Making Creative Connections Through COVID – A Snapshot of Susan J Weiand Photography
Susan took a creative approach to family portraits, one of her most popular service offerings, to expand her client base while maintaining COVID-19 safety practices. Instead of taking pictures in a family’s living room, Susan captured images of families in front of their homes through “Porch Portraits.”
Susan stuck to outdoor photo shoots, limited her photography offerings to smaller events, and made sure her clients could access and buy prints digitally. One of the most important lessons Susan learned was how to make photography safer for her community while still capturing those important moments.
Susan opened her business up to a whole new world of opportunity with Nextdoor. By claiming her Business Page and creating Business Posts about her services , Susan met new neighbors who even became new clients .
Graduations, weddings, a new baby’s first steps—we all want to freeze life’s most important moments and cherish them for years to come. That’s the true skill of a photographer like Susan Weiand: being able to capture split seconds of joy, love, and pride at our biggest milestones.
But what happens when those milestones get put on hold indefinitely? How do photographers like Susan continue doing their extraordinary work in times of COVID?
An award-winning photographer, Susan has been capturing Bay Area families’ defining moments for 31 years through her business, Susan J Weiand Photography. When COVID-19 postponed those moments, Susan had to lean into her creative side to help her business flourish.
Portraits in a Pandemic
In March 2020, safety protocols across the country prohibited friends and family to gather for every kind of celebration. In fact, a survey of 900 engaged couples showed that 63% postponed their wedding due to health concerns. Those cancellations and postponements impacted all the businesses and freelancers who make those moments magical, such as caterers, florists, and of course, photographers.
“When COVID hit in March, my business pretty much stopped.” Susan says. “I had a bunch of events booked on my calendar for the summer, a couple of weddings, et cetera, that were all cancelled, postponed.”
Because Susan’s business was considered nonessential, Susan J Weiand Photography was out of the game for months. But Susan brought her business back to what mattered most to her—her community and her passion for photography.
Making Connections and Getting Creative
Despite shelter-in-place orders, Susan itched to get back to work. But with new health restrictions in place, Susan had to get creative. Her work started in her own backyard—or technically, in her neighbors’ front yards.
Porch Portraits – Inspired by other photographers’ work, Susan decided to offer free “Porch Portraits.” Susan took her clients’ portraits on their own front porches or yards, while maintaining a safe distance.
Early in the pandemic, Susan created a Business Post for this service on Nextdoor which generated positive results. A slough of new clients reached out requesting their family’s very own Porch Portrait. “It was a quickie. I drove up, they came out, they wore their masks, I jumped out of the car and stayed far away, used my long lens and just took some photos of them.”
Susan used Business Posts to get the word out about her porch portraits
Paying it Forward – Although it was her first business in months, Susan decided not to charge for her services. Instead, Susan asked her customers to donate to a charity she was passionate about.
“I ended up giving [my clients] these high resolution photos just for free, I didn’t charge anything. So I decided to ask for donations, [and] I picked Second Harvest Foodbank.”
Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley provides nutritious meals to local communities in need. Susan cares deeply about giving back and her one small gesture of offering free photoshoots inspired big generosity in her community.
“What was cool was, two parents of the families worked at Google or Netflix, and those companies matched their donations! Google doubled it and Nextflix doubled it twice. So that was $1,500, just from them. Most people gave between $50 and $100. So I totaled it all together and it was over $4,000. I was very happy to raise that money for a worthy cause.”
Making New Contacts – Susan impressed her new clients not only with her photography skill, but with her generosity. Although this round of Porch Portraits was free, many clients assured Susan that she would be the first person they would call if they ever needed photography services in the future. “They would say, ‘Now I know who you are so if I need a photographer, I know who to book!’”
Getting Out and Getting to Know Neighbors – From making new connections to helping her local community, Susan’s Porch Portrait project was a success. But one of the biggest incentives for Susan’s latest photography work was personal. She wanted to get to know people in her neighborhood.
“I really did it just to do something with my camera and also to get to know my neighbors better. And the added bonus of it was getting all the money for the food bank!”
Small Business Tip: Giving back brings your community together and brings them out in force to support your business. Try these ideas to help pay it forward to your community:
Choose a night of the week to donate a portion of your profits to a local charity.
Start a collection drive for a local food bank and offer discounts to customers who bring canned or dry goods.
Say thanks to essential workers by offering free or discounted services to emergency service personnel.
The New Normal for Safe Photography
Despite safety restrictions, life goes on and so do those important moments that photographers capture so well. Susan’s work continued, but with her clients’ comfort and health as the priority.
Outdoor Photoshoots with Added Safety Measures – Before COVID-19 health measures were put in place, Susan’s favorite backdrop was never in a studio—it was the gorgeous scenery of Northern California.
