How I Stopped the Bleeding—Loans and Other Help

April 10, 2020

By Patrick Williams

Photo © PWP Studio

As we get deeper and deeper into this pandemic, the phrase “we are all in this together,” has never been more relevant and meaningful than now. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse… But let me start at the beginning.

My studio, PWP, handles photo and video coverage for over 150 large corporate and sporting events a year—including WPPI and PHOTOPLUS, the NFL Draft/Super Bowl—and recently had contracts on the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Final Four tournaments in ATL and NOLA. By most accounts, we are killing it and had a steady stream of income. Wait…we WERE killing it. Literally 100 percent of our business has been erased until July at this point. These days our calendar of jobs looks oddly similar to what we had 18 years ago when we started—NADA!

Revenue for these types of jobs are virtually nonexistent now and for the forseeable future.
Assignments like this one involving lots of people squeezed together
are suddenly a thing of the past. Photo © PWP Studio 2020

We are probably worse off than most because this crisis hit while we were dealing with a December breast cancer diagnosis/January double mastectomy/February+March recovery journey with my wife, Angel. I haven’t picked up a camera since December (or had much revenue coming in), so I could be home to support my boo. Translation: I decided to be the nurse instead of hire one!

Me and my family during better times.
Me and my wife Angel and our two sons. Photo © Nicole W Photography

Our studio’s very first cancellation was in the first week of March and it was to be my first shoot in three months. We had already depleted our rainy day fund, so this crisis caught us at a REALLY bad time. To add insult to injury, Angel is in the travel industry. She came back to work to find furloughs and job insecurity. We went from a solid six-figure revenue stream to a solid four-figure income in a matter of two weeks. Oh, joy.

Read: How Portrait Photographers are Pivoting in the Time of COVID-19

So, my #1 goal over the past few weeks has been finding places to stop the bleeding, including searching for every opportunity I could find to keep what little cash reserves we had left intact. In addition to the potential government support via loans, checks and unemployment benefits that may become available, I wanted to share some  ideas with you on what we have done personally and in the studio to put a “Band-Aid” on this (hopefully) short-term lack of revenue.

How to Handle the Following During a Short-Term Lack of Revenue:


We contacted our mortgage company to find out if we could defer payments, and if so, for how long. Every mortgage company is different and options available are dependent on what type of loan you have (Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, VA, etc.). One of my photographer friends was able to defer with no penalty for two months with his mortgage holder.

Our mortgage company was only offering forbearance with limited terms (“forbearance with limited terms” with my lender = I can push the payment 60 or 90 days with no penalty, but the *entire balance* of the missed payments is due at the end of the push period). But I am checking back every couple of days because the “limited terms” get better every time I look. As an example, a day ago, the repayment terms were modified to include “forbearance with extended no late fee repayment options up to 12 months.” Banks don’t want your house and they are under tremendous pressure from the government to be flexible, so call them and ask them what offers they have to keep you afloat.

Car Loans

Both of our car loans (Bank of America and an out of state credit union) were happy to defer our next two car payments with no penalty and
no fee (which means no payments are due on our cars until June). They charged nothing for this; they just extended the length of the loan by two payments on the backend.

SBA Disaster Loans

This is a big one! You can apply for an SBA Disaster Loan here. These loans feature low interest rates (no more than 4 percent) and long repayment terms (as much as 30 years), and the amount you may qualify for is based on your payroll, overhead costs, and past tax returns. This is one helluva better option than keeping debt on credit cards!!

Read: A Photographer’s Guide to Navigating the Stimulus Bill, Cancellations and More

I first applied for the SBA Disaster Loan on March 23rd; they (the SBA) updated the loan process on March 26th to include a $10k forgiven loan (we will call it a grant for now), so I went back to re-apply for that grant on the 30th. I haven’t received any funds or loan application updates at this point.

On April 8, I called to check status on the March 23rd loan application, the status on the March 30th grant application for the additional $10k, and asked about any info they could give me on the payouts for the $10k grant (I seem to remember them or media or someone mentioning a 72-hour payment if my bank was avail via prior tax returns, which it was). I started at “caller number 1,325” and it took all of 45 minutes to get through to a person—that was FAST!

