Fight or Flight? Do You Have What It Takes to Survive? with Sal Cincotta
Photographers around the world have been impacted by the pandemic. If you are a photographer, the opening statement should be of no shock to you. However, what is shocking to me, as a business owner myself, is the reaction to those events. It has ranged from pure panic to survival fight mode and a rebirth of the “we can do it” attitude that has made this country what it is today.
No one could have predicted the current state of affairs or how the world would react to it—government shutdowns, limited gatherings, and just the overall mental state of humans. To make it worse, talk to any two people and you will get a different perspective on the whole “Covid-19” thing. Some believe it’s a conspiracy theory and masks are an encroachment on our rights, while others believe you could die without a mask that the CDC has already confirmed doesn’t work. The world is a crazy place right now and the mixed messages from the media and our government offices make it impossible to know what to believe or who to trust.
I preface all this to focus on the task at hand. Will, you and your business fight to survive this? I have watched in shock at the businesses that have just quit and given up. I’m not talking about just photographers. Surely, you have seen the same thing in your local markets. Businesses that have been around forever just closed up shop and moved on. I can’t even imagine not putting up the good fight here. Was the future that pessimistic? Why give up on your dreams? Why give up on something that you have taken a lifetime to fight and build for? I can’t imagine giving up. Don’t get me wrong, my business has been impacted. We had to cancel our conference, we had to lay off employees, but I was not willing to give up. And my point: nor should you! Don’t you dare quit.
Fight. Every. Damn. Day.
Success is not easy. It is not guaranteed. Success is hard. Everyone wants it, but not everyone will achieve it. This means we have to do the things no one else is willing to do in order to get to the top. Are you ready to fight? Because right now, it will be tougher than ever to succeed.
Here are the things we are doing to ensure we not only survive, but thrive in the current business environment.
It is way too easy to get comfortable. We all do it. We find our rhythm and we stick with what we know. There is only one problem with that: complacency leads to obsolescence. There is always a new and better way to do something. New techniques, new gear, and new products. Are you still relevant? Almost every professional industry has their own version of continuing education to stay certified, but not photography. This is a problem for sure.
I can tell you that in all my years doing this I continue to educate myself and push myself each and every year to grow professionally. I love learning something new. It keeps you sharp as an entrepreneur and as an artist.
Education is the easiest way to ensure you and your business continue to stand out.
Say YES to everything
No matter how big or small, say yes to every opportunity presented to you. During this time, opportunities are scarce and this is no time to be picky. You have to find your inner hustle. This is where I feel like I saw a lot of business owners just give up. I watched local restaurants shut down completely because they didn’t feel like offering curbside dining or call-ahead pick up. FIGURE IT OUT. Seriously, figure it out.
For the last four months, we have been working on every single opportunity presented to us because we just don’t know what sector of the market will be impacted or where the next job is coming from. Clearly weddings are a bust in this moment with limitations on group sizes. Most weddings are being pushed to 2021.
So, what does that mean for me and my studio? We worked on small jobs like headshots, small commercial shoots, etc. Jobs that we normally might not pursue since they don’t align with our core business, but right now, if it’s green then it’s in perfect alignment with our business goals.
Guess what? You are not in this alone. Every other small business in the world is struggling right now too. This is a GLOBAL event. The upside to this is it is the perfect time for you to partner with other businesses who could benefit from your talents. Find common ground here. Find a way to barter with them. We need each other.
During this time, we reached out to vendors and started working on initiatives to create social content for them from older images or new stylist shoots. The rub? We provide this content and get premier space in their sales rooms. Sure, I’m talking weddings, but it doesn’t matter your genre, figure out the give-get and find a way to make it work.
Stay front of mind by becoming an expert
This might not be for everyone, but I’m telling you, people are craving content right now. We all have cameras, cell phones, Facebook accounts, etc. Use your platform, no matter how small or large to start generating informational content. This will allow you to position yourself as the expert in your area.
Don’t get hung up on the technology here. It is truly irrelevant. Start a blog. Create a newsletter. Give people a reason to come to your site with relevant and timely information about whatever area of expertise you have.
If you are a wedding photographer, what are some of the challenges you think your audience is struggling with right now? I can immediately think of topics that would get people clicking, sharing, and visiting your site.
- How to plan a wedding during a pandemic.
- Top 5 things to consider when planning your wedding in 2020.
- Backyard weddings, the new normal.
Again, the list goes on and on. Create content like this weekly and it will allow you to position yourself as the expert and ultimately will drive more business to you once things pick back up.
This was a tough one for us. During this time, we had no choice but to lay off non-essential staff. We truly had to protect the business. We dropped down to production staff and staff that generated revenue for the business. This was tough for several reasons. First, we had to let go of some long-time employees who were extremely loyal to us over the years. This crushed my soul. Secondly, it put a lot of the day-to-day operations back on my plate, so now myself and Alissa (my second-in-command) were suddenly overloaded and stressed with tasks. The upside to all this, we were able to cut costs and protect the most valuable resource any business can have: cash.
In addition, start looking at all those expenses you don’t need. If they are not tied to contract or essential services to your business, you might want to start looking at ways to cancel or pause. We cut back on a ton of crap that we just didn’t need. We shut off our water delivery service at the studio. We turned off the cable TV at the studio. We downgraded several other services that we realized we just don’t need. They are small savings here and there, but they add up.
Develop a fluid mindset
This might seem like a small and insignificant thing, but I can tell you that your state of mind is so important right now. If you look for the negative in everything you will find it. The same holds true for the positive. If you stay positive and look for mini success stories, you will find them. And those small successes will start to build on one another until you start finding larger successes.
This was one of the most challenging times I can remember in my life and my business. Normally, we hit a road block, we reroute, and we move forward. Well, during this time we had to adopt a more fluid mindset. What I mean by that is our plans were changing daily. Every day there was new guidance from the CDC, from state government, then from city government, all seemingly contradicting one another.
It is super easy to let the changes get you down because you feel this never-ending sense of uncertainty. We all need stability, but during this time, I’m not sure that’s possible. We have to roll with the punches.
This is where your survival instincts must kick in. No one knows what the future will look like. No one knows how long it will take for the economy to recover. No one knows if the wedding industry will ever look the same. If you are going to survive, you must reinvent yourself & fight. Whatever the future looks like, you need to be prepared to take advantage of it.
I alluded to this earlier where I was perplexed at how businesses just threw in the towel vs adjusting. Now is the time to look at ways of reinventing your business and looking for new opportunity.
For us, we doubled down on the commercial side of things. Why? Because I am confident that as the economy starts to recover, small and medium businesses around the world will start marketing again and they will desperately need our services. We launched a new headshot line of business and have been focusing on video production for web commercials. I can tell you that as of this writing it has paid off tremendously. Not only are we making headway with these new lines of business, but our already-established lines of business are picking back up.
Now is the time to decide. Are you going to fight for your business and livelihood or are you going to throw in the towel? I hope this has helped you in some way to understand you are not in this alone and there is a path forward. Don’t ever give up!