At a time when no one could pay for labor, my hero picked up a hammer anyway. My grandfather lived through the Great Depression. In the heart of it, he couldn’t control whether anyone would hire him, and he didn’t know when it would end, but he could control whether he got up and went to work anyway.
Uncertainty is an underestimated drain on emotional and physical wellbeing. Our world has been hit by a significant amount of uncertainty in the past few weeks. Since that time, I have been on the phone with dozens of amazing photographers and industry leaders, each one coming together to show support and to explore ideas for how to weather this undefined storm. I want to express my deepest sympathies and love to all of you: my community of friends, family, colleagues, and clients.
There is no easy answer. But, as I’ve listened and shared ideas during these conversations, as I’ve reached back to recall advice from my mentors and take lessons from my loved ones, I have been able to compile a handful of the most profound and actionable steps that have worked for me and those I look up to. I believe these steps can drastically increase our health and wellbeing during times of uncertainty and help us come through to the other side on better footing.
In difficult and uncertain times, we are presented with an opportunity, unlike any other, to redefine and refine who we are, to pick up our hammer and build. Here are my step-by-step ideas for how to start:
[Related Reading: These Companies Are Helping Photographers During The Coronavirus Crisis]
Take Care Of Your Current Clients
If you haven’t reached out to your current clients yet, stop reading this right now and go talk to them. Preemptively reaching out to them and letting them know that you’re thinking about them, that you care for them, and that you’re hoping for the best, can make all the difference. Your clients are facing some significant financial and emotional decisions. They may be wondering what their options are, if you’re going to cancel on them, if they’re allowed to postpone, etc. You can give them back a bit of certainty by reaching out with love and options. Doing this preemptively will separate you as someone who cares.
Our studio reached out to all those who have weddings within the next 8 weeks by phone, and reached out to everyone with 2020 weddings by email. If it could potentially be helpful for you, feel free to reach out, and we will share a copy of that email with you.
Take Care of Your Past Clients
If you can, make sure all your clients, including past clients, know that you’re thinking about them. While people are socially isolating themselves, many would appreciate the call or email, the reminder that they’re not alone, even if it feels that way.
These past clients may even be in a place where they are focusing on their homes and their families, leaving an opportunity for you to help them fill their walls and homes with photos. While I absolutely would avoid attempting to push products that people don’t need, remember that there is talent you can provide (design consultations for albums and wall art, for instance) that will truly help people refocus and stay busy during this changed life experience.
Take Care Of Yourself
How are you doing? It’s okay to be struggling. It’s expected. It’s normal. Small businesses are the backbone of our country, and the backbone feels the weight the most. But don’t let it break. Here are a few concrete recommendations for self-care:
- Create a schedule
It may be more important now than ever to create and follow a schedule. If you are like me, you have lost several of your time anchors: school drop offs and pickups, face-to-face meetings, scheduled shoots, etc. These types of scheduled tasks create time anchors that ground the rest of your day. Without them, you can find yourself just floating around with the tide. So it’s time to create your own anchor. When will you wake up each day? What will you do for the first 120 minutes of each day? The beginning of your day may set the tone for the rest of your day or even your week. Whether you’re a night owl or morning bird, give yourself some parameters and stick to them.
Every single day, continue to move. If you can safely go for a walk, bike ride, etc. outside, then do it. If not, there are dozens of amazing aerobic YouTube channels and live streams out there. Find the one that interests you the most and take 20-30 minutes each day to speed up your heart rate.
- Consume your social media and news cautiously
Remember Agent K from Men in Black? “A person is smart; people are dumb, panicky dangerous animals, and you know it.” It’s a line from a movie about aliens, I know. But it syncs with us because we also recognize the truth in it. The news and social media thrives on hysteria. That’s not just hyperbole; the algorithms that run the show for social media and news outlets are literally calibrated for view time and share-ability, and view time and share-ability are maximized by triggering intense human emotions, the most intense of which are fear and anger. In other words, social media and news outlets automatically favor fear- and anger-inducing content. Articles, memes, podcasts, news clips, videos, quotes, and posts get shared and re-shared, tagged and re-tagged, and they start to flood our online lives, giving us the perception that they are actually all around.
Remember, your perception of life is only as real as the information you consume. And you get to choose what information you consume. Choose carefully. Not all information is true. And not all information is helpful.
- Do something daily for yourself
Warren Buffett said “the most important investment you can make is in yourself.” You remember that guitar that has been sitting in the closet for years? How about those books you’ve been meaning to read? Have you ever wanted to spend some time exploring a new interest or hobby? Now is the time. Every day, set aside some time for yourself. Here are a few ideas:
- Read a book
- Call family or friends
- Listen to podcasts
- Write in your journal
- Play with your kids
- Listen to music
- Write a letter
- Clean your home
- Practice mindfulness / meditate
- Memorize you favorite quote
- Watch a new film
- Practice instruments
- Take a nap
- Learn a new language
- Take an online course
[Related Reading: Coronavirus: 10 Pieces of Business & Financial Advice for All Photographers]
Serve Your Family and Loved Ones
If it is true that we rise by lifting others, then what better time to serve than when many are feeling low? Make sure that your loved ones are taken care of. Reassure and comfort them through small acts of kindness. A smile. A phone call. Doing a chore for them. Whatever it is, the sentiment alone can change someone’s course for the better.
Refine Your Business
Now is the time to refine your business and prepare for the other side of this turbulent sea. I am confident that when this ends, those businesses and people who continue to work will find success.
I was 11 when my grandfather first told me the hammer story. He was born in 1914 and lived through the Great Depression. It was an extremely difficult time for almost everyone. But he got up anyway. He’d just find a job site and pick up a hammer. After some time, the job-site foreman would realize he was there and tell him to leave. His regular response was, “Four hands are better than two, and you know it. There’s no need to pay me; just let me work.”
This may sound absurd to work for nothing, but the alternative was to stay at home and do nothing, and that was even more absurd. My grandfather shared with me that he very seldom went more than a few days without pay, because as soon as a position opened up, he was the easy choice of hire; he already had the skill; he’d already shown his resolve.
This turbulence will end. It will. And when it does, your services will be needed again. So what can you do now to strengthen and make your business better for later?
For my part, I will be working on refining my photojournalism skills by photographing my kids. I will be spending time every day on SLR Lounge going through all of their education. They are currently reducing the cost of membership by 30% to help photographers continue their education and growth. If you aren’t grappling with day to day expenses and making ends meet, this is a great time to jump in. I will be creating valuable web content, rich with SEO as guided by the course. I will continue to post routinely on social media to maintain relevancy and stay top-of-mind. I will be reaching out to wedding vendors and seeing what needs they have. As we all know, camera in hand is only a small portion of what a photographer does.
My friends, life is full of defining moments. This one could help you realize your hidden potential. The only thing that we know about the future is that it comes one day at a time. And so we take it one day at a time. With love, care, and strength.