Small Business Lessons: How Flytographer went from 100 to 0 and back again

For our Small Business issue, we asked 14 B.C. businesses how they're surviving in this economy. Here's one of them

Before the pandemic, Victoria-based Flytographer—which sets up tourists with expert photographers in the city they’re in—was in the clouds. Then it came crashing down. Founder and CEO Nicole Smith tells the story.
—As told to Nathan Caddell

I always felt we had hedged risk by being a global brand. If there were issues in Europe, we’re on other continents and have different ways to keep going. It just wasn’t in our business plan to prepare for the entire world to stop travelling. [In 2020] we were on track to do about $7 million; we were going to be profitable for the first time.

I remember that fateful day, March 13, when international travel halted. Revenue stopped, no sales. It was a terrifying time—we had a team of 20 people, with payroll and all these bookings. We had a tsunami of refund requests at the same time. Our bank account got completely drained, we had to dip into our line of credit. It was absolutely the darkest chapter of my career and the business.

We went from 20 people to four and were just trying to stay alive. It’s like boxing in the fog—you don’t know what’s coming. We thought about how to diversify and serve our customers while providing work for the community and photographers while no one was travelling. We offered more hometown shoots—safely and at a distance—because people still wanted memories.

We also launched an e-commerce shop called The Travel Shop. We had travel-themed gifts and merch that people could purchase, like puzzles of Santorini and airport code sweatshirts. We kept two developers on the team and they automated some manual processes in our workflow and booking platform so that when travel came back we could be more efficient.

Around March or April last year we started to see recovery. Prior to that, every quarter, something would happen. Oh it’s Delta or Omicron, there was never a reprieve. Then travel exploded. We were caught in situation where we had two customer service folks as bookings came back with a force.

We called May 2022 “Mayhem.” It was a great lesson in codifying your processes for a team that had to hire quickly. This past May, we were fully staffed and ready for business. Had our best month ever—hit a million dollars in revenue.