Entrepreneurs everywhere are facing the unimaginable. Megan Breukelman shares how she’s sustaining herself and her art during the coronavirus crisis.
I quit my full-time job for photography. Then coronavirus happened.
Taking the leap, as they say, is one of the most satisfying feelings there is. You’re building up your business during nights and weekends, your client base is growing – things are moving quickly. You have 30 weddings lined up for the rest of the year. You and your partner are in this thing together, working side-by-side day in and day out to make this dream work. Everything in life has fallen so perfectly into place.
You give your two week’s notice mid-February, enough time to sort things out and say your goodbyes. It was a remote job – you can still keep in touch digitally. Your marketing efforts for your photography business are in full force, your inbox is pinging, and you spend the first few days as a “free agent” relaxing and taking it in. You spent those recent wedding deposits paying down debts and starting to build a very meager nest egg for your life as a full-time freelancer.
Ten days later, a global pandemic shuts down your entire state – and seemingly the entire country.
Every wedding you had on the books for the foreseeable future is gone. All family sessions are off the table. No headshots, no portraits, no photos. You can barely leave the house, let alone get on the subway.
Your inbox is still pinging, but now every ping makes you flinch. Another postponed wedding, another canceled session. Your wonderful couples are making heartbreaking decisions for the good of public health. With an immunocompromised husband, there’s no way you’d be risking it anyway. You chat with other vendors who are in similar boats. The connection between you and your couples is stronger than ever, held together by the common thought of “when the heck is this all going to end?”
There are no paydays on the 15th and the 30th to look forward to. Your health insurance bill suddenly starts looking more like rent, but you can’t skip insurance when you can be hospitalized for touching a subway pole. The news cycle you’re keeping on in the background begins to exhaust you emotionally, but you’re afraid to turn it off in case you miss a new development.
All those things you never had time for are suddenly possible. Like the sun peeking from behind a cloud, you see things in another light. That light dims every once in a while and you’re back to laying in bed, but when it reappears, it is golden. It warms you. It reminds you that this is not forever.
Those social posts, magazine submissions, newsletters, blog posts that you’ve never had time to complete are suddenly small opportunities. They’re passing the time but more than that, they’re keeping your business afloat. Your brand is building its presence whether you realize it or not. Those blog posts are helping with your SEO, those social posts are keeping you at top of mind.
The family photography clients who can’t see you right now still want to support your business.
They want to buy gift cards for future sessions, they want to buy prints. The wedding photography clients whose weddings are long past are ready for their album, their prints.
Other photographers want to edit like you. They love your style. They want Lightroom presets, they want to pay for them. Your investment guide is beautiful, they want a template, they want to make their own. You realize you have so much more build on than just the physical part of being a photographer. There is opportunity in this time of crisis.
Your clients feel closer to you every time you check in on their wellbeing, every time you show up in your Instagram stories. You are building a connection within your community, with clients and vendors alike. The sun behind the clouds gets warmer and warmer.
A New Reality
For those getting married this spring, my heart aches. Months and months of planning, seemingly all for naught. Having to rearrange vendors, choose new dates, potentially lose deposits – how many marrying couples are watching a nightmare play out in real life? Everyone is hurting in so many different ways. Vendors are wondering when their paychecks will start coming in again. Couples are wondering if there are even dates left available for them if/when they postpone.
There are no easy answers for freelancers, or for anyone, right now.
Tens of thousands of people are feeling around in the dark, hoping for just a spark of light to help guide them. Though the timing in my life, when put to paper, seems less than optimal – I don’t see it that way. Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is a day-by-day process, but every day it becomes more clear to me that there is so much opportunity for creatives here. During times of drought, we must prepare for times of abundance.
This doesn’t mean you have to be working every second of every day. Productivity doesn’t matter in a time of crisis. Not giving up on yourself and your business, however, does matter. Some days it’s hard to take a shower, or eat a proper meal, or call your friends. It’s times like this that you need to take care of yourself the most. Your business does not thrive without you, so making sure your needs are taken care of is most important.
Stay strong, fellow freelancers.
Megan Breukelman is a Brooklyn-based photographer, marketer, and host of the Photo Opp Podcast. She aims to eat cupcakes and help photographers build on their passions.
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