Balwana: Studio business is about giving clients reasons to return

Patrick Balwana displays a record-keeping book at his studio. Balwana says record-keeping is vital in growing a business. PHOTO / ROLAND D NASASIRA 

What you need to know:

  • When Balwana was not in class at university, he was always working at the father’s studios. His father’s business had branches across western Uganda in Mbarara, Fort Portal, Kabale and Rukungiri, among other busy districts.   

Focus Images Studio saw the light of day in March 2010. A brainchild of Patrick Balwana, aged 21 at the time, as a fresh Information Technology graduate from Makerere University, Balwana worked in his father’s photo studio under the Star Photo Laboratory and Star United franchise during holidays from Senior One to Six. When Balwana was not in class at university, he was always working at the father’s studios. His father’s business had branches across western Uganda in Mbarara, Fort Portal, Kabale and Rukungiri, among other busy districts.   

The dream

As a child, Balwana recalls seeing his father who had been in the studio business since the 1980s travel to Kenya in mid and late 1990s to print big photo consignments. And during holidays and secondary school vacations, he equally visited his father’s different regional branches to see how services were being offered. It is how he acquired the business acumen that he later used to start Focus Images Studios.

“From the trips I made to my father’s studios, I noticed that a lot of the studio work is technical and computerised. I used the opportunity to learn a few things such as using cameras to get the right image focus and photo editing where it’s required without compromising the quality. I focused at every detail and used the knowledge to start something of my own,” Balwana explains.

Balwana derived his business name from the term, focus, which he defines as, ‘Follow One Course Until Successful’. He also argues that photography should not be under looked as work for the non-educated, but a career anyone can embrace provided they understand how it works first.

Capital

As he worked at Star Photo Laboratory and Star United studios, Balwana says he was paid a monthly wage of Shs600,000 like any other employee even when he was still staying in his father’s home.

“I decided to save every coin I earned before I faced personal responsibilities such as family. After school, my total savings from working during holidays and at university were Shs30m. I used the money to secure working space for my first branch at Bukoto and paid months ahead of time and bought my first camera, a Nikon 60X, branding of the premises and acquiring a computer,” Balwana says.

Growing the business

At work, much as he is the director of Focus Images Studio, Balwana treats his employees at his branches as his workmates.

“I show my employees what I expect of them when I am not present through leading by example. I do not mess with my business. When I say I want to open at 7:30am, I do not have to have any excuse because time is of essence in my business,” Balwana says. “I love delivering quality work and cleanliness is key to attracting any client. Customer care is also crucial and the speed at which I do my work is also important. Today’s photography is no longer about taking days or a week to deliver a client’s work. I attend to a customer’s work when they are anxious to see the results. I advise my employees to have reasons why a client should come to the studio and not the competitor’s,” Balwana adds, explaining about principles he has used to grow the business over the years.

Breakthrough

Balwana’s breakthrough in the studio business came in the second month of establishing Focus Images Studio. He remembers a strange client walking into the studio for a discussion about covering his introduction ceremony.

“I promised to deliver to his expectation and when I delivered his photo album, I made Shs1m as profit off his work. I did not have an employee at the start but worked with my fiancé and a close friend as partners. I did not want to start with paying the profits made by paying employees. I had a goal of expanding the business first. We worked in shifts because we needed the business to be open most of the day as long as we were able to serve new and existing clients,” Balwana recalls.


Business mistakes to avoid

With an 11-year business experience under his belt, Balwana notes that the commonest mistake many new business owners make is being impatient. It is a trait he learnt from one of his clients, Patrick Bitature, who once advised him that when you give your business time, it gives you everything you want in future.  “I have sacrificed a lot, including time I would be spending with my family. Start a business you are willing to give time to run yourself. If you start something and you do not give it time and you expect to make money, you would be lying to yourself,” Balwana advises.

Because of committing time to his business, Balwana was able to open a second branch at Kyanja, a Kampala suburb in 2018, while the third is in the final stages cesses, all aimed at serving a different population. In a month, he says he makes Shs5m as profit after paying five employees and other bills such as rent and power.

“I will consider myself successful after setting up my forth branch in approximately 10 years. I have a goal of diverting to some other business especially real estate in 20-30 years because I will have outgrown studio business. The young generation I am raising will have acquired knowledge to takeover and run the business,” Balwana talks of his future business plans.

Challenges

He does not work without challenges. The major one is clients delaying to pick their finished work. This is sometimes accompanied with delayed payments yet he has bills to pay for at the end of the day.  

Besides photography and videography, Balwana also sells computer accessories, wall hangings and other items such as cameras and flash disks at the two branches. This, he says, adds a certain level of uniqueness, beauty and compliments income to the studio business.  “I realised photography should not be like a restaurant where someone walks in to eat all the time. There should be a way of sustaining the business if someone does not walk in to take photos because I need to pay bills and workers at the end of the day,” Balwana concludes.

When he is overwhelmed with work such as weddings and they are all happening on the same day, he outsources photographers and videographers for support.

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