charleston wedding photographers

A Friendly PSA From A Tired 2020 Wedding Industry Professional

July 24, 2020

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I saw a blog post make the rounds on social media this week and it really hit me hard.  It’s no secret that 2020 couples have had an extremely difficult time navigating COVID-19.  To have this stupid virus suck all of the joy out of what should be an incredible time in their lives is beyond heartbreaking.  As an INFJ and empath, I deeply feel my clients’ pain, frustration, and anxiety as if it were my own.  For all of us wedding professionals, who live and breathe weddings, our world as we knew it has been turned upside down with no real end in sight.  Couples are tired.  Vendors are tired.  It’s just awful all around.

I’ve written blog posts about “why” vendors are making some of the decisions they are making about non-refundable retainers, rescheduling fees, and business policies – and I’ve tried my best to stay positive since the beginning of March when this all started happening.  But guess what?  I’m tired.  My colleagues are tired.  And we all just want you to know that we are doing the best we can.

So how has this pandemic really impacted wedding vendors?

Most of us in the wedding industry do this for a living.  It’s not our side gig, it’s not our hobby… it’s what puts food on the table and a roof over our heads.  For some, this is their ONLY source of income.  This is my situation because I am single.  I don’t have a partner to share financial responsibility with.  It’s me, myself, and I.  If I don’t work, the bills don’t get paid.  So obviously that adds another layer of stress during a time like this.  Some of us don’t have anyone else to turn to or lean on right now.

When the pandemic first started and we went into lockdown, it took small business owners a while to get unemployment benefits through the state.  Normally, you can’t claim unemployment unless you pay into the system through payroll – so a lot of wedding vendors were going to be left high and dry because of their business structure.

Charleston Wedding Vendors

Luckily, most states granted PUA – pandemic unemployment assistance – that allowed many vendors to get some financial relief with unemployment.  In addition to the state unemployment payment – which is maxed out at $326/week here in SC – the federal government approved the CARES Act that gave a temporary $600 unemployment bonus to unemployed workers to supplement the state unemployment payments.  For those of us who are used to making 60%+ of our yearly income in the spring, this was a huge help – but it was also not nearly as much as we’d make if we had been able to actually work.

When the PPP loans came out, it was virtually impossible to get approved for one.  Banks were giving priority to larger “small businesses” like Ruth’s Chris and the LA Lakers – and true small businesses were practically ignored.  After a second round of PPP funding was granted, more small businesses were given the loan – which was capped at 8 weeks worth of payroll expenses.  Those who got them were told that they had to use them within 8 weeks of receiving it.  At the last minute, they changed the guidelines to allow businesses to spread out the money over 24 weeks instead of 8 weeks – but most businesses had already spent 6+ weeks of the PPP loan at that point.

So, in hind sight, small business owners should have saved the PPP loan funds in our bank accounts and continued to take unemployment for those 8 weeks while the CARES Act benefits were still available.  And we should’ve waited until July 25 to start using the PPP loan to cover our expenses, once the bonus was no longer available.  Those vendors who didn’t get their PPP loan yet are in a much better financial position than those of us who got them in April and used them to cover 8 weeks of paychecks when we didn’t have to.  So many of us “did the right thing” and are going to be penalized, financially, for it now.  I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrating this is as a business owner.

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Now it’s the end of July and the $600 federal CARES Act unemployment supplement ends TOMORROW.  While Congress is finally back in session after a 2 week break (don’t even get me started on that…), it looks like the supplement will be drastically reduced “in an effort to encourage workers to get off unemployment and get back to work”.  For those of us in the wedding industry, we can’t just decide to get back to work autonomously.  We are at the mercy of this virus and our clients – we can’t “make” our clients hold their wedding and allow us to earn the balance we so desperately need.  We have no control over when we can get back to work, yet the government is decreasing unemployment benefits to those who are depending on them.

And this lapse in federal unemployment assistance means my income drops to $326/week – or $1304/month – starting tomorrow.  I’ll be very blunt here: my monthly unemployment payments from SC won’t even cover my monthly mortgage payment.  

