As I write this, it's Election Day Eve, and as you read this, Election Day will be behind us. I don't know what world lies ahead. None of us do. Regardless of our politics or anything else, uncertainty about the future affects each of us. It impacts our businesses as well, whether we are owners or employees. I've talked recently with a number of wedding vendors who report slow bookings for 2017, and while I know the wedding business is cyclical, I can't help but wonder how much future bookings are being impacted by the current political and cultural climate. How can we deal with this uncertainty, or any other that may come along? Here are a few tips for getting through these challenging times.
Take the long view. I remember the first "down year" that I experienced. My business had been growing strong over its first few years, but then things slowed way down. I started to freak out! It was rough, but I got through that time (I used my free time to work on my website, branding, and other activities that I never could get to previously). When the next "down year" loomed, I started talking with other wedding professionals and discovered they were experiencing it as well. Some of them had seen it before. I didn't feel so bad, because I realized that I wasn't alone, and it wasn't permanent. It was just a cycle. When the slower times come, I cut back on expenses as much as possible, and spend time on developing other revenue streams and those "backburner" projects like revamping logos and reorganizing the studio. I use the time to my advantage, to get ready for the upswing that I know from experience will come.
Talk with others. If you are already part of a network of wedding vendors or other business professionals, tap into this resource. I once was afraid of sharing my concerns with others, because what if they weren't experiencing what I was? What if the slowdown was only me? But I've found that showing vulnerabilities has actually strengthened my relationships and given others the opportunity to share their concerns with me as well. If you're uncomfortable with this, look for networks outside your immediate field. This can be a chance to seek out a mentor, especially one in an unrelated industry, who can offer guidance and support.
If you're an employee, sharing your concerns with others in your industry can be risky, because you may be betraying your employer. Talking with your employer is a good start; be aware that they may be feeling the stress of the situation as well and might be sensitive to the topic. But you may have insight that your employer lacks, into what's happening on the front lines. Open communication in times of uncertainty is critical.
Reduce your stress. Coping mechanisms are critical at all times in our high-energy, high-pressure industry. But they are even more important in uncertain times. If you haven't already, check out my recent post on Recharging Your Creative Energyfor some suggestions to reduce stress and renew energy. Finding ways to step out of the challenging emotions you might be experiencing will help bridge you to better times, even if it's just for a few minutes' break. (I myself have been keeping busy today with work tasks that have gone neglected over the last few very busy weeks, and will be eating a lot of chocolate tomorrow. A lot.)
Anticipate and plan. If you expect that your business or your career may hit some bumps, you'll be better able to handle them when they do occur. It's called "stress inoculation training" and you can actually find exercises to help you do this. (I liked this one.) Once I realized that the down years were cyclical, and usually followed by strong years, I felt much better when they came again. I now keep a list of projects that I can do when things are slower. But I've developed plans that expand my revenue streams, so that my business is a bit more diversified and not as dependent upon weddings. Now when slow times come, I'm armed with things to do that benefit the business - even if they don't directly benefit the bottom line - and ways to grow that bottom line as well. Both business owners and employees can take these steps; employees could focus on how they can make a contribution to their company even if their immediate job isn't as fully engaged as it could be. Or, they can consider how a challenging period in their employment could be used to their advantage - does working fewer hours give you the chance to take some classes, or maybe put more time into a side gig?
Think, before you act. In this time of the instant-response expectation, it is still prudent for wedding industry professionals to take time to reflect and consider before responding or acting. Gut reactions and knee-jerk responses often do end up being right, but take time to consider them before taking action based on them. For example, if I see next year's bookings not shaping up the way I want, I might want to change advertising strategies or even fire a sales associate. But these actions would be counterproductive or even costly if I don't take time to evaluate all the data available to ensure these steps are the right ones. Consider the ramifications of your action. When I took a public stand in favor of marriage equality, I knew I might lose some business but I also knew I had clients that would appreciate knowing I was with them. There's no necessarily right or wrong decision, but especially in uncertain times, take time to play out the logical implications of your potential actions. It is precisely because we don't know what is coming, that we need to be measured in our approach. You may find that taking a "wait and see" attitude benefits you in the long run by keeping you from changing course due to anxiety.
I hope that all of you who are eligible United States voters had the opportunity, and took the time, to vote. I wish you all the very best, whatever comes.