If you’re like many of my full time photography friends and colleagues, I’m sure there’s at least a little bit of unease filling your gut right now. COVID-19, is for lack of a better term, going viral across all media outlets. It’s all everyone is talking about, and early stages of fear and panic are setting in. Just yesterday in Ohio, the governor shut down the service industry by no longer allowing restaurants and bars to allow guests to dine-in and the CDC is suggesting all gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled or postponed, including weddings. This threw up red flags for many other industries, especially the photography industry.
The wedding industry has been going crazy as these developments are announced. I’m in a handful of wedding Facebook groups, and these new announcements have set the stress levels of brides and photographers alike through the roof. Many photographers are reporting that clients are canceling appointments left and right as reports from government agencies continue to come in. The cancelations are unsurprising given the circumstance, but are still incredibly jarring as a freelance, or self-employed photographer right now.
What will I do to make ends meet in the short term? What happens if my wedding clients start to cancel or delay their weddings? Should they be refunded? What will happen to my business?
These are all entirely valid questions as the future seems to be unclear, at least in the short term. The government has taken steps to try and aid the service industry due to the ban on events and restaurant/bar operations and opened Unemployment to the entire industry while waiving the wait period. It’s not certain if this will apply to freelance, self-employed, and small businesses should a full out quarantine be declared by the state or nation.
However, while the outlook on this situation in the US may not look very promising in the short term, it’s important not to panic at a time like this. Although that may be tough considering all of the media coverage surrounding COVID-19, rationality is going to be key in surviving the pandemic. It’s important to start thinking of plan-B’s right now for alternate ways you can support yourself through these times. Some of the below ideas may not work out in the long run during the COVID-19 outbreak as it’s impossible to predict what regulations may be put in place even a week from now, but for the short term, consider implementing these to offset your losses.
Open an online print store for your clients.
Should things continue how they are right now, businesses with less contact with the public (like print labs), may stay open. You’ll be able to drop ship prints and products to customers without meeting face to face.
If you already have an online print store already, consider incentivising your past customers with a discount.
Even if it’s only a small discount, you’ll still be able to profit off of the prints and can drive sales off of clients who have already had shoots.
Offer gift cards.
Gift cards are a great way to get money up front, that your customer can later redeem once this scare has died down.
Find ways to deliver other forms of value.
You’re a professional, right? You have tons of knowledge and expertise that you can offer to other people. Create an online class or workshop in an area that you specialize in and push it digitally until you can resume regular client work.
These are just a few ideas, and I know some people are probably rolling their eyes because these are much easier said than done, but that’s missing the point. The point is to avoid adapting the “oh well, nothing I can do” mentality, and use your creativity to find a new way to support your business. At some point, it’s possible we won’t have much control over the situation, but for now do what you can to help yourself. Complacency will result in the worst case scenario for you, so what does it hurt to take risks and try new things at a time like this?
As for all my friends who may be reading this who are not affected by the service industry shut down or are not currently fearing their self-employed or freelance future, do what you can to help your friends who are through this time. Many things are going to be out of their control, and the industry is really in a panic. If you’re able to continue to work from home, or have a job that is not impacted nearly as much, support your friends. Buy a print instead of overstocking on paper products. Purchase a gift card instead of that cheap plane ticket. That will go much further for your friend and will help them survive in the short term.