Restructuring and pivoting your business

This blog is kindly written for Museum Freelance by Lorraine Finch ACR. You can find Lorraine on twitter, Instagram or online.

We are all very well aware that 2020 was not a kind year to museum freelancers. The data gathered by the Museum Freelance poll on the impact of Covid-19 on freelancers showed that:

  • 78% of respondents had seen a drop in income from March to October 2020 compared to the same period in 2019

  • 53% of respondents had one or more projects/contracts cancelled

  • 63% of respondents have had one or more projects/contracts postponed

I am sure that we can all cite examples of freelance businesses in the cultural heritage sector which have ceased trading due to the economic effects of the pandemic.

The businesses which have survived, and indeed thrived, are those which are resilient. What makes a resilient business? A resilient business exhibits FIVE key traits:

1.      A proactive approach

2.      Dynamic leadership

3.      Responsiveness to change

4.      Keeps focused

5.      Takes the long-term view

(Organisational Resilience. Building an enduring enterprise. The Economist Intelligence Unit. Commissioned by the British Standards Institute.)

Embed these five traits into the restructuring of your business and you will create a successful and resilient business.

How do you restructure your business? Where do you start? The starting point is to assess what your business is now. Look at the services which you provide, for whom, what your costs are and how much income each activity generates. You can do this with a very simple exercise.

The Exercise

1. Service Definition = THE WHAT

What services do you provide your clients? Who are you clients? What volume/quantity of services do you provide?

2. Resource Definition = THE HOW

How do you provide that service? What resources do you need? What are your key costs? How are they organised? What do you spend?

The resources you need and key costs could include:

  • People

  • Buildings/rent

  • Technology

  • Marketing

  • Insurance/Legal/ Registrations/Memberships

  • Equipment such as hand tools, recording equipment, materials

  • Training

  • Travel

3. Income Definition  =  THE MONEY

What types of income do you generate? What are the sources of income? How much income do they generate?

To get a thorough and broad understanding of the current position of your business it is best that you look at all three areas. However you can chose to look at only one area or do a mix and match. I carried out this exercise in 2017 looking at only 1 (my services) and 3 (my income). I chose to examine what my business did in a calender year and how it performed but you can break this down any way you like. You could look at a one month period or over a quarter. You may be aware of seasonal variations in your work, and it might be useful to get a snapshot of these.

Now you have your areas to examine what do you do? It's time to get out the paper and pen or spreadsheet. For Services, split the page into columns. In the first column list who your customers are then create as many columns as you need for each type of service that you provide for them.

For Resources create a table listing each item that you spend money on and how much, e.g.

People            = £

Tech                = £

Insurance       = £

Travel             = £

For Income, split the page into columns. In the first column list your income sources then create as many columns as you need for fee.

As I wrote, I carried out this exercise in 2017 and the results were eye opening. They confirmed what I had always suspected but never had the evidence to confirm. They showed that although 57% of my business came from providing practical conservation that it produced the smallest percentage of my income comapratively.

Comparing it to my other work, I earned twice as much for lecturing and four times more for consultancy! This led to me pivoting my business towards providing more lecturing and consultancy. In 2017 the split was:

  • Practical Conservation = 57%

  • Consultancy = 30%

  • Lecturing/assessment = 13%

In 2020 the percentages were more like:

  • Practical Conservation = 10%

  • Consultancy = 50%

  • Lecturing/assessment = 40%

Restructuring and pivoting allowed my business, LF Conservation and Preservation, to continue trading following the announcement of the first Lockdown in March 2020. (To give some context, I lost all of my practical conservation work when the first Lockdown was announced. The consultancy and lecturing/assessment continued.) The restructuring and pivoting created a resilient business.

Now it's your turn. Try the exercise. See what it shows you - areas where you are doing well/areas which take a lot of effort for little reward/ things to stop doing. You will probably be surprised at the results. Good luck. I'd be really interested to hear what this exercise revealed for you so please share your results with the museum freelance community. Tweet them at @conserve_lfcp and @museumfreelance


Lorraine Finch ACR

About Lorraine

Lorraine is an accredited conservator working with archives and specialising in the conservation and preservation of film, sound and photographs. She offers bespoke courses on conservation, preservation and business skills. She is continuing with the re-structuring of LF Conservation and Preservation and now provides expert guidance on sustainable practice in cultural heritage.

Huge thanks to Lorraine Finch ACR for writing this piece for Museum Freelance, and her ongoing contributions. If you’d like to write something for the blog please get in touch with Marge by emailing [email protected].

Marge Ainsley