I was informed that the March 23rd application/case was closed (replaced) by the application/case I entered on March 30th. I now have one open loan application. They likely did the same for yours if you applied twice—once on the old platform and once on the new. (NOTE: The $10k grant originally purported to be an “automatic forgiven loan you will get if you apply” is now an “if you are approved for it” situation, which is a dramatic change in messaging from my first call to SBA when I was initially told about it.)

Payroll Protection Program

There is also the PPP (Payroll Protection Program), one of the new pieces of legislation just passed that will actually forgive/erase the part of the SBA loan monies you use to maintain your payroll to employees throughout this fiasco. In other words, a grant you don’t have to repay that’s meant to keep your staff intact through the turmoil as long as they stay on payroll during the eight weeks following the loan being funded. Win and Win!! Do this sooner than later because the funds are limited and the process will only get longer and longer as days go by. I applied through my bank (Suntrust/Trust). It’s pretty straightforward so far, but I have no idea when/if approvals will/won’t happen.

Worker’s Comp Insurance

Are you paying Worker’s Comp premiums for people that aren’t actually working? Call your insurance company and find out what your options are!! Response will vary greatly and your biz functions may be very different than ours, but in our case we pay premium on our subcontract photographer labor and our internal staff. No photographers working means the lion share of our payroll just became a 0. We reduced the amount of payroll covered in our policy and it dropped our premium by 70 percent in the meantime.

Business General Liability Insurance

Although we couldn’t really mess with this very much because a large part of our business insurance premium covers equipment that we don’t want to jeopardize, every business is different, and you may want to pause or cancel yours if you literally have nothing for months like we do. One of my friends was allowed to cancel/pause his completely for 60 days and he stuck his equipment on a rider on his homeowner’s policy. His insurance company let him know that if he reinstated the policy on day 59, billing would resume as normal with no fees.

Aside from changing coverage so our premium drops, there were wins on the insurance billing side, too. Our insurance company removed us from auto-pay, will instead send us a paper bill and let us know they will not be charging late fees or canceling policies for nonpayment during this crisis. And yes, I asked: they will still cover claims during a time when your account is showing a late payment. So, umm, looks like I won’t have to make that payment until later, too.

Auto Insurance

Decrease the miles driven on one or both of your car policies and your policy premium will drop. We cut $120 off my wife’s 6-month premium by reducing annual miles from 13,000 to 5,000 miles driven per year…which may still be high considering we drive to the mailbox at this point.

Do you have a second car or are completely stationary with one car? My insurance company had a “storage” option. When I asked them if I could park my second car in a safe spot and not drive it at all, they said “absolutely” and it dropped my premium on the second car by 70 percent (would have dropped the policy, but it is financed, so it has to be insured). The length of time it could be listed in storage was up to three years, and on the chance you decide to drive somewhere, just give them 24 hours notice to reflect it in the policy, and you can resume coverage on the regular policy. Every insurance company is different, but this was my experience with mine.

The Bottom Line

These are just a few examples of what we have done, and just a warning— DO IT OVER THE PHONE no matter how long it takes because the quantity of people trying to do the same is overwhelming. I don’t think email requests will get anything done right now. Bank of America hold time to get to the customer service agent was three hours. SBA has been 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. Yes, it still takes an a LONG time to get it done over the phone, but on the phone I get action and confirmation of the action. All of the things mentioned in this piece have so far eliminated about $15k from the cash I need on hand between now and June, at zero cost to me for late fees/ interest, etc. It took some time, but as stated previously, I have plenty of time and not plenty of money!

Lastly, I don’t wish our personal cancer journey on anyone, but it has given us an amazing gift: perspective. Angel is thriving and getting better every day. No matter how bad the COVID-19 stuff gets and how much financial struggle it causes us, 2020 has been a BIG WIN for our family because she is still with us. We are blessed beyond words, and we reinforce that between ourselves and with our boys every day. Chances are, if you pull your head out of the hysteria and business loss, you will see blessings are everywhere around you.

Patrick Williams started his company, PWP Studio, in 2002 as just him and a camera. The list of characters involved has grown tremendously, with a backend support team of a dozen full- and part-time employees and solid relationships with more than 100 content creators spread across markets coast-to-coast.

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How The Coronavirus is Impacting the Photo Industry