, or you’ll have to opt for a service that would’ve charged you a bomb. Now, with services like Teachable, anybody with great skill can publish their course on the internet and make it available for the whole world. 

By making the tech simple, these platforms are helping creators focus on their art and the skill without worrying about the technical aspects of the business. Even though this benefits the creators, it also has its challenges for creators as well as the patrons.  

Challenges for Creators and Patrons

When it comes to creators, one huge challenge is competing with apps and services that were designed with a mobile-first approach. One good example is someone having to choose between a personal trainer and a personal fitness app that offers tailor-made programs for a lower price. In that case, the personal trainer is competing with the app which was already in the market with several 4+ star reviews on the app store. 

And, not just that! Sometimes, they’ll have to compete with other creators in the domain as well. And, it is hard for new creators to get some traction until they receive their first couple of reviews on the website. So, creators will have to resort to learning new marketing and promotional skills to attract customers. And, spending too much time on it can take their focus away from their skill for which they’re getting paid in the first place. 

On the other hand, customers will always have a bit of hesitation to sign up or avail the service from a person on the internet. They worry about aspects like credibility, expertise, and also about other aspects like money-back guarantee, customer support, etc. So, a creator who is offering a class on the internet should also be prepared to tackle all these challenges. Because all it takes is one bad experience that can severely impact the life of the creator. 

To avoid this, creators can follow these basic steps to provide the best experience for their customers.

Be Clear – Communicate one ultimate benefit your customers would get when they sign up for your service. Get help from your friends or hire a copywriter if needed. Because being ambiguous may sometime lead them to question your expertise in the domain.

Be Transparent – Be clear with the terms and conditions of your service. Furnish complete details about the moneyback or refund policy, the turnaround time for customer support queries, payments, etc.

Be obsessed with Quality – Quality of your content/service takes you beyond your city and country. Always put in extra effort to deliver the best experience. If it involves spending an affordable price to procure the necessary equipment, do it! The benefit of this is a good word of mouth review and more customers.

Talk to your customers – Send emails and get on calls with your customers to know what they like and don’t like about your service. It is hard to get feedback for an online service as you don’t get to interact with your customers often. The best way to refine your offering is by fixing the flaws and inconsistencies that exist in your current offering.

Brace for an Amazing Experience

If you are a creator or a small business, this is the best time to establish your online presence. The web has got a ton of resources and platforms to get you up and running. Just keep this in mind! Once you’re online, you’re not a neighborhood business anymore. Instead, you have the potential to attract customers from all over the world. So, make sure you’re prepared to offer an amazing customer experience and everything else will follow!