Meet the Telstra Business Award 2011 winners: Flash Fotos

Melanie Summer achieved an astounding turnaround in her glamour photography business, going from potential bankruptcy to profit in two years.

MYOB Small Business Award

In 2007, Melanie Summer’s glamour photography business Top Shots was knee-deep in $250,000 debt. Her two business partners had left and she was thinking about filing for bankruptcy. But after talking to a handful of her debtors, the single mother decided she just had to continue on with her Sunshine Coast-based business.

“I knew I couldn’t close the doors, I just had to keep going. I didn’t want to let down my staff, all those suppliers I was owing all this money, and I also didn’t want to let my daughter down – she was seven at the time,” Summer recalls.
It took almost two years for Summer to turn the award-winning business around. It was a rocky road and she struggled until she paid a visit to a hypnotherapist in November 2008.

“[After my first session] I made the decision: ‘I will see how fast I can pay everyone back. And I went back to the office, made a couple of decisions and within a couple of weeks, everything was fine. It was that fast, it was unbelievable. It took me 10 months,” she says.
Summer made herself sole shareholder, got her team behind her, invested heavily in professional coaching and revamped the business’s marketing approach. Most importantly, she changed the way she looked at things. Problems were now seen as new challenges to tackle and anything was possible.

In 2007, Top Shots was dead; it was rebranded as Flash Fotos and turnover quadrupled in just three years.

“Flash Fotos gives everyday people the opportunity to feel and look like models by offering glamour photography services,” Summer explains. The business operates from a fully equipped make-up and photography studio in Maroochydore in Queensland and also runs three road shows across Australia’s regional areas.

“We use three mobile vans to take glamour styling and photography to towns in all Australian states,” says Summer. “Flash Fotos has doubled its full-time equivalent staff to 18 while, serving 10,000 customers in the past two years,” she adds. She is focused on consolidating the business over the next two years before expanding into the Asian market.

German-born Summer actually had no experience in photography when she and her partners launched Top Shots. All she wanted was a way to earn money and raise her daughter without having to work for someone else, nine to five, every day. However, one of the most satisfying aspects of her business now is seeing the smiles on her customers’ faces when they see the photos from their shoot with Flash Fotos.

“What I love about my business is that it is not really about photography but about making people feel good about themselves. We are aware of how important confidence is and our satisfaction comes from the feedback we get from our customers,” she says. “Business will always be challenging but we are able to use challenges in a positive way, to make the business stronger, then we don’t have to worry about our future.”

Lessons from Melanie Summer

* Get clarity
“Without clarity about what you want to achieve in your business it is very hard to drive it to success.  You need to know where you want to go in order to steer into the right direction. Imagine a boat. The current, the wind and maybe even storms will constantly throw you off your path. If you are clear about where you are heading the constant adjustment of the steering wheel will keep you on track towards your final destination. Similarly in business, if you know what you want to create you can take steps towards it. Questions you could ask yourself in order to create clarity are:

1. What kind of customer experience do you want to create?
2. What benefits should your services/ products offer?
3. What sort of team you want to work with?
4. How many customers/ sales you want to achieve?
5. What do you want your customers say about you?
6. How much involved do you want to be in your own business?”

* Work on your business not in your business
“Many business owners start a business because they feel they are really good in their trade. Once they start their own business they keep working in their trade. However most of the time they just exchange their boss over for being self-employed, with all the hassle and headaches of a business. The real value of being in business is by leveraging your own time and to take your hands off the tools. You need to start working ON the business and not IN the business. Someone asked me the other day when I thought was the right time to stop working in the business and start working on the business. And the answer is: Don’t wait for the right time and start right now! Start implementing those changes in little steps if you can’t afford to replace yourself right away.  Maybe outsource some of the admin tasks to an virtual secretary or create a part time role and start working on the business during that time that you now have freed up.  If you develop your business to the point that it runs without you being involved into the day to day running of it you truly have created a business that works for you.”

* Get help 
“When things get tough we tend to try to save every dollar.  However these are the times when I feel it is a great idea to get outside help and employ a coach, consultant or even find a mentor. Your lack of success is a result of what you have been doing in the past. By finding an outside person you will get new ideas and become accountable to someone else which often helps staying on track. When choosing a coach or consultant make sure you analyse why your business is not performing and then find a coach that offers the right skills and can help you in the areas you need help with. When I was on the brink of bankruptcy I employed a coach who charged $29,000 for his service. I had no money and got a new credit card to pay his fees. My friends thought I was either very bold or mad. But at the end they had to
admit that the coach helped me to turn things around where I was not able to do that on my own.”

* Invest in your self
“Being in business means we need to keep up to date with new technology, trends, changes in legislation, etc. We need to keep learning to keep our competitive edge. Invest in yourself and regularly book into training courses, seminars and read books.  A good example is the development and influence of social media on business in the last decade. Those that don’t ‘upskill’ will eventually be left behind.”

* Test, measure and review 
“Once you are not involved in the day to day running of your business anymore you need to make sure you still get all the information about your business that is required to make decisions. Develop some meaningful reports that give you an indication about how your business is travelling – you’ll be able to see trends and changes in performance which help you to act and adjust your course when things turn pear shaped. You can also identify lack of performance of staff members or identify training needs. Don’t be afraid to make changes as this is often vital to stay alive. After you have made changes review and make sure you got the desired outcome.  Reports that I find helpful in tracking my business are:

1. Total sales
2. Average sales per customer
3. Cash received, cash spent
4. Sales per product
5. Leads generated
6. Conversation rates

 Sponsors’ comments

“Selected as the best in a nation that features exceptional small business success stories, Flash Fotos demonstrates the courage and passion of the Aussie business community and this is wonderful recognition of all the hard work they have put in to running their business.”
– Tim Reed, CEO of MYOB

Read about the other Telstra Business Award 2011 winners
Meet the winners: Australia Pressure Testing Services
Meet the winners: Flash Fotos
Meet the winners: Janison
Meet the winners: Colmax

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