It’s the middle of the night and for the umpteenth time already this past couple of weeks, I can’t sleep. At this point I don’t know if it’s the constant and lingering sense of worry thats keeping me awake, finances or all the “what if’s”. Maybe it’s all the caffeine i’ve been inhaling to help me make it through the days. Like many of us in the wedding industry at the moment, i’m hurting.
It seems hard to believe that less than 3 weeks ago we were still taking bookings for this summer without a hint of what lay ahead. In the fortnight that has followed it feels like everything has changed. We’ve gone from a calendar full of bookings, to an empty diary for the next 3 months at least and we know we aren’t alone. As wedding suppliers, our world has been thrown in to chaos. My week so far has consisted of multiple clients emailing and calling simultaneously, panicked and understandably upset about the possibility of having to reschedule their wedding day. A day that for most of them they’ve spent the last year or more of their lives planning. For others, it’s a day they’d been dreaming about their whole lives.
On a human level, it’s impossible not to be heartbroken for the couples impacted. No one wants to be forced to postpone their wedding, whether the reason is sound or not. As a business, the implications of this outbreak are also heartbreaking. When you work in a largely seasonal industry like ours, you rely on making most of our annual income during certain points in the year. Unlike a normal job where you are (usually) paid consistently and evenly across 12 months, our earning potential falls within a much smaller window. It then has to last throughout the rest of the year and see us through the quieter months. So when the first half of your season at least is wiped out, that’s cause for concern.
Postponements and cancellations
When this all began and the first worried email hit our inbox, it still didn’t really seem like anything to worry about. By that point we’d already drafted a reassuring mass email ready to send if the situation escalated. Within days, it did. All of a sudden we had several postponements on the cards and almost as many cancellations due to incompatible date switches. At first it was so easy to be human and suck up the loss as “just one of those things”. We blindly hoped it would only be one or two weddings impacted. But as one postponement became another and another, my ability to stay positive after i’d pressed “send” on those reassuring emails began to slip.
The cancellations have been the worst. Having to have those gut wrenching “sorry, we’re already booked” conversations with couples who’ve chosen a new date we aren’t available for is what’s been the most draining. Now every time an email pops up in our inbox my stomach sinks. Will it be another £2k booking lost?
Loss of control
What hurts the most is the sense of helplessness. We have done absolutely everything within our power to make sure we have as much availability over the next 18 months as we can possibly summon. We’ve freed up weekend dates set aside for family events, special occasions and anniversaries. We’ve cleared our entire 2021 calendar (aside from pre-existing wedding bookings.) Scheduled time off has been wiped and those dates are now available if needed. For the remainder of 2020, we’ve cancelled everything we possibly can and we’ve been pro-active in making these dates accessible and known before they’re needed. We’ve even offered associates- something we’ve never done before. And still it hasn’t been enough to hold on to some bookings. We don’t blame the couples and we don’t take it personally. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place as much as we are. But it still sucks.
For the first time in a decade, it feels like we have no control at all over our business. With that comes the uncertainty of the future both in terms of our earnings and our careers. As a husband and wife team this is a joint venture and our sole source of income. The uncertainty is nauseating and it’s keeping me up night after night.
Doing your duty
For the last week i’ve worn a mask. I’ve been the obliging and comforting wedding supplier and i’ve meant every word, I truly have. I am gutted for our couples and for all the couples affected by this. I am gutted that we’ll no longer get to work with some of the people who initially chose us to share in their plans and their joy. This week i’ve done what I always do and put everyone else first. I’ve sat on my laptop virtually 24/7 so I could be available at the drop of a hat to answer concerns or to confirm availability. Mostly because I wanted to be there for our couples, but admittedly, as time has gone by there’s also been an element of necessity. We simply cannot afford to lose another booking.
Inevitably, the mask has slipped over the last 2 days now that things have started to calm a little. (I fear i’m speaking too soon) I am emotionally drained. I’ve cried more tears than I knew my body could make and the dent in my side of the bed grows ever deeper. On one hand I feel empty and numb. On the other, my head is full and pounding. I am exhausted and I am worried and I am sad. I suspect i’m feeling the same way that many other small businesses have felt this week. Hopeless and helpless.
Hoping for the best
For the last 10 years we’ve invested everything we have physically, emotionally and financially into making our dream a reality. Personal sacrifice for the good of the business has always been our normal. We’ve been “Sam & Louise” wedding photographers for almost as long as we’ve known one another. It’s become a massive part of our identity and who we are. Our income, our career and our shared passion is all tied around being this. It’s how we feed and clothe and house ourselves. It’s become our whole lives. The prospect that it could be taken away almost at the drop of a hat because of something completely beyond our control is a sadness I could never have imagined.
In some more difficult moments, i’ve found myself jumping the gun. Asking myself, “if this doesn’t go well, if this doesn’t all work out, what has it all been for? What have we worked so hard for, for all these years?” When you imagine a business failing, you think it’ll feel like failure. You assume it’ll be because of something you’ve done, or not done correctly. But the thought of all this just feels like nothingness. What can we do but sit and wait and hope for the very best?
I have always said that what sets successful people apart is seeing opportunity where others see hurdles but my soul is a little too weak to see beyond those hurdles at the moment.
In the grand scheme of things I feel lucky to be here. I feel lucky that myself and my loved ones are safe and that for now we have everything we need. Genuinely, I have not forgotten the bigger picture and the fact that for some, there wont be a tomorrow. I wish I could do more and I wish that I could press a reset button and make this all go away.
I just felt it was important to be open as a small business owner so that others realise they aren’t alone in how they feel right now. Based on the number of social media posts i’ve seen alluding to similar feelings, i’m sure others are in the same boat. It rarely feels as though we can be vocal about anything “negative” in the wedding industry though. As a small business it is almost taboo to acknowledge that money is a driving force behind anything you do, yet it dictates how most of us live. You can shout about how much you love your couples and how passionate you are about what you do, but you can’t talk about money or the business side of things at all, it’s in poor taste.
But the wedding industry is hurting. And we’re allowed to hurt. Your feelings and your fears are legitimate and you have every right to feel shattered and angry and scared at the moment. This isn’t anyones fault and that, in many ways, makes it harder to accept. Hang on in there wedding industry warriors. One day at a time. This too shall pass.
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