Precious images moneyspinner in downturn

SNAP HAPPY:  Photographer Karyn Flett has a passion for photographing babies and families.
SNAP HAPPY: Photographer Karyn Flett has a passion for photographing babies and families.

Business is coming up picture perfect for Waikato photographer Karyn Flett, writes Kashka Tunstall.

Te Awamutu-based photographer Karyn Flett thought she was the last person who could run and own a successful business.

A happy-go-lucky attitude and a laid-back approach to business didn't seem promising for turning a profit.

But the mother-of-four decided to take her chances and dived head first into enterprise at the end of 2007, at the peak of the global economic meltdown.

She launched Karyn Flett Photography, opening a studio in the heart of the Te Awamutu township, specialising in newborn and family photography with nothing other than a sheer determination to succeed.

"I really came into this place with no business knowledge at all," she recalls five years on.

"I had a month before I opened just to throw everything together. I didn't go into it with a business plan, I just had this `if you build it they will come' attitude."

"I just thought if I open, it'll either work or it won't and I've been busy every week for five years since."

Surprisingly, despite starting out in a recession shooting "luxury item" photos, Flett, 39, says she has notched up five years of solid profit since opening – even when making $6 an hour in the first year.

Those days are long gone. Today Flett charges $250 for hour-and-a-half studio sessions, $295 for two-hour location sessions and $295 for a maternity and newborn package.

"To have a successful business still blows me away," says the resident of Kio Kio, near Otorohanga.

"For some people it is a luxury item and for some people it is a necessity, but I was lucky.

"I got into it just in time, before it became a really popular choice for stay-at-home mums to do as a job, probably just long enough to build up a bit of a name for myself and be a step ahead of the game."

The success, says Hamilton-born Flett, who once wanted to be a neo-natal nurse or a midwife, is down to her simplistic style, her relaxed approach to photography, a constant evolution in her work and innovation of shots.

"When I had my fourth child, I just sat him on the bed and took hundreds of photos of his face and practised as much as I could.

"I always think how I'd want my family photographed and I'd want it natural and I'd want to capture that connection between us all. So that's what I decided to focus on and I kept fixing it until I nailed it."

"There are three stages – imitate, assimilate and innovate – and I think you go through those stages.

The reputation she has cultivated and a host of awards from New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography and the Australian Institute of Professional Photography ensures word-of-mouth is her main marketing tool.

Grass roots social media advertising such as posting photos on Facebook has also generated a stream of new clients.

What about that mantra of the acting profession: never work with children and animals?

"I think half the fun of it is that it is such a challenge and it's almost like there's an art to it, getting every little thing right, every little toe."

Flett is happy to share her skills and knowledge, running workshops for photographers starting up and wondering what to do next or wanting to take their business to the next level.

She has been asked to travel to Perth, in Western Australia, to teach.

"I can see what I should have known going into it and it frustrates me when I see people underselling themselves and undervaluing the time and effort it takes. It's a huge commitment and a huge amount of time they're putting into it and they're not realising they're working for minimum wage," she says.

Her main advice for people venturing into business?

"Don't kid yourself about what the cost is of being in business. You have to be honest about what your actual costs are and how you need to price yourself for that.

"If you seriously want to make a profit and be in it for the long haul you have to price yourself right. But so many people are scared that they'll lose business ... competing on price is a race to the bottom.

"You've got to cover your expenses and you've got to value your time, I wouldn't work for someone else for $6 an hour so why would I do that for myself."

Flett aims to be a household name.

"When somebody says `I need a portrait photographer', I want to be, nationwide, the name that everybody thinks of. I want to be the best and I won't stop until I am."

Waikato Times