We had the good fortune of connecting with Shell Dransart and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shell, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
I want to first just say, I am so grateful & humbled to even be having this conversation, especially after last year when so many businesses suffered. On top of that, as a professional portrait photographer, I am very aware that being a photographer in business nowadays isn’t always easy to survive. Many of my very talented friends and colleagues have quit due to high competition and over saturation on the industry. It seems photographers are a dime a dozen, and especially now days where everyone owns a camera on their phone!
So to still be able to run this business doing what I love after all of these years is such an honor, and I don’t take that for granted one bit.
However, I am happy to report, not only have I somehow been able to create a successful business that is still going strong for almost 15 yrs
but also, I have done the unthinkable in the service industry, I have moved my business to different states & started over many times in many new cities and had to be the new girl all over again! It was not easy, but I worked hard to earn trust in every new city, luckily word of mouth is a powerful tool. I worked really hard at establishing myself over & over with each move, which is not for the faint of heart! And yet, almost 15 years later, Wildflower Studio LLC portrait photography business is still going strong!
I would say my secret to success on staying in a thriving business, aside from hard work, is really getting that word of mouth marketing from happy clients. It’s really my main marketing tool. The secret recipe I would say is a combination of a few important ingredients: Consistent Authenticity, and Amazing Customer Service- both have lead to an abundance of outstanding 5 star reviews over the years as well as heartfelt client testimonials, which has allowed me to use word of mouth as my main marketing tool.
1) Consistent Authenticity- being both consistent, and authentic- I know, you’re probably sick of that word “authentic”, but stick with me! This is a quality that I really think has saved my business all of these years and you may be surprised at how I see it.
I have often thought about what has kept my business afloat throughout the years and one image that has always come through is that old Tortoise and The Hare fable, remember that? The Hare tries to take all of these short cuts to win the race, he is also very showy & cool & and it looks like he’s going to win, but the tortoise takes one step at a time and is very mindful, not getting distracted by what others are doing or by bright & shiny objects. He stays the course, being true to himself, slow & steady, not cutting corners, staying humble.
The tortoise ends up winning the race despite all of the odds against him. That’s the way I have tried to view my own business, stay in my own lane, treat others the way I want to be treated & stay the course, one foot in front of the other, not concerned about what everyone else is doing, and just be as authentic as I can. Nowdays, I also coach other women, helping them with business, creativity, empowerment & I like to tell my coaching clients, “Put your blinders on, one step in front of the other, and stay in your own lane. Don’t get sucked in to the “compare & despair game, just be true authentic yourself.”
In my work, I do not try to be anyone else, I want to be hired for ME. If I don’t think I am a good fit for a project, I will be honest and tell them, and I will refer potential clients out to other photographers who could be a better fit to create what the person is looking for, rather than try to get a sale. You will not have amazing reviews or recommendations if you are not the right fit & are not being authentic & putting the client’s needs first. There is enough to go around. I try to stay out of scarcity mindset.
Also, I try not to get distracted by the newest craze in photography. A lot of trends have come and gone in the photography industry. I love to play & experiment on my own time, but in my professional work, I am consistent in my style & work. I think it’s my “consistent authenticity” that gives that “know, like and trust factor” for my clients & potential clients. They feel like they know me, that can trust me, and are in good hands. They know what they are getting, even if they haven’t hired me yet. If you view my work through out all of the years, you can see that I may have evolved & gotten better at my craft, but the underlying style & essence of me is there. I am in my work.
I also truly celebrate & admire other photographer’s unique style, & as much as I admire other photographers for their work, I do not try and emulate others. I love how we can all be different, it’s what makes the world beautiful!
In my photography, Before, during & after a session, I show up honestly, as myself, be it on social media, in my marketing and in my pre-session planning consultations, or in my photography work. When my clients hire me they feel like they already know me because of my consistent authenticity.
