When Disaster Strikes: Wedding Photographer Nightmares with Sal Cincotta
Unless you have been living under a rock, you know the entire world is dealing with Covid-19 and the aftermath of this has yet to be realized. Panic and desperation are challenging small business owners around the world. So much uncertainty. So much still to be realized as every day delivers more bad news. If you are like me, I am just looking for some positive news. Any glimmer of hope that things will return to normal sometime soon.
As of this writing, nothing even close to that is occurring. Every day is more bad news. People are dying; brides are panicking, wondering if their dream wedding will occur or not; venues are panicking because with each passing day, they are losing tens of thousands in revenue that will never be recovered; and the list goes on and on.
As wedding photographers, we need to figure out what to do in certain situations, how we can ensure our businesses survive this pandemic, and what the future looks like for our businesses. Here are some real-time things we are dong at Salvatore Cincotta Photography to help put our customers at ease and prepare for the future.
This is the reality. You have a contract with your customers. That has to mean something. We don’t just throw agreements out the window because of the pandemic. Do you understand what would happen to the entire economy if we did?
Real talk. You have contracts with vendors that you need to adhere to. And your customers have contracts with you, that they need to adhere to. This is how the world works. Contracts exist for when things go wrong. Well, everyone, things are going wrong.
Now, that doesn’t mean compassion goes out the window. It doesn’t mean that you can’t take each situation case by case and make mutually beneficial decisions to keep everyone happy. But see, that’s the key: “keep everyone happy.” What you cannot do is allow your business to be destroyed—that’s not being nice, that’s being foolish. If you own a real business and this is how you provide for your family, I’m sorry, but what in the world are you thinking? For me, I have staff to pay, they have bills and mortgages to pay, they have food to put in their families’ mouths. So, how am I being responsible if I just say “screw it”?
So, here is what I recommend for you and your customers. First, if they have to reschedule dates, allow them to move them without penalty. We have already rescheduled several weddings and other shoots, no harm no foul. What I will not do is refund deposits. Give and get, right? Has to be mutually beneficial. If you just refund all money, now you are losing the deposit and the potential revenue they are contractually obligated to pay.
Second, if you are booked on the new date, give them a full refund. I know this is not what you want to hear and I know you are not contractually obligated to do this, but this is that “compassion” I am telling you about. It’s not their fault and no it’s not your fault, but shit happens. We have to work together to find balance.
An alternate option would be to subcontract the new date so you still own the event, the post-production, the album, etc. So, yeah, profits might be cut, but it’s a potential win-win. Another option might be to not refund the deposit (you keep cash in your business) and offer them the ability to apply it to a family session, etc.
The key here is finding balance. Protect your business. You are not a bad person because you are enforcing your contracts which exist for this very reason. So, get that out of your head.
Idle hands are the devil’s tools
I’m going to be honest, this event, as horrible as it is, is showing me what people are made of. I’m not talking about photographers, I’m talking about humans that are just paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. GET UP. GET OFF YOUR ASS. This will pass. Yes, of course, there are parts of the country hit harder than others, but we have a decision to make. It’s a mental decision more than anything else. We have to decide to survive. Do you want your business to exist when this is all over or are you indifferent to that? If you want to survive, it ain’t gonna happen sitting on the couch watching the news feeling bad for yourself. There is only one way out and that’s to lean into this.
What does that mean? It means use this downtime to do something positive for your business. Think of all the tasks you have been sitting on for years (guilty by the way) because you had no time. Well, now you have time and plenty of it.
So what am I working on?
Website. Man am I behind on this. My blog is so behind. My images need to be updated. I’m just pissed at myself for letting it get this far behind.
SEO. You know we all need to relook at our search engine work and make sure our sites are ranking properly.
Samples. We just refreshed our sample albums. We ordered 8 new albums. Sure, the labs are closed, but when they open, I will have new albums in time for the fall bridal shows.
In addition, check out our preview room. We took every picture off the wall and are starting from scratch. It’s time for a complete refresh in the room. We are big believers in In-Person Sales, and what’s on the walls matters.
Editing Style Refresh. All of our styles have evolved. From the way you shoot to the way you edit, it probably needs to be updated to ensure we are attracting the right clients.
Gear Purge. Sell your old crap! Get it on eBay, etc. and get rid of it. Make money. You will end up spending it on new gear anyway. You know who you are.
Vendor Relationships. Your vendors are panicking as well. Start reaching out and planning for collaborative projects you can work on together.
Marketing. Yeah, you know that word right? The one you suck at. Well, now is the time to focus on it. What does marketing look like for the rest of the year? Magazines? Facebook ads? Bridal shows? Etc. Get your plan together so that the minute this thing starts to recede and people are upbeat, you will be poised to grow your business and get it back on track.
Look, we are all in the same boat. Some worse than others, but the reality is the same for all of us. The situation sucks, but we will make it past this. Step back, take care of your family, and then put your focus on the thing you spent years building and investing in: your business.
Stay positive—you can do this.