Recent times have been tough on creative industries, with enforced lockdowns bringing many sectors grinding to a halt. While online retailers and content platforms reaped the benefit of a populace stuck at home, cinemas, theatres, museums and galleries have all struggled. In some respects, digital solutions have helped to combat the worst of the effects, with things like remote working, virtual performances and forays into hybrid events using virtual and augmented reality.
During successive lockdowns, individual creatives – e.g. artists, craftspeople, content producers – found that turning to digital helped to expand their reach and even increase their business. At the very least, an effective online and social media presence can be key in establishing a direct connection with stay-at-home audiences and potential clients. It provides a different way to do business.
In this regard, Superfast Business Wales has been a lifeline for small companies needing to embrace the latest digital technologies. And not just during the pandemic. We offer a free programme of help and advice in the shape of webinars and workshops, as well a one-to-one session with a dedicated Digital Business Adviser. Check out the experiences below to see how Superfast Business Wales has already helped creative Welsh businesses successfully make the jump to digital.
Not only does Harbour Lights Gallery have a stronger relationship with clients and artists, it has also formed new partnerships with other local businesses.
Pembrokeshire-based Harbour Lights Gallery plays host to works from some 40 Welsh artists and sculptors. Manager Katy Davies always viewed the gallery’s website as a means of selling a few pieces during off-season periods but decided they should do more to promote the gallery and the artists it represents.
Her first port of call was Superfast Business Wales and its popular social media workshop. This was followed by a meeting with a specialist Digital Business Adviser who helped devise an action plan to maximise the impact of the gallery’s online presence. This proved to be crucial when Wales locked down due to Covid-19.
“When the pandemic hit last March,” Katy Davies explains, “we were lucky that we already had a solid online presence so that people could still enjoy the artwork that we have on offer via the website if they wanted to. However, we were reluctant to push sales as we felt it to be uncomfortable considering the suffering of lots of people at that time. But we did want to use our platform online, our website, mailing list and social platforms to promote our artists in a different way.
"So, we did interviews with our gallery artists about how lockdown was affecting them and their work. We asked them questions about their life, and inspirations and studio spaces to give customers an insight into their favourite artists lives and ways of working. We shared these interviews weekly with all our followers and got great engagement, which in turn channeled traffic to our website and did result in some sales.”
Katy also found that Facebook and Instagram quickly proved their worth, not just in presenting new works, but engaging customers in conversation. Not only does Harbour Lights Gallery now have a stronger relationship with clients and artists, it has also formed new partnerships with other local businesses.
“Having an online presence through the lockdown was invaluable,” Katy adds. “It allowed us to stay connected with our customers and keep up our visibility so that people remembered us and wanted to visit when they were able to. We actually had an increase in online sales through the months that we were closed. I think that a lot of people got more comfortable with purchasing from smaller companies online during the pandemic and actually made an effort to support small and local businesses online where they could."
In Cardiff, former fashion lecturer Beth Morris runs a series of community art workshops, providing inspiration and a place for people to come and interact with others. After an appearance on The One Show, the popularity of her workshops boomed. But Beth realised that she would need an online presence to keep up the momentum.
Taking advantage of the free support provided by Superfast Business Wales, she took a social media workshop and received tailored advice and guidance in a one-to-one meeting with a Digital Business Adviser. This enabled her to put together a digital marketing strategy that would support and push her brand forward.
“The website review was extremely beneficial in encouraging me to understand the improvements I needed to make and why.” - Beth Morris
“When I started out in my business, the support from Superfast Business Wales helped me establish a digital platform for my community art school,” says Beth. “The website review was extremely beneficial in encouraging me to understand the improvements I needed to make and why. Social media played a large part in recruiting students for my workshops so the courses I attended with Superfast Business Wales were instrumental for growth.”
Beth reveals that her investment in digital helped keep her afloat during the worst of the pandemic. “I now have a much larger digital presence,” she says. “I run regular online workshops that reach across the UK and Europe. Plus, I adapted my approach to teach and demonstrate art via Zoom in every lockdown. The digital elements of my business ensured creativity was not cancelled!”
Fine artist Emma Cawston is another digital convert. She specialises in animal portraiture and her work has featured in magazines like The Artist and Tatler. But with a business based in rural Wales, she was wary of not being easily accessible to customers.
Realising that an online presence could help, she registered for Superfast Business Wales support and took a course in digital marketing. With the assistance of a Digital Business Adviser, Emma redesigned her website to better represent her work and look more professional, and then used Instagram to attract visitors.
"Although the pandemic has [seen a] decrease in the way of shows and exhibitions - and for people to actually see my work - the digital side has increased a lot. I have gained clients I might not have gained elsewhere, and I think have made people more aware of what is actually around. I don't know whether it's just timing or Covid, but since going online, I have had the best 12 months so far of my business.”
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