13: Recession Blessings

13: Recession Blessings

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

Recession Blessings

Trials teach us what we are; they dig up the soil, and let us see what we are made of.

~Charles H. Spurgeon

During the depth of the recession, my friend would call my media production studio two or three times a week to check in. One day he sounded different — desperate. “Have you heard? They just laid off twelve people at the station and I was one of them.” Another friend walked into my office unannounced, normally a pleasant surprise, but this time his face told a different story. “I’m pretty sure I’m being set up for the end of my career at the paper.”

These were my friends, my associates in television, radio and the newspaper business. The careers they loved were ending. They were creative communicators who had been in the business for decades, rising to the top — and that meant they were the highest paid. Therefore, they would be the first to go. The reporters who had been telling this tragic recession story had become part of the story.

“Do you have any work for me, Sue?” My heart sank. How could I help them? My business was taking a hit too. I had nothing for them. I was letting several of my own employees go!

What I’d found in my most desperate times as a freelancer and business owner was that the surest road to success was the one shared with others. I had learned that the best way to compete was to run faster than everyone else, not to knock them out of the race. In my hardest times, I found other business owners to connect with, and they always helped me talk through the tough decisions I had to make.

So, I began a “support group” of sorts, for my friends. I went online and found a low cost website where we could organize, communicate and coordinate our meetings. We called ourselves the Media Associates Group, because that’s what we were and the initials were cool: MAG. That would make me the MAGnifier and they would be MAGnificent. We met in my building once a month, using our DVD players and monitors to show off our work. We would eventually be able to hire each other as the clients began to reappear. Sounded ideal.

I sent an e-mail to everyone who might benefit from this group. The response was immediate. “Yes, I will be there! Can I bring three others?” What happened next was magical.

The first meeting was like a high school reunion. Old friends who had been too busy to connect were now reconnecting. There were hugs, hellos and handshakes that lasted a good half hour. Then it was time to start. We sat in a circle and I asked them to explain their specialties and a bit about their current situation. The first round was painful, as each injured soul reflected on the end of his or her beloved career. They shared anger, hurt, disbelief, and fear.

The second time around, I encouraged them to share what they might be able to offer to each other. If someone needed to be trained in editing, for example, then an editor might offer to teach that skill. I offered our conference rooms for free, to those who might need to meet with a potential client in a professional setting. It was like lighting a fire. Everyone wanted to help. Elizabeth and her husband Fred owned a struggling photo studio: “We can do head shots for free for anyone in this group. You can use them to post online or for business cards.” A graphic designer chimed in: “I’ll build a website for our group and post your bios, head shots and demo reels. I won’t charge — I just think it will bring in more business if we appear united.”

It was happening. They put aside their own needs and reached out to each other. Their losses didn’t take away their ability to give. Amazing.

There were even more surprises. I tossed out a challenge: “If we don’t have any customers to pay the bills, let’s create a video product that we could sell, or a TV series about something remarkable in our community—something that sponsors might get behind. We are creative folks. Let’s just make it up!” The buzz began, “What about…” and “we could try…” The positive energy and ideas were contagious. Then a freelance videographer, Rusty, who had never produced anything for broadcast, spoke up. “I don’t know if this is what you have in mind,” he said hesitantly, “but I’ve been going to 2nd Saturday now for about six months, videotaping the happenings down there. Maybe we could use some of that video to sell.”

2nd Saturday was a community event in Sacramento, and it continues to this day. The second Saturday of each month, many of the main streets are blocked off to traffic and all the art galleries open their doors for an “art walk.” It was the perfect event to “cover,” as we could report on how all those art galleries and restaurants were surviving the recession. I challenged the group to make it happen. Rusty and John jumped at the chance. The two had never met before. John was a seasoned TV news journalist, retired and now running his own small business out of his home. He would take the lead, instructing Rusty on how to shoot a story for television. John interviewed artists while Rusty shot beautiful video with his own gear. John wrote the story, and Rusty edited.

By our third meeting, John and Rusty had a couple of finished stories and they were fabulous. If we had stopped there, it would have simply been something that kept us busy during our mourning period. It could not stop there.

The next day, I contacted a local television station and asked to meet with their programming gurus. I wasted no time telling them that we had a show to propose, and then asked when (not if) we could meet. “Good timing Sue!” Those words were like honey on warm toast to me. “We have a program we want your company to consider producing for us and I’ve been meaning to call you! When can we meet?” I was about to win the recession lottery! If I accepted this project, I could actually hire some of my friends. A win/win! But, what about our MAG project? I figured I should meet about their project, and then slip in the idea of them buying our MAG production.

The day of the meeting was memorable. We did talk over the project they wanted me to produce — but I quickly pitched the 2nd Saturday show MAG had produced. The men looked at each other, smiled ear to ear, and said, “That’s it!” They went on to say that they were lacking content for their upcoming art special, and had been looking for local stories to cover.

You could have picked me up off the floor. Our out-of-work support group had just sold our idea! Over the next week, I negotiated a contract for our production, agreeing to take less money up front in order to retain the rights to make the program into a series. We would consider this our “pilot” and have the freedom to present it to potential sponsors. They agreed.

Our fourth support-group meeting was full of high fives and huge smiles. We had done it! We created something from nothing! We were a bunch of individuals bouncing around on the stormy seas of financial insecurity, without a clue what our professional future would bring. By coming together, we found strength, hope and success. We didn’t just hang onto the life raft — together we began to build a new one. A bigger one.

Had the recession not tossed us out of our secure places, we would have never come together to make this happen. And if that’s not a blessing, I don’t know what is.

~Suzanne Peppers

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