In March, the cancellations began. We clung to the hope of a swift reopening but our cup-half-full mentality quickly spilled over, transporting our family, as small business owners on an island dependent on tourism, into an area of uncertainty we were entirely unprepared for. My guess is, if you’re a small business owner, you’ve felt the same. While the business we’d worked tirelessly to build over the years turned to rubble, we scrambled for a way to keep our heads above water.
One idea that launched out of motivation was the creation of The Land + Sea Store. It quickly became clear this would be a long-term pivot for our business, not an overnight solution. We’re excited to see where this new venture take us but now – now, what to do?
Hawaii has handled the COVID-19 pandemic in a way both Adam and I anticipated. Now, on the eve of 15th October, when Maui will open to visitors with testing protocol shakily in place, we find ourselves crawling slowly toward a new horizon, clinging to both optimism and uncertainty, wondering what the future of our industry on the island of Maui will hold.
We’ve always positioned our business in a way that saw us adequately paid for our time and expenses. Insurances, licensing, more insurance, the costs of running business and paying ourselves are all factored into our pricing structure. We spend a great deal of time marketing, editing, and delivering our client’s sessions. So, when I opened the first (and so far, only) e-mail requesting a “COVID discount”, I was surprised, sort of.
What might be intended as a harmless ask for discounted services during a time of reduced tourism on Maui caught me off guard. Our business has plunged into its darkest hole in what was set to be our best year yet, we’ve applied for loans and government assistance when we were previously debt-free. We’d saved for a rainy day, sure – but not a rainy 7 months raising a family and working for ourselves in one of the most expensive places to do so.
The answer is no. We will not be discounting our services. No, we will not be slicing our pricing by 25% or more. No, I will not undervalue our work in an attempt to claw for work. Believe me – we NEED the work. Desperately. But I can’t sacrifice our foundation. Because discounting services out of necessity is a short-term solution, and we’re here for the long haul. Please – do what you need to do to keep your head above water – but devaluing your business by offering steep price cuts and undercutting your competition is a surefire way to burn your business from the ground up. We’re just not going to go there, and we expect the months ahead will be challenging.
Instead, we’ve added value! New bookings will receive gift bundles as incentives to secure our services. The client wins because we’re looking after them, and we win because our products will get out there while our store is in its infancy.
I encourage small business owners to add value instead of reducing pricing, which is only doing a disservice to what I imagine would be years of hard work building your brand. Deep discounts do bad things for the industry, and while you might see a brief rise in work while your prices are dirt cheap, your expenses are not likely to be covered, right? When you find yourself able to raise your prices again, your previous clients will wonder why they’re now so high. It’s just not a sustainable business solution.
I suppose this is a plea to our fellow photographers to value your work now more than ever. Now is not the time to back off – it’s time to step up and show off. Come back stronger than ever, be as resilient as you possibly can. These last few months have been extraordinarily difficult, and the future is uncertain. The more you stand by your talent, pricing and business, the more you diversify and follow what truly drives you, the more others will value what you do, and the more value you’ll give back to your clients. Show them you respect your work AND their business by standing by the pricing structure you’ve always had, or create a new one. Maybe you make a smaller package, that works too! Just don’t undercut yourself. Your work is the same (it might even be better, now that you’ve fueled your creative fire after months laying dormant), your expenses are the same, and you still need to make what you did before (maybe more, if you’re like us).
We’d like to extend a sincere THANK YOU to our clients who continue to support our work, the future couples and families we look forward to serving, and the industry professionals who continue to uphold a high standard of ethics and quality before, during and after rendering services. May hindsight be 2020, and the future look a bit brighter for us all.
Stay well, and we will sea you soon!