If you are a small business owner, I know you are going through a tough time. I understand this because I’m in the same boat as you. I am the co-owner of two businesses that not only have very little money coming in right now, but we’re also having to give refunds to some of the people who had previously booked with us and have now been forced to cancel their vacation. Prior to the COVID shutdown, both of our businesses were on track to have our best year ever. We were absolutely blowing the roof off of all our previous years. That all came to an abrupt end a few weeks ago.
Although this looks like the end of the road for many small businesses, I can’t help but feel optimistic about the future. I have a feeling that many of us will come out of this stronger (and much smarter) than we were before this pandemic. Part of the reason I feel this way is because I, along with many other businesses on the Gulf Coast, went through a similar situation in 2010. That disaster, the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf Of Mexico, set the wheels in motion to make Shore Shooters Beach Photography what it is today.
Prior to that oil spill, Shore Shooters consisted of myself and one independent contractor who took my “overflow” work. In other words, if I was already booked up and someone else wanted to book, I would give it to the other photographer. We were only serving Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama at that time. I was comfortable with that. It was easy to manage and I was able to put back enough money during the summer to get me through the slow winter season. At the time, I thought I was living my dream and I had no desire to change anything about it.
Then in the spring of 2010, just as I was starting to book beach photography sessions for the summer months, the “tar balls” from the oil spill started washing onto our beaches. One day, the phone was ringing with people wanting to book an appointment with me. A few days later, the phone was ringing with phone calls from those same people asking for a refund because they were changing their plans and going to a different beach town (one that was not covered with oil). I remember one day in particular when I had two different calls from people who said they had decided to go to Myrtle Beach instead of Gulf Shores. My thought was “I wish I was in Myrtle Beach”.
In the middle of this oil spill, my overflow photographer called me to let me know that her husband had received a job offer with a company in Nashville and they would be moving there in a couple of weeks. Of course, this was a very good move on their part because I was not able to give her any work and her husband’s employment was also being impacted by the oil spill, so I was relieved to know that they were heading to a place where they could have a stable income.
I spent the next few days debating whether or not to even look for another photographer. After all, I couldn’t even fill up my own schedule, much less have work available for another photographer. But despite the numbers, I decided that I was going to take a positive approach to this situation. So I placed an ad on Craigslist looking for a new overflow photographer.
Several days and lots of applicants later, I had narrowed it down to 2 people. At this point, I did something else that made absolutely no sense at the time. Although I didn’t have work for either of them, I decided to add BOTH of them to the schedule. One of them, Josh Thurber, is still shooting for us 10 years later. The other, April Loyle, is now the co-owner of Shore Shooters and is also my partner in a new business we created together several years ago, Mountain Escape Photography in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Believe it or not, things turned around almost immediately after I added them to the schedule. By the end of the summer, I was scheduling both of them for beach photography sessions nearly every day and we have continued adding more photographers to the team every year since then. And remember that comment about wishing I was in Myrtle Beach? We’re now in Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Fort Myers Beach, St. Pete Beach, most of the beaches along the Florida Panhandle, and several other places!
Here’s my point in telling you all of this…
I believe sometimes God allows situations like this to push us out of our comfort zone and tell us that He has something bigger in store for us. If it hadn’t been for that oil spill in 2010, Shore Shooters might still be just two photographers shooting beach portraits in Gulf Shores. What looked like the end of the road for my business was really a way to force me to open my eyes to new possibilities. If it hadn’t been for all of those people telling me that they were going to a different beach town, maybe we wouldn’t be doing business in those other beach towns today. If it hadn’t been for the oil spill, I wouldn’t have placed an ad on Craigslist and met the person who has played a HUGE role in the growth of Shore Shooters and the creation of Mountain Escape.
So my message to small business owners is this: DON’T GIVE UP! Fight for your business. Use this downtime to re-evaluate everything about your business. Figure out where you can improve.
- Are you happy with your website? If not, this is a great time for you to make changes to it.
- Learn how to use social media to advertise your business or spruce up your existing social media accounts. And don’t forget to use social media to keep in touch with your customers. They may not be able to come to your business to see you in person, but if you keep in touch with them through social media, your business will probably be one of the first they’ll visit when things return to normal.
- Organize your finances. This is always a good idea, but it can be especially important during a disaster. During the above-mentioned oil spill, I saw a lot of businesses having a terrible time getting money from the relief fund because they did not have the paperwork to show how much money they were actually losing.
- Is there a product or service that you can sell online? Our businesses are currently pushing gift certificates that can be used any time. We’re also selling the Lightroom Presets that are used by our own editing team. We have even started selling landscape prints…something we have talked about for years, but never took the time to pursue.
There are endless ways to take advantage of this slow period to make your business better than it’s ever been. Spend your quarantine time doing all of those little things that you’ve never been able to find time to do so your business will be ready for your customers as soon as they are able to return. Remember, we’re all stuck at home right now and dreaming of the day when we’ll be able to take a vacation, eat in a restaurant, and go shopping again. That time will come soon, so you need to be ready for it!
You WILL get through this! We’re all in this together and we’ll get through it together if we don’t give up.