2) The second thing I think has allowed me to be successful is Amazing Customer Service: I combine the 2 ingredients of Consistent Authenticity with Amazing Customer Service & it’s a great recipe! I pride myself on taking extreme care of my clients well before the session, way before I even bring out my camera! Every client receives a pre-session planning consultation with me where we go over all of their concerns, we talk about wardrobe ideas, locations, personalities of those in the session & how I can cater if someone is really shy or nervous, we discuss possible props that fit their style (or brand if its a head shot or branding session), we discuss their vision and wishlist of shots, I give then tips to help make their photo session go smooth, and more! My clients also have access to me to text me pictures of outfits and I give them my opinion. During the session, my clients know they can literally just show up and I will have all of my notes we discussed, and I will guide them through out the entire session. They never have to know how to stand, where to sit, or what to do. People that view my work think it is naturally candid, it only looks that way because my clients feel so at ease, they look extremely natural. I 100% understand it can feel awkward having a camera on you. I reassure my clients they never have to know what to do, I will take care of them. As you can see, I hold my client’s hand through the entire process- well before the session even begins, and during and after the session. And I honestly love to do it!
By the time the session rolls around with my clients, we already are friends, and it creates such a warm energy. They are comfortable and at ease, therefore I can truly capture their true authentic essence and energy: something I am known for in my work. Its my favorite thing to capture!
I believe because I truly make people feel authentically seen, heard, and feel loved, that I have been able to continue to find success in my business, not just survive, but thrive, because I can communicate how much I care, and my clients understand how valuable they are to me. I am truly grateful when anyone hires me even all of these years later, and especially after last year, I am more grateful than ever to still be in business. I am passionate about making people feel beautiful inside and out & bringing that beauty out in their custom images! It is my favorite thing to do- to bring out their unique and beautiful inner glow in their photos, this job is such a gift to me.
I hope that this was helpful for someone out there! I wish all that read this much success, joy & love.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
To answer your question, what sets me apart: Aside from being a photographer/ artist, I am intuitive empath. That means I can see & feel other people’s energy. I have brought this quality into my photography work from the beginning, and often people can see my client’s energy in the photos I take, its very cool! I think that is a huge component of what sets me a part, as well as being an empowerment coach. My clients tell me they feel empowered even at their photo session! To answer your question about challenges & lessons: I started my photography business because people saw some photos I had taken and asked if I would take their family photos, they show others their photos and quickly I had a full schedule, and started a business. That was a magical gift, however, I did not own a fancy camera. My husband & I were struggling financially at the time & I found out very quickly that often times, my clients had much better cameras than me. I was tempted to go out and by all of the expensive fancy lenses and cameras, but I didn’t! One year later, I had saved up and went out and bought a professional DSLR, 2 professional lenses, and a website only with the money I had earned from my photography business. I didn’t want to go into debt to have impressive gear. As hard as it was to wait a year, it was worth it! So many other photographers think they need the latest, fanciest stuff, you don’t!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Maybe an acai bowl at Swami’s or EverBowl, then a walk through the SRF Meditation Gardens in Encinitas… I’m a nature girl, I love to hike Torrey Pines & we are so blessed to have gorgeous beaches & hiking trails all over the San Diego area. I’d end our day at the beach in Cardiff where my kids love to surf and skimboard, maybe cocktails and dinner at Pacific Coast Grill to watch the waves and sunset!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to dedicate this story to my grandparents, Barbara & Dave. I didn’t have the easiest childhood, but they always encouraged me to be myself and follow my heart. They taught me from a young age that if I showed up as authentically me in my life, I could follow my unique passions, and create what ever I wanted in life and business. They said if I continued to be a good person, to be myself, the “right” people would show up, and if I did what I loved I would never work a day in my life- because it wouldn’t feel like work! They were my biggest cheerleaders, and for that I am extremely & forever grateful!
I also want to give a shout out to my amazing husband who knew I was a professional photographer long before I did, and also for those first few clients who had seen a blog I wrote & reached out & asked if I could take their photos, they saw it before I did too & that’s how my business all began. Thank you for allowing me to share a bit of my story.
Other: Empowerment coaching: https://www.instagram.com/shelldransart
Wildflower Studio LLC