Shannon is the purposeful entrepreneur behind Feather Blue Studios. A true renaissance woman, Shannon is a gifted photographer, designer, and writer. As a young mom with a toddler in tow, she opened her first photography and graphic design business, which later became Feather Blue, a full-fledged creative firm.
Read more to learn how Shannon structures her time, balances wearing so many hats (hint: she grew her team and delegates), and manages her business with purpose, vision, and intention.
Let’s get started!
Tell us about Feather Blue Studios.
Feather Blue Studios is a creative firm and photography studio focused on helping female entrepreneurs look and sound beautiful so they can draw in their target clientele with ease. We offer marketing strategy, branding and copywriting, lifestyle photo sessions, and more.
A core part of my company also includes Fresh Feathers Stock, set to launch to the public soon, a stock photo membership site and community to help female entrepreneurs keep their digital branding fresh.
What was your first job growing up, and what did you learn from it?
I had so many jobs growing up, which looking back, all prepared me to appreciate the value of hard work. I started out at age 14 working in the baby room at a daycare — eight to noon every weekday morning, all summer long. Getting up that early every summer morning was the hardest part!
The next summer, I was on a cleaning crew, and after that, I worked at a drug store as a cashier and stock person. I learned how to communicate with people, that there was joy in almost any task done well, and the excitement of gaining new skills.
Tell us about your career path before starting your own company?
I studied Communications, Marketing, and Graphic Design in college, thinking I would go into Advertising as either an Art Director or a Copywriter. I knew I loved ideas, concepts, visuals, and words. I needed a photography class for my Graphic Design minor and had always wanted to go to Paris, so after my junior year, I spent a couple of months in Paris studying photography. Once I came back, newly minted camera and skills in hand, I started getting asked to do little sessions for families. Eventually, I started doing fashion shoots with a friend who was a makeup artist, which started my path toward photographing professionally.
Upon graduating, I was still finishing up my advertising portfolio, so I took a part-time job doing marketing, graphic design, and admin work for a jewelry artist. At the same time, I started designing and selling a handbag collection and doing photography on the side. Once I got a taste of the entrepreneurial life, it was hard to go back.
I had always loved developing little business ideas as a kid (I had a neighborhood store out of my room at age 10, just to name one — The Heart to Heart Gift Shop!), but didn’t connect that one could go to college and become an entrepreneur. I don’t think entrepreneurship is taught or encouraged, understandably so, because it can be an uphill battle. Looking back, while I’ve valued the other roles and jobs I’ve had, I can see I was meant to be an entrepreneur from the start.
Tell us the story of why and how you started your business?
Post-college, married and with a toddler in-tow, I wanted to find a way to use my gifts and talents, but be with my daughter as much as possible. I decided to open a photography & graphic design business, which quickly became mostly photography. We remodeled our basement to put in a studio, and I was able to work from home, part-time, but still take clients in a professional environment.
Fast forward 12 years, and after running my studio and taking on contract marketing and writing roles, I decided to take my business to the next level and re-infuse my other gifts. So, I reinvented my business and turned my studio into a full-fledged creative firm, offering branding, writing, creative services, marketing, and photography primarily for small business women.
I realized new small business owners often prefer to work with someone who can relate to them. It’s simpler to hire one person/team to handle multiple things, rather than communicating your vision over and over to different people (your photographer, your designer, your writer, etc.).
I also began to plan future off-shoots, like my current project, Fresh Feathers Stock, a stock photography site for online female entrepreneurs. I’m hoping this will become the core of my business. We provide affordable, gorgeous stock photos plus a welcoming, business-focused community for online business women across the globe.
Overall, I have made my business more purpose-driven, and legacy focused. I am thinking more in the long term than the short term now.
What is a typical day like for you?
As a mom of three kids and an entrepreneur, my day usually starts with the controlled chaos of getting my kids off to school! My littlest one is still in preschool, and I keep her home with me two days a week (and I’m in no rush for her to grow up), but the other three days I have uninterrupted work time.
Once my family is off to their respective places, I start my day with tea (usually chai) and time for inspiration and reflection — usually reading my Bible or an inspirational book. It’s important to me that I enter each day with new purpose and grace, and search for gratitude in both the little things and the trials that inevitably come. I try to fit a workout in 2-3 days a week too, sometimes it happens, and other days deadlines win.
Then I excitedly hand-write my to-do list for the day, go over my paper calendar (I adore ink on paper!), and then check my email. Next, I try hard to conquer things on my list, aiming to do both work for my clients + my own projects and marketing.
Most people think I spend all day behind a camera, but most of my work is on the computer. Several times a month, I have a shoot or meeting and find myself traveling on-location, but otherwise, I’m focusing on my computer. I try to time-block (set a beginning and start time for a project so that I have a focused goal), but I also know that once I’m into something, it’s better to finish rather than put it off.
