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An Uncertain Future Challenges this Philly Photographer to Think Outside the Box

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"The biggest realization that hit me after the state got shut down was nothing I do is pandemic proof. Everything I do is dependent on interacting with people. As a headshot photographer, I need to be face to face with someone. And the events obviously need to get people into the space. So it really is crushing. I go from feeling really good about having four revenue streams at the start of this and then going to zero that was absolutely devastating."

As a headshot photographer in Philly, Laura Eaton was able to use her studio space as a rental for intimate events. And she was making a good living. Over the years, her business continued to grow, leading her to add a second space. Then she almost leased a third when the pandemic arrived and she lost all of her income. 

Photo of art show event in Philly Photographer's event space

When Laura got the news that Philadelphia was shutting down, like many she didn’t know what to think.  A pandemic on this scale hasn’t happened in a hundred years.

“I was nervous. I started calculating. OK, I’m now paying three rents at three different locations. And I now have to figure out a different way to make money or get on unemployment; that was just such a huge process unto itself. It took me one hundred and six days to even get into unemployment because I don’t really fit into that system. I’m actually headquartered in New Jersey so that’s where I had to apply. So I went one hundred and six days without making a dime.”

After months of worrying, the money finally arrived. Laura received 12 weeks of pandemic assistance and regular unemployment back pay all at once. Being an entrepreneur in the art world made it difficult for her to be in the system. “It was a little confusing the way that the payouts happened, but I finally did get through and now I’m just certifying weekly and just trying to stay in there.”  Unemployment wasn’t the only option that she tried.

Laura tried for the Paycheck Protection Program but the bank didn’t complete the process so without any employees and the lack of clarity for what you could use it, she decided not to reapply.  She was approved for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), which is a low interest loan that has no interest and no payments for the first year. Having not received a stimulus check because she paid taxes last year, she’s still fretting over her financial challenges. Additionally she’s trying to decide if she’ll take the advantageous loan terms that the EIDL offers. 

With an uncertain future and her livelihood as a Philly photographer on the line, Laura doesn’t want to count on the government to solve her financial issues. Instead, she is trying to think outside the box. 

“The words pandemic proof had never entered my brain before this started, but now it is seriously my main focus. I’m starting to be able to get back to booking events; I’m starting to get back to being able to shoot again, but I’m not confident this won’t happen again. I want to be more prepared next time. So I’m definitely focused on trying to create a new revenue stream, whatever that might be.”

As an entrepreneur, Laura is nervous as to when her next paycheck is coming but she is seeing some positive signs for her future. People have been cooped up too long and they are once again inquiring about headshots and planning events. Even though it may not last, she is emboldened by the people surrounding her and the plans she had in place. Though she is still uncertain about her future as a Philly photographer. 

“There’s the ever present anxiety of there could be a spike with fall coming, with winter coming. We’re gonna have the flu season hit. I think we’re looking at at least another full shutdown. That is essentially terrifying. I don’t know financially where I’m going to be. I do know that I’ve got it really good. People are helping me. I’ve got landlords that are understanding. I’m a planner, and so I did have some money set aside. A lot of people are very behind and are struggling to catch up or struggling to buy food and take care of their necessities. I’m far more fortunate than some people I know.”

Read more stories about event planners in “All Hotel Events Were Canceled and So Was Her Career” or “Event Planner Faces a Perfect Storm of Apathy“.