“Because I’m an outdoor photographer, I haven’t really changed how I do family portraits. I’m just more cautious, I’m wearing a mask, washing my hands, not getting that close to the people.”
Limiting Event Size – Susan knew that managing the amount of people in her shoots was key to keeping her clients safe. So as a part of her business’s new policy, she has turned down large indoor weddings and limits her exposure to small outdoor events or private indoor celebrations. And those are no less special.
“I did a Bar Mitzvah a couple weeks ago. There were ten people in the room. The kid did it via Zoom. I was in the room. But that’s pretty safe and it was cool!”
Keeping Things Digital – An essential tool to helping her business thrive during COVID-19? Taking her offerings online. “Of course, everything’s online. Clients see the photos online, they order online, so there’s no contact.”
Small Business Tip: Safety has to come first, but that doesn’t mean you have to limit your business’s potential. Get creative with your service offerings to ensure your clients safety and their satisfaction.
Help your customers maintain social distancing with fun props (like decorative plants) and signs.
Open air environments are key to creating a safe environment for your customers. Set up space heaters and open-sided tents so you can offer your services in a mindful way.
Take a look at your service offerings and see if you can take some of your work to the digital world. From video conferences for consults to video tours of for-sale homes, a little creativity and technical investment in your business can help keep customers safe and healthy.
Cherishing the Highlight Reels in Uncertain Times
There’s no doubt about it—families and small businesses alike have faced immense hardship throughout this pandemic. But even though Susan’s business had to endure these rocky times, she still found bright moments to cherish. From capturing graduation photos of a child with autism (who always had a hard time taking photos) to pet photoshoots, Susan saw that all her clients shared one thing - a craving to connect with people. Her photography was able to safely make those connections happen.
“[I found that] most people are happy to talk to people outside their family, that people want to chat with me because they haven’t talked to any other adults in a while—the kids too!”
Small Business Tip: Don’t forget to find the joyful moments. In times of crisis, you can be the spark of joy in your community and use your business to spread positivity.
Consider something positive that happened to you in the past week—this could be something personal or directly tied to your business. Capture this moment in an image or quote and put this up on your social media. Similarly, you can use your social media channels to spread positivity—reach out to past clients, other businesses, and community members with uplifting messages. You never know how this can circle back to your business.
If you’re a restaurant or salon with outdoor service offerings, consider asking customers if they don’t mind their picture being taken. You can create collages of these images for in-person passersby or post them online to share the smiles.
Like Susan, you can spread the joy even further by discounting your services in exchange for donations to local nonprofits and organizations. Find partnerships with an organization that shares your message and team up.
Picturing a Brighter Future with Nextdoor
From Porch Portraits to a baby’s first photo shoot, Susan’s business couldn’t have succeeded without help from Nextdoor. Susan’s first experience with Nextdoor was as a member, rather than a business owner. She injured her foot and through the Nextdoor community, a neighbor loaned her a scooter to help her get around!Little did Susan know how vital a role Nextdoor would play in her business’s opportunities during the pandemic.
Claiming Her Business Page – The first step for Susan’s Nextdoor endeavors (and for any business owner) was claiming her Business Page. To her surprise and delight, Susan’s clients, friends, and neighbors had already been talking her up on Nextdoor. Claiming her Business Page helped bring those comments front-and-center for new clients to see.
Recommendations and Word of Mouth – Any small business owner will tell you that it’s hard to put a dollar value on word-of-mouth advertisement. Susan saw Nextdoor as an extension of that essential business tool.
“Word of mouth is really big for me and that’s where Nextdoor comes in, it’s a word-of-mouth thing! People go ‘I trust what my neighbors say, tell me who a great mechanic is, tell me who a great photographer is’ and people listen to that more than just an advertisement.”
Susan observed that Nextdoor even provided an edge to normal word-of-mouth advertising because Nextdoor is the digital epicenter of a local community. “A Nextdoor referral is a good referral because it’s a local, neighbor-to-neighbor thing, and I know that’s what it’s designed to be.”
Small Business Tip: Find your community and a whole new world of opportunity for your business with Nextdoor. You can get started just by claiming your free Business Page — you might even find a few kind words from favorite customers already waiting for you!
Art and Community Go Hand in Hand
Susan’s creativity doesn’t just help her take stunning photographs—it also helped her business stay afloat and flourishing in these uncertain times. With her creative business strategies and her passion and care for her clients, Susan accomplished amazing things despite COVID. She was able to reach out and make connections with her neighbors, do the work she loves, and lend a helping hand to make a big impact in her community.
And with a little help from Nextdoor, her business didn’t just survive—it thrived.
Nextdoor helps small business owners do what they do best—provide products, support, and services to their communities. Be there for your neighbors (and let them be there for you) with Nextdoor. Claim your Business Page today and discover how far your business can go.