The Subscription Economy, COVID, and Creatives

Subscription Economy +  Independent Contractor + COVID-19 + = Need for better UX 😮

Lately, I’ve been learning a lot of new marketing skills, as I completed an Email Marketing, Inbound Marketing, and Social Media Marketing Certification through Hubspot Academy. On the side of virtual marketing assisting, I’m also getting a 9-month certification in UX/UI Design. This is all to say that I’m quickly learning what exactly goes into the digital experiences that are created for us as consumers, both from a marketing and design standpoint. Why a product looks a certain way to appeal to a consumer’s senses and how it operates to move us emotionally, not just as an individual but with considerations of our demographic and psychographics. 

The economy was already well on the way to a complete shift from just selling products to crafting experiences well before COVID. A perfect example of this is subscriptions. They operate to keep customers longer, providing a seemingly essential technology while giving you exclusive access to their club and the lifestyle you want to have based on the images you see on their socials. It’s also for a relatively low cost per month (I always justify this by saying—”$10 a month? That’s just two oat milk lattes”.. god I’m such a millennial consumer…I’d spend that anytime!”). By offering a free trial first, chances are that after you use it for a month, you’re willing to pay for the convenience. Or, you just forgot you were paying for it. With 10 other automatic monthly payments, it’s pretty easy to have one get lost. 

Ok, yes, we all know that a company’s number 1  concern is profit and of course, they don’t care about us and our COVID credit card debt (or is that just me?) 

In efforts to cut back on my spendings, I took a look at which subscriptions I could get rid of, but I realized I’m at the point where I now consider at least 5 of my monthly subscriptions as absolutely essential. It makes it harder, as a creative professional, and especially as a freelance contractor, when a lot of these subscriptions are necessary to do work. There’s the Adobe Suite subscription, Canva Pro, Google Storage… (I keep affirming my own points when it took me days to remember about my $16 a month website fee), yearly domain fee, Upwork, and a virtual assistant agency subscription. 

Maybe this is exclusively an independent contractor issue, but I still notice myself swayed by the convenience of a few platforms, and once you’ve been using the “pro” version for a few months and go back I really find myself missing out. 

Besides tools for work, there are a few absolute essentials that I can’t forget to mention. Let’s talk about Spotify, the app that basically revolutionized digital music. Spotify Premium I believe was my first monthly subscription, back in 2014, and I remember holding back for a while thinking that I really needed to be in a good place before I shelled out for it. With the student subscription, it was $5 a month!  Now, I would try $5/month for anything that might be useful without hesitation. I recently started Truebill, which is, ironically, an app to help manage your finances and cut back on subscriptions. I don’t find it particularly helpful, and I’ve been meaning to cancel it… 

The issue here is that products have gotten so good, TOO good, at designing, marketing, selling, and humanizing their efforts, that (1) it’s easy to forget they’re manipulating us and (2) when we do remember we’re being tricked, we don’t care. Why? That sweet sweet convenience. Technology. We know that using our phone for hours a day is harming our mental health, we know that our data is being sold, we know that ordering Amazon prime delivery is exploiting labor. We sometimes try, but mostly we choose to forget. 

I’m not trying to preach or pretend that this isn’t me, because it definitely is. In fact, I’m fueling the fire by choosing to work in marketing and design. But through this route I know I have the capacity to be better, or at least, not 100% manipulative and profit-driven. 

To look at the positive aspect of these new marketing efforts and the need consumers are developing to be told stories to, it does signal that consumers are wanting to be more informed. Brands have social media channels to promote themselves because consumers want to look at content that is relevant and interesting to them. 

So let’s harness that consumer power and not be tricked into the subscription game, even when it’s almost impossible not to. One method is using that same technology to stay more informed about the subscriptions we are purchasing. Sure, there are budgeting apps, subscription managing apps, but none of them really are as convenient as the subscriptions themselves. Let’s make it better. A full-service subscription marketplace, where you can purchase bundled subscriptions, for instance—one for Entertainment/Streaming: Spotify, Hulu, HBO Max, one for creative professionals with Adobe & Canva. You can customize bundles, cancel subscriptions, and maybe even get discounts through subscription packages, all through this one app. I’m honestly surprised this doesn’t exist already. 

At least that gives me room to design this hypothetical app. 🙃Would you use it? In the spirit of proper UX, I need to do research first to actually decide if subscriptions are a problem for users. You can help my research by filling out this survey here.

Thank you! Also, I’m thinking as a way to combine my photography with new design work, I will choose a photo from my archives and make a design in response to it. Stay tuned. 

How to Embrace Your Unusual Career Path

Hello to all y’all creative professionals—former art-schoolers turned makers with less exciting 9-5s, freelancers and side-hustlers with MFAs, working teacher/artists, virtual assistants, travelers & nomads, or maybe ya just do some photography on the side? I never thought I would start a blog that could potentially be useful for anyone but I always have dreamed of it, alongside my 99 other potential ideas for photography projects, fictional podcast scripts, creative assistant businesses, DIY furniture ideas, and new career steps. I know there’s a lot of you out there like me—verging on jack of all trades/master of none, criticizing yourself for being unfocused and unable to follow through with a lot of your ideas, and constantly planning for new ones. I’m here to tell you (and remind myself) that, contrary to popular belief, you are not unfocused or lacking discipline.  

