Dealing with Disruption in Your Photography Business

business Mar 16, 2020

Most photographers reading this have been photographers for less than ten years.  That means that very few have operated their business through a recession.  Recessions bring different economic rules and typically impact businesses the most during the first few months. 

Now I want to make sure that everybody understands that I am not predicting a slowdown due to the Coronavirus; however, there is certainly the possibility that it will happen.

If you look at the stock market for the last three years, you have seen all-time highs, historic quarterly gains, and an economic boom that we have never seen in our lifetimes.  The problem is that an economy like that will always have highs and lows, and at some point, if not in the immediate future, we will have a low.  I will say that the potential for the Coronavirus to create a recession is exceptionally high, so if you are a photographer and a business owner, then it's time to at least give it some thought.

There are some things that you have to be aware of going into a photography recession because it will change the way you operate.

Don't Stop Marketing

Photographers, I cannot stress this enough.  Businesses that pull ad money once business slows down are only digging their own grave.  You have to understand that times will be tougher for consumers, and that will drive them to be more frugal with their purchases, being that there will be fewer people looking for services, you have to make sure that you are at the top of mind when a need for your services comes along.

Now, that isn't to say that you should not be smart about your advertising money.  As I write this, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 epidemic, and it is dominating people's minds, the news cycle, and people are not thinking about photography......but it's important to remember one thing.....

Life goes on.

Soon after the news of this epidemic dies down, people will get on with life, so it may be wise to slow down your ad spend to coincide with the public interest in this virus. Still, once it's not dominating headlines and water cooler chatter, then it's time to kick your ads into high gear.

A Recession will Cause a Contraction of the Market, But also Your Competition

We have seen an explosion of photography businesses over the last ten years, and even more so in the previous 5.  Photography businesses are incredibly expensive to run, and when there is a significant recession, those that are doing this part-time will likely have to turn to full-time work, which means that many of the photographers that are not treating this as a real business will have to get to work.  The openness in the market leaves an opportunity for you to establish your brand.  There are so many success stories of the companies that formed in the middle of recessions, and, commonly, those same businesses are leaders of their industries during economic booms.  So look at it as an opportunity.  However, if you want to get to the other side of an economic recession, you have to follow a few more steps to prepare for it first.

Review your Contracts and Business Policies

This is specifically related to the current epidemic we are facing. If you are an event photographer, I do not doubt that you are feeling the pinch of our current situation. I can never remember a time where a situation the nation was facing had put such immediate pressure on our business in recent years. However, with the banning of gatherings, cancellation or postponement of events, and general fear of the unknown, many photographers right now are placed in a tight spot. Of the 34 shoots that we have scheduled through the end of May, we have already had ten postpone.

You must implement policies right now that protect your business.  You should not be offering refunds because that will be a fast track to putting you out of business, but at the same time, you need to show understanding and compassion to your clients who are also in a tough predicament.  What we recently did was inform all of our clients that we are waiving any change fees due to postponements of their wedding date. However, we are only doing that, PROVIDING that they ensured our availability before signing a new contract with their venue.  This is a fair outcome for them, and while it hurts our immediate cash flow, it will give us a chance to catch up throughout the year.  

I also highly recommend working with your clients that have faced postponement of their events to help them through this process.  The client experience is the essential component in the success of your business, and helping them can go a long way for the longevity of your business.

Save Your Money and Make Budget Cuts NOW

Like I said above, it's not a matter of if a recession will happen; it's a matter of when. That means that you cannot be too prepared in this Covid-19 epidemic should have you at least looking at your budget and finances to see where you can save money when times get a little tighter. The hardest part of a recession is always going to be at the beginning. During that time, you may have to dig into your savings a bit to keep your business afloat.

Remember, this is the time to protect your capital as much as possible, you will need it to be flexible.

Start by looking at your budget and eliminating any unnecessary subscriptions or monthly recurring charges.  Delay any large purchases that are unnecessary until more certainty comes back into the markets. That brand-new camera that you thought you were going to buy in a few months? Put that bad boy on the back burner until we know what the immediate future is going to hold. The hardest part of a recession is at the beginning because that is when there is the most uncertainty. Once we hit bottom and things start to trend upward, you can start making investments into your business equipment again.

Everybody in our industry will feel the effects of a recession, but your goal is to soften the landing as much as possible so that you can get rolling again once we turn the corner.

Invest in education!

There is no better time than during a recession to invest in education. Bettering yourself will help you to distinguish your product from others like it on the market. One of the things it stops many of us from using educational resources is time. If you are experiencing a downturn in business, then it is a good idea to use that time to better your craft.

There is no better time than during a recession to invest in education. Bettering yourself will help you to distinguish your product from others like it on the market. One of the things it stops many of us from using educational resources is time. If you are experiencing a downturn in business, then it is a good idea to use that time to better your craft.  Have you known for a while that you need to update your editing skills?  Maybe it's time to watch those tutorials you bought back in 2017 and never saw. 

But more importantly, use this opportunity to build relationships with your vendors and do styled shoots with them. This gives you both content to use and will help you form relationships that will be incredibly powerful once we get back to normal.

As always, everybody, I am here to help, so if you have any questions at all, feel free to leave them down in the comments below.  Stay safe, wash your hands, and practice social distancing by finishing the edits on those four weddings you have been procrastinating over.  Talk to you all soon.

-MA

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