COVID-19 + The Wedding Industry
If you’re like me, you’re absolutely sick of seeing “COVID-19” on your screen. I’m sick of seeing it, hearing it, and talking about it. More than anything, I’m sick of the absolute destruction it’s had on our entire planet. People are dying- young, old, healthy, sick. This virus takes no prisoners and leaves destruction and pain in its wake, ripping people from their family members without a last goodbye in so many cases. People who had plans for tomorrow. People who had pets who are expecting them home. People who left books on their nightstands, food in the fridge, and laundry in the basket.
Why am I saying this? You already know this. I already know this. I’m saying it for a bit of perspective for the rest of this article. I want you to remember that while reading this, I am fully aware of the privilege I currently have as a healthy person with a roof over her head. I am fully aware that the problems I am facing with my business cannot compare to the actual loss of human life that is happening every day as a result of this virus, and I hope you will keep that in mind too because, there’s a good chance if you’re reading this, the things I’m going to be explaining are having an effect on you too.
The wedding industry is one of the many casualties of this virus. It’s people like me, small business owners who have spent years working their butts off on top of full time jobs, who are suffering. It’s couples who have spent months and months planning their one wedding day who are suffering. It’s family members who were waiting to celebrate their loved ones who are suffering.
I want to explain a little bit of my side of this, how business owners in the wedding industry are currently suffering, and explain some of the measures we are having to take as a result of this. I’m hoping it will shed some light on the new polices and practices we are having to implement, and the reasons behind them.
This virus has not only obliterated the Spring 2020 wedding season, but it is currently threatening the Fall 2020 wedding season; that means it’s also threatening all of 2021 for us. Let me elaborate on this.
First, a little bit of background info: as a wedding photographer, I book weddings anywhere from a year to a year and a half in advance. That means I am currently booking into Fall of 2021 and, at present, I am over halfway booked for the amount of weddings I typically take on. I’m in the minority of wedding photographers out there in that I put a strict limit on how many weddings I book per year. This year I capped it at 18, and was not planning on increasing that for 2021- if anything, I was considering decreasing it. A lot of wedding photographers are going to be surprised about that, because many shoot 25 weddings minimum per year and some shoot well into the 30’s and 40’s. Many will shoot double or triple headers to increase their numbers, meaning they shoot weddings two or three days in a row. I physically cannot do this due to health conditions. One wedding day is extremely taxing on me physically, and shooting a wedding day two days in a row is something I have tried to avoid as much as I am trying to avoid this virus, and that is not a joke. I shoot other types of photography as well, specifically boudoir and senior photography, as well as occasional other events or editorial shoots and I like to have some weekend dates available for them. So, generally, around 30 weekends a year are devoted to photography; this doesn’t include the weekdays I am shooting as well. So you can see how the 22 weekends a year I actually get off (which usually are only during the off months, December – April) are pretty important to me. I’ve found this limit works well for my mental health, as well as some physical limitations I have. I’m able to stay healthy and happy this way, meaning I get to enjoy this career I love, have a personal life, and serve my clients to the best of my ability.
So with weddings from Spring 2020 rescheduling to Fall 2020, that means my “no double header” policy had to go. What was already a fully booked Fall for me quickly became double that. I thought the worst of my stressors was that I now had two double header weekends scheduled back to back, and was worried about the toll that was going to take on me physically and mentally. However, now that Fall 2020 weddings are starting to look at rescheduling to 2021, that is quickly being out-run on my list of stressors.
There are two big struggles (as I see it) that wedding vendors are now facing: availability and finances. For people like me who normally put a limit on how many weddings we take on, we are facing the issue of having availability for nearly an entire years’ worth of weddings, on top of a new year of weddings. We’re having to be creative in how we can schedule these added events, and we’re having to face the fact that we will likely have little to no personal life next year. You may be thinking “well, you’re getting a big break right now during quarantine.” And you’re right, that’s very true. But many of us aren’t able to be quarantined with loved ones. We’re not able to be social. Some of us live alone and face the struggles of being isolated during a pandemic, which is extremely taxing on mental health. Put that on top of facing the fact that we’ll have very little time to devote to ourselves next year, and it’s enough to send anyone into a spiral of anxiety.
“..in addition to postponing this years income, many of us are completely losing out on what would typically be new income for 2021.”
Then there’s finances. I can’t speak to other types of vendors, but many photographers don’t get paid the majority of their funds until the month before the wedding, meaning that most of them are not getting any sort of income as these weddings postpone. While this is not fully the case for me as a lot of my clients choose a payment plan system, my finances have still taken a significant hit. But here’s the kicker: in addition to postponing this years income, many of us are completely losing out on what would typically be new income for 2021. Confused? Let me explain:
In a non-pandemic world, we get paid for this year’s weddings; that contributes to this year’s salary. Then we book weddings for next year; that contributes to next year’s salary. This is literally how we make a living. This is how we put food on our tables, keep a roof over our heads, pay our bills, keep our pets and children healthy and clothed, and simply fund our lives. Not to mention keeping our businesses running, as there is an incredibly long list of fees and expenses that come with running a business on your own. So to put it very simply, we are now in the situation of losing out on a significant amount of income we would normally be making next year, due to the fact that many dates that would be going to new couples, are now having to go to couples rescheduling from this year. Meaning we’re essentially losing 50% or more of our yearly income for next year.
Shew. That’s a lot of information I’ve thrown at you, isn’t it? For a quick summary: wedding vendors are currently trying to survive a pandemic as a normal human, on top of losing most, if not all, forms of current income with little to no help from state and federal governments- on top of planning on losing a large percentage of next year’s income while actually having to work more than we normally would, meaning we’re also losing out on valuable and precious personal time.