A jack of all trades and master of none is oftentimes better than a master of one. 

(Yes, this was an ending to the phrase some Millenial like myself added to make us feel better) 

Regardless, you are a visionary. You’re a learning junkie. Your desire to take on 8 relatively complex projects at once and work on all of them in the same hour, sure, it might be a bit ADD. But let us not forget that ADD is an overly-prescribed “disorder” pushed by uppity east coast moms and doctors who were upset that their children wanted to play games or use the internet (an exciting new technology that is intentionally addictive and distracting) instead of schoolwork. Disclaimer: I’m obviously not a doctor and I’m sure Adderall was actually beneficial to a lot of kids? 

One more disclaimer: I will digress. A lot. Appropriately, these digressions actually are quite fitting, my point being to embrace your tangents. Your tangents are aspects of yourself that drive you and form together in a large, chaotic, yet interconnected structure of something formerly known (mostly to the Boomers under a stable economy) as a career path. 

As creative professionals, our career paths are so winding that they resemble something more like the roots of an onion plant or the small grooves ants form into fallen logs.

A bit about mine—after luckily graduating from my MFA program only a year before the pandemic hit, I was on such a high from success in my program and in the new city I moved to for it, Boston. We had an incredible show at a major museum, and the last two years were filled with travel opportunities, working a job in academia that I thought had great potential, and making lasting connections in a community of amazing artists. I even managed to fit in time for my side projects, playing in orchestra and helping my friends out with their short films. What a great way to spend my time and actually make a livable wage, I thought. Sure, maybe this story is pretty typical: young person thrives, young person faces challenges and becomes disillusioned. 

In my defense, COVID-19 definitely changed a lot of my plans. Of course, it changed a lot of everyone’s plans. I’m incredibly grateful that it wasn’t worse for me, my friends or family. But I’m not going to lie and say that it hasn’t been difficult. It has made me reconsider a lot of my choices, or consider some changes more than I had previously. I had already been concerned about the job market in the creative industry and what my next step would be. I didn’t have any shortage of options, which almost made it harder to make a decision.  I had the right foundations for a few different paths. With my MFA, I had the fine art background and some experience in art education, but I didn’t absolutely love teaching, and my job at a wealthy academic institution in Boston made me want to get out of academia. Another option was moving to an upcoming film city (my idea was Albuquerque) and starting from the lowest rung in the film industry. I could start freelancing in photography and video, or try to get a job at a company photo editing. I was already working a part-time job QAing and editing photos for a cool tech company, but they soon went under. I was most drawn to the tech industry route, and my need to constantly learn new things made me want to pursue a UX/UI Design Certificate, but I held off on more schooling to apply for more relevant jobs with what I had. 

At a time of transition in considering which of these steps I wanted to make moves toward, COVID eliminated not only my existing forms of income but severely hurt my chances of finding a new job. Unsurprisingly, I have been job hunting since March. The rejection after rejection reminded me of my “jack of all trades, master of none” skillset and made me consider that maybe it was actually hurting me. 

In September, I picked up a part-time contracted role as a Virtual Marketing Assistant for a small company, which has been a great job but without enough hours to make a living wage, so it hasn’t necessarily aided my ongoing worries about the sustainability of my career mixed with how will I ever pay off my credit card debt?  This job does have its benefits, and that is flexibility, being remote, and giving me more marketing experience to have the potential to apply for more marketing-related jobs. 

In the meantime, I was getting sick of living with my parents and working from home out of my childhood bedroom. In a desperate attempt to be able to prove my income for potential apartments, I started a remote telemarketer job selling newspapers. This felt like a particular low (no shame on telemarketers, these people actually seemed to like their jobs and were really good at it, though, I still wonder how it’s possible to enjoy such work) After a month of being told to rebuttal more enthusiastically to the endless amount of people who definitely don’t want to be delivered newspapers, I quit. 

Luckily, I had already picked up a second client through virtual assisting, and as of today have joined an agency for virtual assistants. While it’s not where I started out, and while this may be a tangent, I’m embracing it fully. Virtual assisting, especially for creative-minded businesses, is varied, exciting, flexible, and remote work. As a position, it supports my need to constantly learn new things, take on multiple projects at once, and utilizes both artistic and technical sides of my brain—through graphic design projects, video editing, and copywriting, to scheduling, marketing, and project management. With a few more clients, this actually might give me a living wage. But even better, virtual assisting has given me the freedom to pursue an online 9-month long, UX/UI Design Certification program, so, maybe in 9 months when I turn 26 and have to get off my parent’s health insurance, I can find a sustainable, fulfilling job with benefits! We’ll see. 

And in more good news, there’s only 15 more days of 2020. I’m sensing good vibes for us creative professionals, but I want to know—What weird paths and tangents you’ve gone down this year? Or in life?  Reach out to me on Instagram or connect with me on LinkedIn! I look forward to hearing from you. 

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