“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!
Categories for the studio and staff
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:
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 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. ❤
In love and good health,
This year’s holiday group photo used a little magic to create. Check out this video to see how we were all brought together while staying apart!
Happy Holidays from the whole crew at Organic Headshots! (Except for Anjelica, who’s on maternity leave. Welcome to the world, lil’ Lucy!) We wish you a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season. ❤
Man, this pandemic has been rough. On everyone. And especially on small businesses like ours. But we’ve been happy to follow all state and city guidelines for closing, reopening, and operating safely. Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our clients and staff, so we will be taking thorough precautions before, during, and after every photo shoot, and adjusting our procedures as we all learn more about COVID-19 and how it spreads.
To that end, here’s a breakdown of changes you’ll be seeing in how we operate:
- Increased cleaning in the studio and equipment, using cleaning supplies with disinfectant.
- Appointment booking and reminder emails provide instructions for a safe shoot.
- Staff is required to alert the Studio Manager if they feel any symptoms or have been in recent contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 so their shoots can be covered or rescheduled and they can self-quarantine for at least 14 days.
In the studio:
- Both you and the photographer must wear a mask / face covering and refrain from handshakes / physical contact during the shoot.
- Everyone must immediately wash their hands upon arrival at the studio.
- The studio’s HVAC system is set to continuously circulate the air for better ventilation, and a medical grade air purifier operates during shoots, with HEPA filters removing particles as small as 0.25 microns from the air.
- Instead of the photographer adjusting your hair or clothing during the shoot, a mirror will be provided, and/or live-viewing of the photos on a monitor.
- After every shoot, high-touch areas will be wiped with a disinfectant before the next visitor is allowed entry.
- Upon arrival, you will also have your temperature taken with a contact-free thermometer and asked the following questions before being allowed entry:
- Have you had a fever, cough, or cold/flu-like symptoms in the past 14 days, with or without a positive COVID test?
- Have you had contact with anyone who has shown any cold/flu-like symptoms in the past 14 days?
- All our staff members will wear a mask / face covering.
- We will maintain social distancing and no physical contact with your employees while in your office.
- When each person enters the room where we are set up for photos, we will ask them to sanitize their hands (we will bring hand sanitizer).
- Surfaces and objects touched will be wiped with disinfectant (we will bring disinfecting wipes) between each person.
- Instead of the photographer adjusting your hair or clothing during the shoot, a mirror will be provided.
Hair and makeup artists:
- Hair and makeup artists will wear a mask / face covering and, if available, a face shield.
- All surfaces will be sanitized between each person.
- In the studio only, if you are having makeup done you will be asked to wash your face before makeup begins.
- Since a mask is not possible during makeup application, you will be given some paper towels to hold so that if you feel a cough or sneeze coming, you can cough/sneeze into the paper towels.
- As is already customary, all makeup is applied with as many disposable products as possible and all non-disposable products are used once and sanitized.
- Hair and makeup artists already wash their hands before beginning, but you will now have the option of them using disposable gloves if you prefer.
When COVID-19 lockdowns started closing businesses and obliging everyone to shelter in place in their homes, we watched our studio’s appointment calendar almost completely clear out. And when the governor ordered “non-essential” businesses to shutter their doors, it stung a little, to be honest, since anyone’s paycheck can feel pretty darn essential once it disappears. It’s for a heckuva good reason, of course—and we’re happy to do our part in flattening the curve and stopping the virus from spreading by postponing photo shoots and implementing new systems to keep the studio and everyone who enters it safe.
We’re all in this same strange boat together: feeling anxious because of the pandemic, feeling concerned for our clients and their families and for the health of everyone around us, and feeling uneasy about what’s going to happen next. Without our cameras, we’ve all been coping mostly by catching up on photo editing (or re-editing old photos just for funsies), baking bread, snuggling our pets, cleaning some closets, and otherwise keeping busy in the same ways everyone else with cleared calendars has been occupying their time.
We’re also all enduring by flexing our creative muscles. One person at a time, we each went into the empty studio last week, put our cameras on timers, took some photos of ourselves, and used some post-production magic to be inserted into pictures of vintage cameras. The result is a series of images that reflect how we’re feeling while we’re missing our clients’ beautiful faces and the sounds of a camera shutter going KER-CHUNK. We’re feeling a bit like the forgotten old film cameras that have been collecting dust on our shelves. Lonely. Bored. Restless. Small. But coping well.
Portrait photography is inherently a very social business. We need to be around people in order photograph them, and being unable to do so is… well… making us sad. But whenever this is all over and we’re in the studio for back-to-back sessions again or traveling to our clients’ offices when buildings are filled with people again, we’ll feel back to our old selves. We’re looking forward to that day and to hearing all about our clients’ lockdown adventures in breadmaking. We’re sure a lot of people will be getting back to work in different ways then, and we might be helping some people through job changes by updating their LinkedIn profile photos, and photographing companies for their marketing materials as they boost new business to make up for what was lost.
It’s unusual for it to be so lonesome in the studio: a room that’s part workshop, part laboratory, and part oasis. A place where people come to collaborate to create images with common goals. Taking these photos alone in the still and quiet space was a somber act. But also faintly blissful. We’re ready to get KER-CHUNKING again when it’s time. Until then, we’ll be cleaning our lenses and trying not to pout. Too much.