I try to wrap up each day by checking in with clients/email again and writing down notes for the next day. I do take occasional evening calls or clients, but in the past few years, I have tried to stick with regular business hours as much as possible. My family has plenty going on after school, and I volunteer as a coach and in other roles, so being as fully present as possible during those things is a priority to me.
Tell us about a hard time in your life, career or personal.
There’s been no shortage of hard times, that’s for sure! And without a doubt, every one of them has made me stronger. When my first two kids were young, my husband spent four extremely tiring years in law school (evenings and weekends) while he worked full-time as well.
He took a pay cut to find a job with the right hours to make school work, making our finances tighter than ever. The kids and I rarely saw him, making me more or less a single mother. It was draining, stressful, and emotionally exhausting. But you adapt, learn, and grow, slowly but surely learning to rebound from the wear and tear, giving you more empathy and life experience than before.
More recently, just this past fall, I ended up with a mild concussion. It brought my work to almost a complete halt for two tough weeks, because I couldn’t look at a screen and see straight. Months later I still have symptoms that linger — like mild to moderate headaches. This all happened during an especially busy time in my business, and years earlier the stress of being so behind might have given me a panic attack. But older and wiser, I had the mindset to wait it out, fight through the despair, and keep a positive attitude, even as I have had to run the uphill race to catch up and recover.
Life’s burdens are not quick and gone, they are often constant and lingering. Learning how to live through them with gratitude and joy is key, not just wishing and waiting to come out on the other end.
If you were to start your business over today, what would you do differently?
If I were to start my business over, I would lean on the resources of others sooner. I would carefully evaluate which aspects of my business I could truly handle well, and hire what’s left. I know now that it’s ok (and normal) not to be an expert at everything. If I can do things better and quicker with someone else’s help, even if I have to invest in those things, it’s better for my business long-term.
What do you believe is your single strongest skill that’s helped you succeed?
The answer to that is simple — determination! Like every business owner, I’ve had plenty of things go wrong. I’ve invested in things that didn’t work, I’ve tried business directions that didn’t go well, I’ve worked late nights and long hours. But keeping the focus on my goals and learning to adapt when things didn’t go well is what’s kept me going. If something doesn’t work, there must be another way!
What advice to do you have for new entrepreneurs?
The advice I would give a new entrepreneur starting out is to focus in on something small and do that part really well before expanding. Often we want to start broad — to help all kinds of people and cover all our bases — but instead of being able to see growth we are trying so hard to keep the pieces together that it’s hard to tell what’s working and not working.
What’s next for your business?
After I finish launching Fresh Feathers Stock I plan to target in on some more signature packages for the company so that my marketing and creative work is more focused, and then continue to launch further training or inspirational resources — like pdfs and workbooks — to help other entrepreneurs. The plan is to give my company a strong passive income foundation so I have the freedom to pursue bigger business projects or set more time aside for volunteer work. As much as I am seen as a creative and a photographer, I am really more of a visionary entrepreneur at heart. I have so many big goals I’d like to accomplish — all of with making a world-changing difference in mind.
Tell us about your life outside of your business? What do you like to do?
I spend A LOT of time listening to my kid’s talk (this is what keeps our relationships strong). I volunteer as a basketball coach and by doing photography for my children’s school. I get together with my amazing friends for dinner or mini adventures. And I love to be home with a good book.
How do you balance your career and family/personal life?
There are times when you have some semblance of balance, and there are others when the pendulum swings to one side. A 50/50 balance is rarely possible. I know what my priorities are, and I know what I want my legacy to be, and so I make decisions based on that.
For a long time, I worked when my little kids were around the house, but I am terrible at focusing when that’s the case. One of the best things I did during that stage was investing in little bits (and sometimes a lot) of daycare, giving me “work hours.” Part of the privilege of being an entrepreneur is the flexibility, so I try to use it wisely. Sometimes that means taking a day off; sometimes that means working half the weekend to get caught up!
Quick fun facts….
What’s your favorite charity?
I love to help other female entrepreneurs in developing countries, and I know that World Vision’s micro-loan program nourishes both their businesses and their souls.
What age do you want to retire at?
While I realize retirement may be a necessity at some age, I have a hard time ever envisioning myself doing it. I love to work; I love to dream and plan. Even if I simply mentor other entrepreneurs or am on the charity-end of things, I see myself being in some business-related role.
One travel location on your bucket list?
Having already been to Paris and New York, both cities I love, I would like to visit Old Quebec, Canada; I hear it has a European feel. I love big cities and old buildings with lots of stories and charm. I also like any tropical place.
Are you an introvert or extrovert?
I am absolutely an introvert, but most people don’t believe me. I am talkative in one-on-one situations and have strong leadership tendencies, but I desperately need time on my own. I also have to lean on all sorts of courage to face large groups where you’re expected to mingle. (Right? Do people actually like those situations?!)
What book would you suggest to our readers?
As a faith-fueled entrepreneur who highly values purpose and intention, I resonated with Visioneering by Andy Stanley. I would highly recommend it, whether you’re looking for a strong vision in your business or your personal life.
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