Despite my background as a CPA, auditor, and experience as a business owner, I don’t openly post direct financial advice. However, I feel like this is an appropriate time considering COVID-19 and the massive global impact of this pandemic.
Editor’s note: This is a syndicated article by Pye Jirsa, founder of SLR Lounge and SLR Lounge Workshops.
I’ve heard many people in the photography community say, “now’s the time to buy stocks,” “this is a good chance to pick up Bitcoin,” or “don’t worry, this will all just blow over.” Most of these individuals are unqualified to give such advice, and many are failing in their own businesses.
Instead, I sat up late this past Saturday evening to offer you this article and a bit of financial advice. I hope it helps, and I hope you realize these are simply my opinions and my own action steps.
Feel free to share this article and comment below!
1. Client Cancellations/Postponements
Our studio will be honoring our client’s wishes to change/postpone dates without penalty. COVID-19 is not anyone’s fault, and as such, we will be allowing clients to move their date (ideally within 2020). All future dates are subject to availability, and weekdays are encouraged. There are no refunds, but there are also no penalties. Hopefully knowing what other studios are doing will help in your own response to this crisis.
2. If You Must Shoot
CDC is now recommending cancellation of events greater than 50 people, and the president has advised against groups larger than 10. If you have no choice but to shoot, use the following steps. The best option for the time being, reschedule.
If you must shoot… Photographers with events that are not postponing, do your best to shoot using all of the recommended safety precautions. Ditch the masks, they don’t do much unless it’s a fully sealed medical N95 (which should be reserved for medical practitioners on the front lines). Instead, when you are shooting events simply maintain “social distancing” of 6 feet. Stop with the hugging and handshaking for the time being. While shooting, wash your hands regularly, use sanitizer regularly. If sanitizer is sold out, make your own by mixing aloe gel, water, rubbing alcohol and put it into a small bottle. When you are on the dance floor, try to keep 3-6 ft distances as best as possible, and stay away from anyone exhibiting symptoms/coughing. Avoid touching your face, and throughout the day take regular breaks to use your hand sanitizer or wash up!
3. Expect a Loss of Income
Everyone will be hit hard this year. But event photographers should be prepared to get hit harder than most. Be wise with purchases and save those new gear wishes for down the road. Live well within your means!
4. Consider New Revenue Streams
Events are going to take a big hit in 2020. But, those doing portraiture may be able to fair a little better. While the public is afraid of large gatherings, they aren’t so worried about engagement shoots, headshots, and individual portrait sessions. This is the time to consider a pivot and addition of new products within your business. See point #9 in investing in yourself and your business.
5. Look for Opportunities
Photographers aren’t going to be the only ones hurting. Every small business owner will be in a similar position, some more so than others. If you are in the events space, understand that planners, florists, venues, and everyone in your space is going to be in pain.
Find opportunities! This is a great chance to be of help, offer test/styled shoots for no cost. Help them to create content, design their website, and other things that can help them get back on their feet. Invest in your networks knowing that they will invest back in you, especially when things improve.
6. Avoid ETFs and Index Funds
My honest advice: avoid the stock market unless you truly know how to cherry-pick the right stocks!
I have a fair amount of experience in finance and economics. Even then, I’m going to tell you that I am not a professional financial advisor. I’m simply offering an opinion. I tell you this because I urge you to be extremely wary of friends, family, and other photographers who CLAIM TO KNOW what’s going on in the stock market.
With that said, I will tell you this. I have spent over 2 decades in the Chinese community. I speak Cantonese/Mandarin and have done business in China for quite some time. When I heard about COVID-19 a couple of months ago, I began calling and talking to local friends that owned factories.
From my research, I learned that after Chinese New Year, many of those factories remained closed as workers stayed home. Six weeks ago I realized the extent of the supply chain disruption before the news cycles began speaking of it. I called my family and told them to exit all their positions one week before the first crash.
Why do I not share investment advice and information publicly? Because investing is a highly personal thing. Nobody other than tried and true professional investment advisers should be telling you what to do with your money, most especially unqualified photographers and friends who think they know what they are talking about. I hesitate to give advice because like every investor and advisor, we are all working off of imperfect information and market hunches.
So with all of this on the table, I will share with you my opinion that I firmly believe we are far away from any sort of a “bottom” in the market. I know Friday the market closed up, but I don’t believe it. The market is currently being artificially held up by federal aid and support which is going to fall out in the weeks to come.
There will be friends/family telling you we’ve already seen the worst of it, it’s time to jump in. Don’t believe them. The supply chain interruption and economic damage of this series of events will be felt long after the virus passes. In my opinion, we will lose another 30-70%+ market value before we reach any sort of a “bottom.” If you are going long on the market, be prepared to go really long!
7. Manage Your Savings!
I hope each of you has built up your savings accounts and war chests. Remember that the FDIC and other insurance services generally only protect bank and investment accounts up to $250,000 or so. As you move money around, I’d recommend keeping your cash diversified between several institutions. This is a “worst-case scenario” type of planning, but I’ll tell you that I spread my cash around between five different institutions. If any one particular institution goes down, I still have access to others while I work to getting my money back via the insuring agency.
Anywhere you have money, make sure it’s backed by insurance, and I’d recommend keeping less than the insured amount within that institution, even if they say it’s a “per account insurance.”
8. Keep Your Essentials/Food Storage Up
Expect that for the next several months there could be supply chain shortages on all of your daily essentials. At any time you should have enough food (dry/canned goods), water, drugs to last yourself at least 6-12 weeks. It’s not time to panic or make a run on the stores. I genuinely don’t think we’ll have a food shortage. However, depending on the news, it’s prudent to expect panic to cause additional runs on your local stores. While retailers figure things out, keep your essentials on hand.
9. Invest in Yourself and Your Business
You are going to have a lot of free time on your hands. This is the best time to grab books, Audible books, SLR Lounge Workshops, and other training resources. I hate that this sounds like a sales pitch, it’s not. This is literally the best thing you can do in your free time, and it’s exactly what I am doing. I’m using this time to invest in my own knowledge and back into our businesses.
We are using our time to rethink our website, portfolio, product offerings, SEO, etc. This is the best time to level-up your knowledge and skillset so you are hitting the ground running when the market turns around. If you don’t like the recommendations above, find others. But instead of trying to find opportunities in the stock market, look to invest in yourself! If you’re tight on funds, at least join our free groups below where you can learn and grow along with our communities.
10. Stay Productive and Healthy
This sucks and is going to continue to suck. But, we’re all in it together. Eat healthily, take care of your body and get your exercise in, even if it’s at home! One of the best ways to protect yourself against COVID-19 and other viruses/diseases is simply keeping yourself healthy!
About the author: Pye Jirsa is a wedding photographer based in Southern California and the co-founder of SLR Lounge and SLR Lounge Workshops. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Jirsa’s work here.