Posted by Prairie on Oct 04, 2022

I’m here to try to  write a bit about the Business (™) side of Soft Chaos. While we are artists, we also have to worry a lot about how to survive in the capitalist hellscape that currently exists. 

Our process has involved working closely with a local business coach, a Montreal organization with the mission of supporting local entrepreneurs, and a cooperative setup to help cooperatives. We’ve had to do extensive work on a business plan to prove that Soft Chaos is a viable thing. We know it is, but it’s been a struggle to prove on papers to others.

There is a pressure to prove you will make lots of money, and grow very big very fast. Not wanting to do that involves a constant push-back against “conventional” business wisdom. While it has been a challenge, we’ve found some folks willing to champion that cause.

I want to talk about how we built the OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) for Soft Chaos in a worker-focused way. Early on a potential funder identified one of our strengths as the “retention of high level talent” (or in other words, our unwillingness to burn people out so they stick around), and so we’ve been able to focus on that as the basis for every goal we set for our studio.

To start, we found a list of the causes of burnout (and altered it a bit to be more directly applicable to us):

  • Unrealistic Workload
  • Uninspiring Work
  • Lack of Authority and Control
  • Unclear Expectations
  • Unfair Treatment
  • Feeling Unappreciated
  • Lack of Social Support
  • When Failure is NOT an option
  • Lack of Compensation

Every goal we set we can now do with this in mind. Honestly, a lot of this we were already doing in practice, but the exercise just helps to articulate the practice more clearly as a business case.

Every time we set an income goal, it is in service of making sure our workers are fairly compensated. Our OKRs, probably contrary to those of many companies, set a limit on how many contracts we take in, in service of making sure that there is a realistic workload and that everyone could take on more if, for example, one of us gets sick. We make sure to always have a creatively fulfilling project that we have control over on the go in addition to our client work, so that we can be inspired and make wild (possibly impractical or risky) decisions without having to go through others for approval.

A lot of these decisions may seem to work against the possibility of getting funders to believe in your work, but what we’ve found is that it filters out those who would probably not be a good fit regardless (even if they have those sweet sweet piles of money that would pay our rent). They also seem like less of a liability when they are reframed in ways that speak “the language” funders speak. We did a lot of work on this when we worked on getting our website up (which Squinky also wrote about in an earlier post). 

It might not be the most natural for us, but knowing who we’re talking to and learning how to frame our worker-focused model has been useful to us. We've started to speak to an audience in a way that lets them see that there are benefits (like retention) to a less exploitative and extractive model of work. This lets us continue to making steps towards sustainable wages and the workplace that we really want to be able to provide for everyone at Soft Chaos.

So, I guess to summarize If you’re not working in a traditional business model (exploiting worker labour for profit and promising infinite growth), you need to be able to articulate:

  1. what it is that you are doing (for us, worker-focused sustainability),
  2. what you can promise (for us, long-term retention of top experts in the field and positive social impact)

and then find the people who want to support that (hopefully with their own piles of money).

Hope this helps, or at the very least gives you a tiny peek into how we Do Business (™) here at Soft Chaos.

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