For a brief moment this spring, Patrice Cameau, the founder of the CAMPspace content creator studio in the D.C. area, was almost ready to call it quits.
"There was zero revenue coming in," she says of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. "That right there will make you feel like it’s time to to throw in the towel."
But instead of giving up, Cameau took the proactive step of reaching out to the landlord of her small, family-owned space to discuss her options for rethinking her space needs. This email contained a bulleted list of different ways CAMPspace could make good on its financial commitment during a time of unprecedented economic strain.
The landlord agreed to split the rent payment into two — one chunk on the 15th, the other on the 30th — and Cameau says she might have gotten even more flexibility if she needed it. She attributes her success to building a solid one-on-one relationship over time.
"Listen, I hate paying my rent," Cameau says. "The fact that I do that every month pains me. But I always want it to be a positive relationship, whether it’s COVID or not. Landlords are not always the best or nicest. It’s up to us, the people that are leasing, to try to forge a positive relationship and always keep things on record."
Negotiation has always been part of the CAMPspace business model. When Cameau first envisioned the idea, it was a co-working concept — the very first to serve the Prince George's County area where she lives. The pitch was to bring an elevated, convenient work community to the suburbs so that she and others like her could stop commuting 30 minutes into D.C., fighting for parking, and showing up at meetings already exhausted.
Balancing another role as a communications consultant for local businesses, Cameau says CAMPspace was created "to fulfill a direct need for myself," and she slowly built a solid community of co-working clients looking for a workspace. But about a year into the project, she realized revenue from photoshoots and events renting the space by the hour was doubling or tripling her monthly co-working dues. That's when she made the decision to pivot CAMPspace from a co-working model to become a full-time content creation studio targeted specifically at women creators of color. Naturally, COVID-19 arrived just as the pivot was announced.
The pandemic put a stop to in-person events, but Cameau took this opportunity to build brand awareness. She refocused her efforts on Shades of Content, her new podcast that delves into ways women of color can can create and distribute content, and EDIT: Virtual Check In, a digital safe space for women creators of color to find support and community during the pandemic. Both efforts have given the business forward momentum while the space is closed to clients.
"While we weren’t bringing in revenue April and May, that podcast was able to increase our reach and learn about CAMPspace," Cameau explains. "Now those additional eyes have helped revenue. These last two weeks have been better than any in the last year."
Part of this success is due to a long-term focus on building a targeted, engaged community of social media followers. Despite spending zero dollars on advertising, Cameau believes that her hands-on approach to customer service and willingness to share her own platform has turned CAMPspace into a trusted partner among her target demographic.
"I think in the African American community, it is important for us to help each other and pull each other up if we see a business doing something positive," she says. "Our customers do that for me, and I return the favor. When people do shoots in the space, we put it on our Instagram and give them exposure. It’s a very natural, cyclical thing."
Whatever the coming months bring, Cameau is not deterred. "I do the work and keep it moving," she says, and even a pandemic won't stand in the way of her mission to give her community a voice.
"I want every woman to understand that their influence is powerful and it can lead to ways to create a life that she loves, can make money, and can inspire others," she says. "I hope that women — particularly women of color — are able to look inside themselves and embrace how dope they are. Just share it! Put it out there! It’s okay! Do that because you never know who you’re helping and how sharing that info and that expertise can change your life."