Yeah… so what do we even do about that?
“Each time a 2020 couple reschedules to a prime 2021 date, I am loosing an average of $3,000, and that includes the fact that I am charging a rescheduling fee [for prime dates].”
Some of us (like me) are forced to charge a fee for couples who reschedule to high-demand dates for next year and, let me tell you, that freaking SUCKS. It is an awful, gut-wrenching feeling to have to tell a couple needing to reschedule their wedding because of a freaking pandemic, that they are going to have to pay you more money if they choose a certain date. (If you are one of my couples considering rescheduling but haven’t reached out to me yet with that info and therefore haven’t received my policies, don’t freak out, I have worked my booty off to provide you with other options that will not come with a fee.) Because the reality is, this pandemic is not our fault, and it’s not the fault of our couples. So how do we decide how to handle it? Some businesses are choosing to eat that cost completely, and if you’re reading this and that’s the route you’ve chosen- I completely understand. However, I know my business simply cannot survive if I do not charge a fee for rescheduling to a prime date, and I have worked way too hard to not ensure this business survives. Each time a 2020 couple reschedules to a prime 2021 date, I am loosing an average of $3,000, and that includes the fact that I am charging a rescheduling fee. Just let that sink in a bit. Then multiply that lost amount by 5. Or 10. Or 15. Or even more for some vendors. My rescheduling fee is a very small fraction of the amount of money I lose every time that happens. By the time all the rescheduling is said and done, I’ll be extremely surprised if I’ve lost less than $20,000. That’s $20,000 of income for next year I simply will not have to live or run this business on (if not more, especially because I also lose money when it’s rescheduled to a non-prime date since I can’t book a new shoot on that day) and let me tell you, to someone running a small business, that. is. a. LOT. of. money.
“We are bending over backwards to provide creative options that work for us and our couples, but we all have to be flexible, vendors and clients alike.”
Why am I telling you this? It’s not for sympathy, I can promise you that. It’s not to promote my crowdfunding fundraiser, I don’t have one. It is simply to inform you of the reality of what us small business wedding vendors are facing. It’s to give you some context when your vendor tells you they only have certain dates available, or to help you understand when they tell you that if you choose a certain date, you will likely have to pay an additional fee, and a hope that you will extend them some grace and understanding. There are many, like myself, that are compromising their mental and financial health significantly with these practices they’re putting in place. We are bending over backwards to provide creative options that work for us and our couples, but we all have to be flexible, vendors and clients alike. We have to remember that these truly are unprecedented times, and we’re all going to have to rearrange our expectations of what the wedding industry looks like for the time being. Couples will need to keep in mind the compromises and sacrifices their vendors are making, and will need to be prepared to make sacrifices of their own as well. Vendors will need to keep in mind everything that our couples have on their plates when it comes to rescheduling an entire wedding day.
I’ve seen awful stories online of couples who have reacted horribly to their vendors when told they don’t have certain dates available, or that they’ll need to pay a fee, or that new policies will be put in place. Additionally, I’ve seen equally horrible stories of vendors who react awfully to their couples when they ask to reschedule, or who want to simply give up on them altogether.
“But I chose to get into this business, the business of love, and as vendors in this business we should continue to treat our clients with just that- love, understanding, and compassion during this time. And we can only hope that they treat us the same in return.”
To be clear, I am not bashing anyone who wants to exit the industry because of fear for their health with this virus, simply anyone who fully leaves their couples high and dry with no help. As someone who comes from a family with compromised immune systems, I’m not going to sit here and say that getting back to shooting weddings is only exciting because I love what I do, but it’s also terrifying because I am concerned for my health. But I chose to get into this business, the business of love, and as vendors in this business we should continue to treat our clients with just that- love, understanding, and compassion during this time. And we can only hope that they treat us the same in return.
“However, it is important for us all to keep in mind that because this is no ones fault, that neither side should be expected to eat the full cost of the ramifications.”
If you have read this far, I commend you. You’re a true champ because this was a very long post and, again, I am not looking for sympathy. I’m not saying we have it “the worst”. I’m not saying this is anyone’s fault, and I’m certainly not saying that we have it any worse than the couples we serve. None of that is true. This is no one’s fault. This is tough, challenging, and heartbreaking for us all. This is simply our new reality, and we are trying our best to navigate it the same as you. If you’re a vendor like me, you’re trying your best to navigate it with love, care, and support for your couples, reminding them that we will get through this together. However, it is important for us all to keep in mind that because this is no ones fault, that neither side should be expected to eat the full cost of the ramifications. Vendors should not be expected to give away prime dates and lose thousands of dollars without any sort of compensation, and couples should not be expected to fully bear the financial burden of all monies lost! That is where those compromises I mentioned come into play. Each business will need to decide what compromises they are comfortable with, and clearly and kindly explain that to their clients. Clients should absolutely ask questions and make sure they understand their options, while also keeping in mind the mass effect this is having on vendors as they navigate these same challenges with many of their couples.
The hope for this post is simply to shed some light on what we, as vendors, are going through over here because, before I was a business owner, I would have never understood what business owners, let alone wedding vendors, are going through. I hope this was an educational peek behind the curtain for you. If you’re a couple planning a wedding, maybe send your vendors a nice note this week letting them know you appreciate them. I promise you, it would make their day.
Praying that God sees us all through this, soon. Sending you light and love, wherever you are.