Managing anxiety in times of uncertainty and decreasing revenue
At Ticket Tailor, a service that provides ticketing to event organisers, we are of course feeling the damaging effects of the global pandemic on our business in the form of (1) decreasing revenue, and (2) complete uncertainty of what’s to come next. You don’t need an MBA to know that this is not a comfortable scenario for running a business, especially as we’ve grown accustomed to nurturing slow and steady growth over the past eight years. In fact, it’s the perfect recipe for creating a lot of anxiety.
Here’s a look at what happened to ticket sales for us at Ticket Tailor in the weeks of C19 evolving:
If the purpose of anxiety is to alert us to potential threats, then I want to hear it out and take the positives from it. Here are some notes to my future self, and anyone else who may find them helpful (as I imagine a lot of businesses are experiencing similar effects right now), about how to manage anxiety and extract the positives.
Take stock of what is certain
On Saturday 14th March, after a week of ticket sales dropping, and an unprecedented amount of customer support around event cancellations, the potential impact of this pandemic on our business became apparent. Unable to sleep, or enjoy the weekend, I worked through the numbers to see where can we start to cut costs. And, more importantly, how long we could survive as a business.
The 2020 roadmap had big plans of hiring, moving to a bigger office, and lots of growth initiatives with a target of 1.5X growth by the end of the year. Overnight, the targets went out of the window and our focus shifted to ensuring we could cover all essential costs, including all salaries, for as long as possible, even if ticket sales dropped to zero.
Knowing that our business can last up to a year was certainty, and it was reassuring to know.
Full transparency with the team
Although we don’t operate with radical transparency, we are generally pretty open about financials internally at Ticket Tailor. Having done the calculations over the weekend, and knowing that all salaries are going to be paid, I presented the details with the team first thing on Monday. I explained the following:
- what I estimated the worst-case scenario to be,
- what we had in the bank,
- where we could cut costs should we need to, and most importantly,
- that everyone’s job was safe.
This reduces anxiety for the team because they know what’s going on, and reduces the anxiety for me because the worst case scenario is not a secret but now out in the open and a shared concern.
Knowing that we can survive for a year meant that we could turn our immediate attention back to what it is we are supposed to be doing: supporting event organisers who are seeing first-hand the catastrophic effects of C19 with ticket sales falling off a cliff, and events being cancelled or postponed en masse. We jumped in to a number of projects to offer immediate support to our clients, including:
- ForgoMyRefund.org — a tool for ticket buyers to forgo their refund for cancelled events in support of the event organiser,
- a process to allow customers hardest hit to apply for a refund for our service fees,
- general guidance and help articles for responding to coronavirus, and using Ticket Tailor with zoom,
- going completely free for online events, and
- more in the works.
This work was immediate and reactionary. For me personally, I really felt a positive momentum and the immediate focus was a good distraction from all the bad news.
Our transition to working from home went really well, thanks to the support of Emily, our head of ops, who previously worked at a fully remote company. However, during that same week it felt like everything was falling apart, with the news filled with stories of panic buying, advice to visit elderly relatives, and rumours of lockdown around the corner. We were all feeling unsettled and decided we would have a calm week. This simply meant that we only commit to being at work for the first half of the day, and use the afternoons for whatever we needed.
What is the really really really worst-case scenario? The absolute, absolute, worst-case scenario for Ticket Tailor is that events never come back as we know it, we don’t adapt fast enough, we run out of money, and we have no business any more. That’s bad but worse things have happened, and just acknowledging this puts my anxiety in to perspective and makes me feel more relaxed. And a lot more needs to go wrong before that‘s a reality.
From an optimistic perspective, there’s also a lot in our favour compared to many of our competitors, which I also find reassuring.
Managing financial anxiety
We have a budget spreadsheet, which details:
- money we’ve spent,
- money we’ve made,
- what we have to spend in the coming months (already committed / essential)
- what we could spend in the coming months, and
- what we forecast we will make, and
- how much we have in the bank.
So if I add all these things up, there’s a number that tells me how safe we are, and I like that number to be at least 12 X essential monthly outgoings. The management team and I keep it up to date which is a bit of a chore but I find it absolutely essential. I am used to running the business in a very secure position of knowing (a) we are profitable, and (b) we have money in the bank for a rainy day. Now that profitability is unlikely, at least in the short term, and that rainy day is here, financial anxiety can creep up on me. When this happens I can come back to the spreadsheet to get a real understanding of what the current situation is, and keep a list of further actions we can take next if we need to find more money.
My friend Tom often says “no one has ever gone broke making a profit”. I know a lot of businesses are loss-making and that’s considered normal (Eventbrite make losses of tens of millions every year), but that’s not for me and I prefer to live by Tom’s mantra.
Planning in uncertainty
George, our head of growth, said the other day that this situation is like living through an MBA exam question. We have just come out of our Q2 planning and with so much uncertainty, and our largest ever team size it is so important that we are aligned. The planning went remarkably well (in my opinion) and I have written up everything we did here.
I don’t know if we get full marks for the MBA exam as we are not out the other side yet, but having a plan that we are all aligned on reduces uncertainty and therefore reduces anxiety. It’s all based on a best-guess hypothesis, and we have a fortnightly management meeting where we can agree to adjust this if we want to, and then assess what knock-on impact this has on the plans. A key point here is that we must be allowed to change the hypothesis otherwise we could quickly find ourselves doing the wrong things and that old anxiety is going to creep back to tell us as much.
With so much unknown we have taken a number of steps to keep ourselves informed as efficiently as possible:
- Created an internal daily dashboard specifically for C19, showing ticket sales, event creations, sign ups, and online event activity vs normal events.
- Surveyed users to ask what they think will happen, what their plans are, and how we can support them. (We usually offer a chance to win a voucher as an incentive to fill out the survey. This time we are donating £1 for every response to MSF, and the uptake has been huge — more than 10% of people we contacted have filled out the survey.)
- Created a Slack channel to share relevant news stories for our industry.
Feel the positives
There are lots of positives right now, and I find it’s important to amplify them for my own sanity and for the team. Here are some of them:
Online events are really taking off
Going free for online events has meant that there is a portion of our business that is growing. Event organisers are creating conferences, yoga classes, pub quizzes, and even nature trails online via Ticket Tailor. That’s awesome!
Our work is supporting those impacted most severely
We’ve received lots of feedback from clients over the past couple of weeks, in response to emails and surveys. Here are a couple of examples of the kind things they have said:
I think you guys have done so much to support us users. You are so helpful and quick at responding to any questions and go beyond to help where you can. I highly recommend you to everyone.
Thank you Jonny (and co!) it’s so appreciated and the thinking (and generosity) you are showing/ sharing is great. you are so right, these are testing times and I’m so impressed by your connection and connectedness…
There’s still more we can and will do, and all the feedback isn’t positive, but it is so motivating, reassuring, and much appreciated.
Working with an awesome bunch of people
We’ve been slowly building the most awesome team of people over the years. As an inexperienced, learning-on-the-job CEO, facing this bump in the road is so much easier (and more fun) when working with the group of talented, patient, hard-working, empathetic, and optimistic people that make up the Ticket Tailor team.
Feeling, amplifying, and being grateful the positives calms anxiety and makes me feel good.
Give everyone a break
My last thought is a reminder to give everyone a break. No one is having an easy time. Economic uncertainty, harder living conditions, and constant video calls are just some of the bad things to come out of this new reality that everyone is facing. Behind every business is a bunch of people trying to make the best of a bad time. Let’s hope it’s temporary, show patience and compassion, and most importantly, stay healthy.