By: JOAN THATIAH
There is nothing black about Lilly Maingi’s photography. It is warm, bright and bold. But Lilly herself is very much like a swan. She is gentle, graceful and patient. She is doing a studio family shoot right before this interview and we watch as she patiently waits for the baby to stop crying so that she can capture the family having a warm, happy moment.
She has built her business model in a similar manner. While she could have had faster growth doing aggressive marketing campaigns, Lilly opted to take time to build relationships with families. As the families grow, so does her business.
“It is remarkable to be able to grow with a family. To do their wedding shoots, their baby bumps, babies’ baptisms and birthdays. It is very fulfilling to know that a client will come back,” she says.
Her journey to entrepreneurship wasn’t so graceful, though. Lilly has always been good with her hands. As a child, she drew, painted and made crafts.
She started earning money from her art at Kenya High School, doing decorative hand-writing on envelopes for her classmates. After high school, she hit the ground running.
“I started crafting cards which I sold for Sh80 a piece. I remember making my first Sh20, 000 just a few months after I had started the venture,” she recalls. Although she was making money, there was just one little problem; her folks wanted her to study something more promising, like business. To prove that she could do it, Lilly got a job as an office assistant. When she wasn’t working, she was making art.
“Taking this job turned out to be a good decision because my boss noticed how I lingered at the office after work doing my art and offered to introduce me to his photographer friend,” she says.
When the call from this friend, an established photographer. came, Lilly was both elated and apprehensive. He offered her a once-in-a-lifetime chance of an internship with him. The catch was that it would be unpaid.
“After some soul-searching, I quit my job and took the internship. It turned out to be a great decision. I fell in love with photography and got fulltime employment,” she says.
The only downside was that having passed on the chance for a university education from her parents, she now had to take herself through college. “It might not have looked like that at the time but I am glad I waited to find out what I was interested in before joining college,” she says in retrospect.
Most of what she knows about photography, she learnt from her six years in employment as a photographer and finally as a studio manager.
Even as she trained and mentored other photographers for her employer, she knew that she wanted to have her own establishment, so she saved for it. By: 2012, she had put aside Sh200, 000 to start her business. “I used it to buy my first camera and a second-hand laptop.
Then I started my company in my house.”
Not closing doors when she left employment is one of the decisions she credits her business success to. When things got hard, she took on projects on contract basis for her previous employers.
They also let her rent their studios for her studio shoots. “I have excellent customer care skills. I make the service personalised. I call clients on days leading up to their birthdays and anniversaries, and they like it. My business has grown through referrals.”
GROWTH, AT LAST
After a year of running a solo show, her business was finally pushing her out of her comfort zone. Her corporate customer base was growing and this demanded that she gets a studio and office space. So she started hunting for a partner.
“I didn’t want a partner who would just pump money into my business, I wanted someone who believed in my dream. I found this person in a friend who is a career architect with a passion for photography.”
Her clientele has now grown to include property magazines and real estate firms for whom she photographs interiors and show houses. The girl who once thought she would become an interior designer now immortalises these decors.
She admits that the ever increasing gadgets and software that allows anyone with a phone to churn out photographs has been a challenge to the industry. To curb this, she sells the experience rather than the photographs. “Anyone can take photographs. But not all can give a memorable photo session,” she says.
She also works hard to maintain her clients’ privacy. Her clients retain the rights to their images and she never uses them on social media or to advertise her work. This has sent many high-end clients who value confidentiality her way.
Finally, after shooting over 200 weddings over the years, Lilly will have her own wedding experience in January. “I am excited. Starting a family will definitely add onto my work. I want to see more families walking into photo studios,” she says.
HOW SHE DID IT
She was careful not to burn bridges as she went along. They turned out to be useful in building her career.
She didn’t hasten the business, she let it lead the way.
She keeps giving. She argues that one can never run out of talent or knowledge. In return, the universe gives her back.
SOURCE: DAILY NATION