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Surviving Corona: Maria Vasserman and Sergiy Kulish

Surviving Corona, features a series of interviews with small business owners and freelancers in Toronto. Small business owners Maria Wasserman and her husband Sergiy Kulish, came to Toronto as immigrants with a dream of building a fulfilling life. This is their story!

The story so far…

Maria was 9 years old when she picked up a camera. She was traveling with her parents around Europe and noticed her father taking photographs. Maria asked if she could take one too! Her father indulgently handed the camera over to her and that’s how it all started. 

By the time she was 14 years old Maria wanted her own camera and got one as a birthday gift. That’s when she began experimenting with photography. She says, “I took pictures of everything around me – my room, my neighbourhood, my friends.” Maria had fallen head over heels in love with photography. 

As fate would have it, her boyfriend (now husband) Sergiy’s sister turned out to be a professional photographer. Sergiy generously shared everything he learnt from his sister with Maria. 

Sergiy at work with bride Mahek Grewal at Cateaux Bordeleau. Photo Credit MS Vision

Fast forward a few years, Maria and Sergiy moved to Canada from Ukraine. Having pursued their love for photography for several years they felt ready to launch their photography business. They decided to specialize in wedding photography, capturing happy couples and their families. For the last 4 years both Maria and her husband Sergiy, have been nurturing their small business – MS Vision, while holding down day jobs. 

What is your current situation?

Alena & Yuri at Mint Room Studios. Photo Credit MS Vision

2020 started great – we had bookings for couples and family shoots, we had a few styled shoots planned too, and, of course, all of it got postponed indefinitely. On top of that, my day job just temporarily laid me off. Luckily, my husband still has his day job, but overall the situation is scary. Our planning partners are all in a similar situation – stuck at home with no way of creative expression.

What learnings would you like to share about navigating this situation?

Contingency planning has never been more important. Once I get my business up and running again, I’ll dedicate time to thinking about diversifying my income. I have learned the importance of empathy, community and support. Online, everyone is showing up for each other, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Photo Credit MS Vision

What is the support system that is helping you get through this time?  

  1. Video chats with my parents, but we’re used to that since I’ve been living across the globe from them for the last 7 years. 
  2. Exercising in any way I can – home workout videos, running outside (keeping the social distance of course), walking up the stairs (we live on the 17th floor, so that’s a workout in itself! Helps avoid the elevator with people standing too close to each other).  
  3. Baking!
  4. Motivational podcasts, primarily from my mentor Jasmine Star who remains undaunted no matter what. 

Resources you would like to share with others?

  1. Knowing that I can apply for Employment Insurance really comforts me  https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei.html 
  2. Numerous free workouts from PowerYoga (daily on Instagram live), Les Mills (free 2-week trial), City Dance Corps (also on Instagram live) and so many more! 

Advice you would like to offer others?

Find happiness in little things!

Maria Vasserman

This will end eventually. 

The best we can do is follow the health guidelines, communicate them to others, and do our best to fill our days with something good. Some days, it will be freshly baked cookies. Other days, it will be an online class that makes you feel super productive. And then it will be a day of binge-watching Friends for 10,000 times. Whatever it is, do it.

Remember to stay kind to yourself and others. We’re in this together.

What support do you need?

Planning helps me believe that the end is near. Whenever someone reaches out to me to plan a photoshoot for summer or fall, I feel alive again.

People often underestimate the power of social media and word-of-mouth. Yet, that’s how many small businesses thrive! 

Maria Vasserman

If you can share any of my photos, leave a comment, follow or like my work – all of that would be tremendously helpful. Just today I’ve been checking my Instagram growth and, realizing that I hit my goal, I smiled. It might sound shallow, but that’s what put a smile on my face today and I’m embracing it. 

Finally, I’m in the unfortunate positing of looking for a new day marketing job. If anyone needs part-time or full-time marketing, social media, photography, videography or graphic design, I’d love to work together!

Ideas for Maria and Sergiy’s Small business

Everything has its own time. There is a time to plant seeds and a time to harvest. Use this time to focus on your business, rather than in it.

  1. Gather endorsements & ask for referrals: Reach out to your happy clients for endorsements and referrals. 
  2. Create Offers: Create great deals for people getting married this fall or winter. People are always planning their weddings several months in advance. Circulate the deals via social media and ask your network of friends to help out.Start booking people now and try to get an advance! 
  3. Create content on social media around weddings and couples using all of the beautiful photos you already have. Post it along with your offers.
  4. Create Your Marketing: Develop a pitch about your small business and prepare your portfolio. Invest in developing your company’s social platform and grow your reach. 
  5. Build your Network: Connect with wedding planners, florists, family filmmakers, caterers, bakeries and more on LinkedIn and share your portfolio and pitch with them. 

Ideas for Maria’s Job Hunt

Here is a list of companies that are hiring.

LinkedIn News Feed on Whose’s Hiring in Canada

Google Doc that has a list of canadian companies hiring at the moment.

Linked In Talent Solutions Blog

  1. Update your LinkedIn profile & begin connecting with recruiters. There are a lot of people hiring right now. 
  2. Update your profile on these websites or search for jobs
    1. https://ca.indeed.com/
    2. https://www.ziprecruiter.com/
    3. glassdoor.com 
    4. https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/home
    5. https://charityvillage.com/
  3. Great Read from Andrew Seaman, Journalist connecting people with opportunity https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/job-searching-during-pandemic-andrew-seaman/  
  4. J T Odonnell offers great advice on how to land a job on workitdaily.com 
  5. Set up job alerts on Google and they will send you daily alerts of job postings specifically for you. 

If you have more ideas to promote MS Vision or can help Maria with her job search please leave comment below.

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