As the pandemic struck, four savvy Liverpool entrepreneurs knew they needed to adapt fast to survive. By taking a risk to transition from live arts to digital arts overnight, they created their own rhythm to success.
The Liverpool Arts Bar was opened by best friends Alex Medlicott, Ben Cosgrove, Tom Wilson and Jordan Bucknall on Hope Street in Liverpool in June 2019. The business was quickly established as a fresh, creative space designed to support and champion the local artistic scene, showcasing diverse talent from the worlds of music, poetry, theatre, comedy and film.
When the UK went into lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, few sectors were hit as hard as hospitality and events. As lockdown began, Alex and Ben realised they would need to quickly re-evaluate their business model in order to survive.
Transitioning from live events to digital events overnight
“We recognised that if we wanted to survive the lockdown periods and come back stronger than before, we needed to adapt to what was going on around us,” Alex said. “We immediately decided to move all of our content online, from setting up virtual events and a fundraising campaign to selling vouchers and merchandise.”
Within the first week of lockdown, Liverpool Arts Bar had hosted an online quiz, an open mic night, a ballroom dance class and gigs with local artists as well as setting up a fundraising campaign which would allow viewers to ‘Tip The Band’ and show their support for struggling artists. But transitioning to a digital first model wasn’t easy. Ben and Alex had to learn new techniques as they went and relied heavily on the tech in their hands – their phones, and their ability to upgrade their devices and flex their data plan through Communications Plus, a partner of O2 Business.
Alex said: “When you’re dealing with massive events like pandemics you need the support from your big suppliers such as O2. We had never live streamed before and weren’t skilled at videography, sound mixing or photography. Thankfully, we were able to upgrade our mobiles and tablets to the latest models which allowed us to shoot in 4k for the first time. We were then able to improve our skills by getting advice from our O2 representative and by taking part in online courses in digital marketing, videography and more.
“This improved the quality of the videos we were creating for grassroots artists as well as the video quality when live streaming our events. By having access to the O2 Business flexible data plan we could also live stream on the move and flex our data up and down to meet different needs each week, allowing us to prioritise certain projects.”
From surviving to thriving
The online community rallied around Liverpool Arts Bar as they continued to champion and promote local artists throughout the pandemic. Their Instagram page has since seen its follower count quadruple, and more than 20,000 people have tuned into their virtual events on Facebook. The business owners also launched a new state-of-the-art website, as a one stop shop for all of their digital content, as well as new YouTube channel.
Alex said: “The amazing thing about having to do everything virtually is that we’ve been able to identify and work with so many new and exciting artists, that we might not have discovered before. And because we have been able to build up such a strong online community during the pandemic, we are now seeing a spike in new customers coming into the venue now that we’re open again.”
With Liverpool Arts Bar back open and trading, Alex said they have had time to reflect on the changes that they have made and are hugely thankful for the flexibility and support that enabled them to adapt and try something new.
Alex said: “We’d always planned for our business to have a digital offering, but the pandemic accelerated our plans and ambitions and forced us to step out of our comfort zone and dive straight in. We’ve found that having the flexibility to do more on the move has become a key priority even after reopening and we’re grateful that our suppliers are continuing to help us do that. It has become a new way of working for us as we continue to explore new projects, both digitally and at the venue.”When asked about what advice they would give to other small businesses looking to boost their digital capabilities, Alex said: “Firstly, don’t be afraid to take a risk. We decided pretty quickly that we needed to adapt, and thankfully that decision paid off. We are now so excited to see what the future holds after increasing our online following, and we are looking forward to creating new content and working with new artists in our physical venue.
“Secondly, we would say, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether that’s from your family and friends or even from suppliers like O2 who have expertise in helping businesses to bolster their digital capabilities and adapt. The old saying of “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” is true. Suppliers are often as keen to see your business thrive, just as much as you are.”
The Liverpool Arts Bar is now reopen on Hope Street, Liverpool.