Here are my numbers…

I started the year with 33 weddings and 4 elopements booked for 2020.  19 of those weddings have been postponed/rescheduled at least once and 4 of them have cancelled all together.  I have fall brides emailing me everyday, asking about postponing their dates.  In total, I’ve photographed 4 weddings this year.  Yes, you read that right – 4.  In comparison, I had already shot 23 weddings and 3 elopements by this time last year.  I’ve only been able to earn 17% of what I’m used to earning through July and it’s devastating.

Typically, by this time of the year, I’ve booked 15+ new weddings for the following year.  So far, I’ve booked only 10 new weddings for 2021.  That’s a 33% loss in future bookings because of all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.  To say that I am stressed out about what 2021 will hold for my business is a massive understatement.

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And my unemployment trickles down to other people and businesses that generally rely on me to pay them throughout the year for their services.  Since I am not working, my second shooters and assistants aren’t working either.  They are losing income they rely on, as well.  My private photo editor isn’t working because I have no work to send her.  And even though I know this isn’t my fault, I still feel extreme guilt because I know that this impacts so many other people down the line.

The bottom line is…

I’m tired.  I’m stressed out.  I feel completely hopeless.  Getting up each morning is hard.  I dread my inbox.  I literally want to crawl in a hole and cry.  Every time I get an email from one of my wonderful couples, asking about rescheduling, my heart drops.  It’s so hard to keep it together as I watch my fall wedding season start to disappear before my eyes.  The real stress doesn’t come from the postponement itself.  It comes from the internal battle – trying to do “the right thing” while also keeping my business running.  I absolutely hate having to write those difficult emails to stressed out clients and really leaning on my contract right now.  Trust me, I don’t want to be the “bad guy”.  I feel immense guilt, even though I know I’m not alone.  I’m sad, frustrated, and just in complete disbelief that this is happening to all of us.  I am devastated for my clients, I am devastated for the wedding industry.  It’s just completely overwhelming every single day.

I don’t write this post for pity or attention.  I know I am not the only one facing these hardships right now – and I am sure that someone else has it worse than I do.  But, I felt like I needed to write this blog post to really humanize what wedding vendors are going through right now.  We are NOT okay, even though we put on that happy face for clients and social media.  I wanted to write from a place of vulnerability and realness.  To let other vendors know that they aren’t alone.  We’ve all tried to keep it together and stay positive for our clients, but there just doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel.  The government isn’t helping us and we are totally, utterly, frighteningly alone.

Charleston Wedding Vendors

We’ve been inundated with sad stories from our clients and how this is impacting their life right now.  We understand and sympathize with our clients, because this should be such a wonderful time in their lives – but it’s not.  That makes me so sad.  On top of the sadness we feel for our clients, we are seriously worried about the future of our businesses.  Our industry.  Our lives.  This is just a glimpse into what wedding industry professionals are dealing with.  Bankruptcy is an all-too-real option for a lot of businesses right now.  It’s just completely overwhelming to think that everything I’ve worked so hard to build over the past 8 years is so close to being taken away from me… and there’s nothing I can do except watch and cry.

2020 couples, we love you.  We understand what you’re going through.  We’re here in the trenches with you.  But please give us some grace as we navigate things.  Nasty emails, legal threats, leaving bad reviews… it’s a lot that wedding vendors are dealing with, on top of their own worries.  I can guarantee that no wedding vendor is using this situation to scam their clients out of money or to be an a**hole.  We love what we do and we are crying right alongside of you.  Please know that every decision we are making is being done in order to preserve our business so that we will still be around when your rescheduled wedding date comes around.  As this AMAZING article so bluntly puts it, “a bankrupt, closed business is not going to show up and perform nor is it going to give your money back.”  This is the reality we are facing.

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With a well-worn passport in hand, and an affinity for a good cocktail, Dana works with fun-loving and kind-hearted clients around the globe. 

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