Today is International Women’s Day. Your inbox is probably flooded with emails about inclusivity, pride, and solidarity (which is never a bad thing, right?). I wanted to share something a little different—a more personal story of what today means to me personally as a woman business owner.
Our photo studio is certified nationally as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE), federally by the SBA as a Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB), and with the State of Illinois as woman-owned in the Business Enterprise Program (BEP). This means that we meet requirements for woman-owned vendor hiring for government contracts, and for private corporations with supplier diversity programs who are looking to or are required to hire a certain percentage of prime contractors and subcontractors with diversity ownership. That was a mouthful.
In simpler terms: companies and governments have an unfortunate history of hiring businesses run by white men, simply because they are run by white men. Supplier diversity and certification programs were made to attempt to level that playing field. Why is that important?
I’m going to start a flashback now the way Sophia in The Golden Girls would… Picture it, Chicago, the mid-2000’s… I was a recent college graduate who moved to Chicago and got a job in marketing with a small computer security company. I was the only female employee there, the lowest paid, and passed over for promotions. My three breaking points, in order, were:
The day a male intern was hired to assist me, was paid more than I, and played video games all day without getting fired.
The day my boss asked me to pick up his shirts at Brooks Brothers because, “we all wear many hats here, Michelle, and this is a hat you need to wear today.”
The day my boss copied my quarterly marketing plan and in an all-hands meeting presented it as his own.
I left that job and got a Director level position at a new company. The 50-something year old white male Vice President immediately started harassing me as too young for the job and said I shouldn’t be trusted to work from home like everyone else at the company, because I might “watch soap operas all day.”
So I left that company after only 3 months, and decided that I could get so much more done if other people (read: mostly middle-aged white men) weren’t getting in my way. Having a love for photography and a few years of experience in personal portrait projects under my belt, I started a photo studio specializing in headshots and corporate portraits.
I worked long hours, handled every aspect of my new business from sales and marketing, technical training, legal documents, bookkeeping, yadda yadda… but I finally felt alive. I felt like I was making something, and finally DOING something for the first time. I felt like I was in control of something. Something that was important to me. Something I had created out of nothing and was it growing and getting great feedback from people I looked up to.
The WBDC can do a much better job than I of explaining the critical importance of WBE certification for the local and national economy. I do know that 40% of U.S. businesses are women owned (yay!). But woman-owned businesses contribute to only 8% of employment and 4.2% of revenues (boo).
So for me, certification is important for two reasons. First, a sense of pride. It gave me proof of my dignity and self-respect as a business owner who was pushed down as an employee for being female and can now use that same trait to boost myself upward. And second: equity. We all need to recognize that businesses owned by women, minorities, veterans, and the LGBTQ+ community have been at a disadvantage for far too long, and that disadvantage continues. I’m not going to lie, my WBE certification comes with a little twinge of pain that it’s even still necessary today.
I look forward to a day when woman-owned businesses contribute to 50% of national revenues and not just 4.2%. And for when all women across every industry gain equal pay for equal work, and when certification process and supplier diversity programs become outdated. Because diverse-owned companies command the same respect that male-owned businesses have intrinsically held for far too long.
Shop woman-owned today, and this month. But keeping shopping woman-owned and keep hiring woman-owned companies throughout the year; we can only level the playing field together.
“What a year, right?” is not an original thing to say this week. The year 2020 has been a heck of a lousy ride for a lot of us, and our studio is no exception. BUT. Even though we had to close as a “non-essential business” for 74 days in the Spring, and bookings have been down on average of about 60% since then compared to last year, we’re still counting the year as a win. You want to know why? Because of all of the awesome photos we took this year. And just like every year, we had thousands of great shots to choose from and it took us FOREVER to choose a very small number of them as our favorites of the year. So here they are, and here’s to 2021!
I’m going to get vulnerable here and expose some insider info on our financials. 2020 has been tough on all small businesses, and compared to most, we’re doing okay here at Organic Headshots. But I wanted to share some specifics to show how very close to “not okay” we and most small businesses are or could soon become.
No sales = no pay
As the owner, I haven’t paid myself since March so that we can afford our overhead and the rest of the staff can have income before me. Last February, we were under contract to buy a vacant building on the north side of the city. Building it out was going to more than double our shooting space and it even had its own parking lot! (swoon) But the pandemic slapped us hard about a month before closing, and the deal crumbled. It was a blessing in disguise, really, because sales have been down by so much since then that we would not have been able to afford the increased expense anymore. The money set aside for the down payment has been paying our current rent and expenses and keeping us afloat these last eight or nine months.
It can be hard to stay stoic some days when your revenue line stays in the red for most of the year, so when I open P&L statements I keep a stress ball in my hand and a box of Kleenex within reach. In April and May, we had $0 in revenue, since we were closed as a “non-essential” business by order of the state. By month, our sales compared to our 2019 monthly average were:
April 0% May 0% June 11% July 53% August 42% September 41% October 55% November 27%
With expenses, we spent more than we earned for six of those eight months. So graphically, our net sales looks like this:
Did we get a small business grant?
We either don’t qualify for, didn’t receive, or it isn’t worth it for us to apply for any of the pandemic aid loans or grants because I’m technically the only W2 employee of the company, and even though the other photographers were working full time before the pandemic, they’re 1099 contractors, so they’re not eligible for any relief pay through small business grants.
But because of that saved down payment for our dream studio space that slipped away, we have a little savings, and we can hold out at least through Q1 of 2021 if I keep deferring my salary (and stretching my spouse’s income so we buy nothing but the essentials). But I would be lying if I said I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night now and then in a cold sweat, feeling the crippling weight of small business frailty.
We’re in this together
Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, employing 59.9 million people, or 47.3% of the U.S. private workforce. But we’re also the most fragile. Small businesses everywhere are either teetering that “not okay” line or are plummeting hard, so please check in on your neighborhood’s local places. We all need help.
The next time you need a sandwich or some clothes or a book or a gift or some photos, resist the urge to open a giant megastore app on your phone and stop by a local business. Every dollar goes directly into your neighbors’ mouths right now. And as we said it with the Chicago Loop Alliance this last Fall, if you’re not buying your vendor’s products or services now, tell them why and when you expect to be able to. We want to hear from you so we can plan for your return. Follow your favorite shops on social media. Write reviews of your favorite places or your best vendors. Reach out just to say hi. And please wear your mask, social distance, and do your part to destroy this pandemic before it destroys us. ❤
Things are slow at the studio today, so we’re going to play a little game. It’s called, can you tell which of these photos were taken on a green screen and which were not?
We’ll give you a hint: 4 of them are green screen, the rest are not.
Why is green screen so awesome?
Two reasons: control, and safety. Two things we all could use a lot more of while still battling a global pandemic.
Using green screen (or taking a person’s photo in front of a bright green, or chroma key background, then inserting a new background later) is great for getting matching backdrops for everyone photographed on different days, or for getting sunny, outdoor photos in the middle of winter, or to just have more options to choose from than a plain color or a drab room. We can control the lighting and posing in a climate-controlled studio, and then the sky’s the limit with what we can insert into the photos behind you afterward.
Green screen also adds another tool in our arsenal of new policies and procedures to keep both clients and photographers safe. It allows for us to photograph whole teams one person at a time to minimize contact and grouping. We’ve also used the magic of Photoshop to add and remove people from group photos recently, with amazing results: another way we can all stay together, separately.
Contact us to chat more about pricing and options for you or your whole team and we’ll tell you all about it.