How would you manage operating in the wedding industry today

 

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How would you manage operating in the wedding industry today

Long story short: My wife and I are wedding photographers (this is year 4), and as a result of the coronavirus our industry has basically been left with very little to do. Our core business model (that has been effective up until March) was booking ~30 weddings/yr at around 4k per package. We’ve always supplemented this with smaller photo session works (mostly family + couples portraits).

Due to the continued shutdowns (even as our state “reopens”), the weddings that normally pay the bill still remain disallowed (or at best come with a long list of restrictions which is turning off most clients we work for who invest ~35k on their wedding day on avg.). We’ve made some efforts to shift towards smaller weddings and elopements, but the inevitable trouble is the market will not allow for wedding packages that cost as much as we’d normally like. Short term, this isn’t a big deal, but it’s hazy at best what the future will look like for weddings – my biggest fears being if things continue in lockdown mode as we enter into 2021 (we’ve fortunately been financially prepared for a “rainy day”, but not so much prepared for 2-3 rainy years with limited work).

For us, this particular career path has been one made more out of passion than a strict desire to “make money” (we know we need it to maintain our simple lifestyle, but can live with not much), and as we continue to gauge current/prospective clients we feel pretty strongly once coronavirus restrictions go away, the industry will boom and we will continue to be in demand (to be honest – we remain in demand even now as the past few months have seen very high revenue, it’s just not “guaranteed” if weddings become impacted by restrictions a year from now, which makes future planning very difficult). This is what makes me not want to throw in the towel as I’m pretty confident demand will be there when we’re allowed to properly operate, but I’m also struggling with what to do between now-and-then (whenever that is) to better diversify.

*Some things we have done in the past few months already:*

* Updated our branding and invested in a better website and copy
* Reached out to other wedding vendors to be better networked, attain more referrals, add value to my clients through these relationships. I am only reaching out to ones I have confidence will be around in a year.
* Expanded elopement + small wedding offerings
* Expanded session offerings (more focus on engagement photos, family photos)
* Expanded blogging with affiliate marketing offers
* Working on digital products (mostly targeting other photographers)

The biggest challenge we have is the smaller session work and small wedding packages require a very high level of volume to make the same type of revenue (3-4x the number of clients, which is problematic for many reasons). The digital offerings are good, but more long term plays to grow revenue.

I’ve talked with others in my industry, but the thinking tends to be pretty insular, a little dramatic at times (understandably so), and many I’ve worked with are basically preparing to shutdown (if they haven’t already) due to lack of money or (frankly) mental dexterity to see through the current situation. Like I said, I’m being driven by passion and it’s just a weird time to still be experiencing the demand while just unable to perform most of my work, so it’s not like I’m in an industry that was necessarily dying as things evolve (like movie theater chains), but it’s one that is being reshaped but I expect will be around post-pandemic.

I’m posting here for advice and thoughts on how to make the best of this shoddy situation, and to actually “make it through”. Maybe there’s something else you think we could be doing or considering, I’d love to hear it.

How would you manage operating in the wedding industry today

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6 Replies to “How would you manage operating in the wedding industry today”

  1. You seem to be asking how one can make it through this time as a wedding photographer. That’s fairly rigid. What about what can you do to make it through as a photographer? That should open your horizons. I have a friend who works professionally as a wedding photographer that has added in some additional Covid-friendly items. I believe one such item is a family portrait. She sets an appointment, drives up to the house and calls the family to let them know she’s there. They come out and pose and she takes the shot outside. Doesn’t have to come within six feet of anyone. Simple stuff. I hired a photographer a few konths back to do product shots. I dropped everything off at his house and he staged and shot them in his own time after the products had sat long enough to be safe to handle.

    If all you do is one thing, you’re putting yourself at risk. Time to adapt and not try to force the market into your niche but rather your skills into the niche in demand.

  2. A photographer in my area is doing “mini-sessions” with families right now, and it seems like a great pivot for her.

    She posted an ad on Tinyhood … $150 / 30 minute slot / 6-8 digital photos. She just picked a certain day in a beautiful public park next to a wealthy area and all the slots filled up super quickly.

  3. Friend of mine faced a similar situation years back, not COVID-related. He upped his prices 4x and transformed his business into high-end only clientele. Adjusted his marketing. Travels to far off destinations. Fewer customers per year. Spends a greater number of hours at the computer working in post-production. Bespoke photographer basically. Invests deeply in the client relationship. Shoots last entire days, over multiple days. Loves his craft. No slow-down on this end of the market but it is quite competitive. Rich people have private aircraft and travel restrictions mean nothing to them. The family and friends (and the help!) can quarantine on a private island for a couple weeks and celebrate without masks, etc. He frequently has to sub-contract a partner or two. You have that figured out already so that’s a competitive advantage.

  4. Do you do video work? I work with brides, and a lot of them have been mentioning videotaping / zoom conferencing their wedding. I don’t know if it will work, but they might pay more to have a professional video and / or live stream their smaller get togethers.

  5. I think it’s impossible to plan for the pandemic reaction 9 months from now. People could bounce right back to normal and you might see a glut of demand as postponed weddings kick off. You might see people reluctant to gather in groups again. It’s really impossible to tell.

    Short-term, you seem to be generating sufficient revenue. Long-term, you might want to discount your rates in exchange for non-refundable deposits and guaranteed bookings next year and share the risk with your customers . I’d imagine that as a 25% non-refundable deposit against a 15-20% discount (so you’d pocket $800-$900 guaranteed, but might have to do a $4,000 shoot for $3,200). Then, if you find that there are cancellations next year, you can fill those slots with last-minute bookings or different projects.

    That’s my gut reaction to evening out next year’s season. Short-term, I think you’re on the right track. Smaller packages, shorter time commitments, expanded service offerings (the photographer at my wedding also does family portraits and newborn photography for existing clients in the off-season, and we’ve hired her several times since). Then just do what the rest of us are doing and hold on tight.

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