The coronavirus has affected most of the world. In the UK, freelancers have been hit hard with no financial help until June at the earliest. Here are some brutal business lessons that we are all going to have to swallow.
Before I go any further into this, I want to offer a bit of perspective. Our jobs are a treat, they are. If photography stops, the world will continue turning. We aren't doctors, delivering food, making food, or teaching future generations. And at times like these, it is worth remembering that. However, we are all individuals with a passion and careers that we want to hold onto.
Let's Start With a Positive
We are wanted and desired. My phone has not stopped ringing, from big agents to large agencies struggling to be able to create content for their clients. I have never been as in demand as I have these past two weeks. Sadly, I can’t produce a lot of the work, as I am a food photographer, and we simply can’t get the food in the UK at the moment. I also can’t justify shooting food for advertisements when there is a limited supply in the shops for people to eat.
Clients have sent me kind emails saying that as soon as this is over that they will be looking to work with me again and that they have plans for me. Despite the brutal economic downturn, I am reassured that once this is over, it will be business as usual for me.
Your Gear Is Pointless
When sat at home with a demising bank balance and an empty diary, your latest Canon or Nikon camera isn’t going to do you a great deal of good. If we are all totally honest, most of us could be shooting on a 10-year-old camera system and producing very similar results that only a photographer would gripe about while pixel-peeping. Gear comes and goes, but your talent doesn’t. It might be prudent going forward to focus your spending on your portfolio and your education rather than gear. You can always rent the gear when a big job comes in, and most of them have a budget for kit anyway. Keep a simple get the job done kit at home and see it as a tool, not a fancy toy that has marginal gains over the previous model.
This week, I have been shooting from home with a couple of 10-year-old speed lights and a Canon body. Nothing fancy and nothing flash. I am still managing to get the jobs are done and deliver what the client needs.
That last bit of kit you purchased would probably be better as money in your bank account. Let's be honest here: most of our purchases don’t allow us to do anything new. Granted, buying a 3,200-watt light or a fast head for a pro pack can open up doors, but that new lens or camera probably won’t. Looking after your cash flow and making sure that alongside any savings, you have money rolling in and out is important.
For UK photographers who are sole traders, there will likely be no financial help until June. If you splashed all of your cash and are living invoice to invoice, you are probably feeling the pinch a little harder than you really should. It is great advice in hindsight, but once things pick up, it is worth opening a savings account and trying to pull together a year's worth of money that will get you by should something else (Brexit) happen. Removing this stress will push your career along far more than new gear. Knowing that you are set means that you can focus on creativity rather than stressing about the money.
Keep on Top of Your Paperwork
In the last 48 hours, I have had photographers texting and calling asking me where they find certain tax codes, when they should have filed certain papers, and who they should be giving their details to. The phone lines are completely jammed right now, so it is a stressful game to be playing. Making sure that your accounts, business property details, and personal details are all up to date with the right authorities is super important. I use the last Friday of each month for this. And if I get a shoot on that day, I move the job forward to the next free day rather than pushing it back to the next free date.
I run a very tight ship. There is very little excess spending that goes on both in my business and personal life. This isn't just because I don’t care for material possessions, but because my business needs to be viable, and in the decade that I have been a photographer in the UK, we have had two Brexit issues and a recession to cope with. It is also looking like we are heading into a second recession too. I don’t have loans, kit on the lease, credit card bills, or any other fixed expenditure that I could do without. My gear is purchased used to save on devaluation, and I try to not buy anything that I don’t need to get my job done day today.
Once the Coronavirus crisis has lifted, the landscape for photography businesses will have permanently shifted. People will have lost their jobs and savings, personal spending will be lower, and advertising will be more cautious, looking for multiple usages per shoot rather than spending on specific medium campaigns.
Look at what is in your kit bag. Look to see if you can shift some of it and downgrade to used previous models. I am sure most of us could pull a couple of months of bills out of gear that we just don’t need. Going forward, we can all hold our heads high that we are part of a desired and required industry. The last few weeks have certainly proved this to me. The internet is full of people saying that the public doesn’t respect photographers, but recently, I have found this to be the complete opposite. Hopefully, this shift will be something that we can all look forward to enjoying in the following years.