Focus Images Studio was born in March 2010. The brainchild of then 21-year-old Patrick Balwana, as a recent Information Technology graduate from Makerere University, Balwana worked in the photo studio of his father under the Star Photo Laboratory and Star United franchise. during the holidays from Senior One to Six. When Balwana was not in class at the university, he always worked in the father’s studios. His father’s company had branches in western Uganda in Mbarara, Fort Portal, Kabale and Rukungiri, among other bustling areas.
As a child, Balwana remembers seeing his father, who had been working in the studio since the 1980s, traveling to Kenya in the mid to late 1990s to print large batches of photos. And during holidays and high school vacations, he would also visit his father’s various regional branches to see how services were offered. This is how he acquired the business acumen he later used to start Focus Images Studios.
“From the trips I made to my father’s studios, I noticed that a lot of studio work is technical and computerized. I took the opportunity to learn a few things like using cameras to get the image in the right focus and photo editing where needed without compromising quality. I focused on every detail and used my knowledge to start something of my own,” says Balwana.
Balwana got his trade name from the term, focus, which he defines as “Take a course until you pass”. He also argues that photography shouldn’t be seen as a job for the uneducated, but a career anyone can pursue as long as they first understand how it works.
While working at Star Photo Laboratory and Star United Studios, Balwana says he received a monthly salary of Shs 600,000 like any other employee, even when he was still living with his father.
“I decided to save every coin I earned before facing personal responsibilities such as family. After school, my total savings from working vacations and college were 30 million of shillings. I used the money to secure a work space for my first branch in Bukoto and paid months in advance and bought my first camera, a Nikon 60X, the image branding of the premises and the acquisition of a computer”, explains Balwana.
At work, just as he is the director of Focus Images Studio, Balwana treats his employees in his branches as his co-workers.
“I show my employees what I expect of them when I’m not present by setting an example. I don’t mess with my stuff. When I say I want to open at 7:30 a.m., I have no excuse, because time is of the essence in my business,” says Balwana. “I like to deliver quality work and cleanliness is key to attracting any client. Customer service is also crucial and the speed at which I do my work is also important. Today’s photography Today is no longer about taking days or a week to deliver a client’s work I attend a client’s work when they are eager to see the results I advise my employees to have reasons for which a client should come to the studio and not the competitor’s,” adds Balwana, explaining the principles he has used to grow the business over the years.
Balwana’s breakthrough into the studio industry came in the second month of Focus Images Studio’s establishment. He remembers a strange client walking into the studio for a discussion on the cover of his introduction ceremony.
“I promised to meet his expectations and when I delivered his photo album, I earned Shs 1 million as profit from his work. I had no employee initially but was working with my fiancé and a close friend as associates. I didn’t want to start by paying the profits made by the paying employees. My goal was first to develop the business. We worked in shifts because we needed the business to be open almost all day as long as we could serve new and existing customers,” recalls Balwana.
Business mistakes to avoid
With 11 years of business experience under his belt, Balwana notes that the most common mistake many new business owners make is impatience. It’s a trait he learned from one of his clients, Patrick Bitature, who once told him that when you give your business time, it gives you everything you want in the future. “I sacrificed a lot, including time I would spend with my family. Start a business that you are willing to give the time to run yourself. If you start something and you don’t give it the time and that you expect to make money, you will be lying to yourself,” advises Balwana.
By dedicating time to his business, Balwana was able to open a second branch in Kyanja, a suburb of Kampala in 2018, while the third is in its final stages, all aimed at serving a different population. Within a month, he says he made a profit of 5 million shillings after paying five employees and other bills such as rent and electricity.
“I will consider myself a success after setting up my fourth branch in about 10 years. My goal is to reorient myself towards other activities, in particular real estate, in 20 to 30 years, because I will have exceeded the stage of the studios. The younger generation that I raise will have acquired the necessary knowledge to take over and run the company”, Balwana talks about his future business plans.
He does not work without challenges. The main one is that customers are slow to choose their finished work. This is sometimes accompanied by late payments when he has bills to settle at the end of the day.
Apart from 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 ancillary revenue to the studio business. “I realized that photography shouldn’t be like a restaurant where someone goes in to eat all the time. There should be a way to support the business if someone doesn’t come in to take pictures because I have to pay the bills and the 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 hires out photographers and videographers to support him.