Visual Artist.Photographer. Entrepreneur.

Recently, Central NY Woman Online had the pleasure of doing a Q&A with Syracuse photographer Shaneika Marie Ford, otherwise know as, S’Marie. Known for her incredible portrait photography, we were excited to know more about our latest cover woman and talk about everything that makes her such an amazing entrepreneur.

Tell us about yourself…Where are you from? Tell us about your family and your background.
My name is Shaneika Marie Ford and I was born and raised in Syracuse, NY. I have 3 children (all boys) and one furry son named Max (Maltipoo). In addition, to being a mom and entrepreneur, I currently work as an Executive Director at a local non-profit agency. I started as the part-time receptionist straight out of high school and worked my way up. Throughout my years of being employed I also attended college on and off until I received my Master’s Degree in 2015.

Leadership and entrepreneurship was always a part of my being. Being the oldest of 6 prepared me for leadership. I always felt I needed to be a good example/role model for my siblings, so I strived to be a great example for them. I am almost always able to get people to follow my lead.

Entrepreneurship was something I always wanted to engage in. I remember so vividly at the age of 9 saying I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I was attending a youth program and the coordinator asked the class what we wanted to be when we grew up and I said “I want to be an entrepreneur”. So at a young age I already knew what professional/business journey I wanted to embark on.

How and when did you start photography? Is it always something you wanted to do?
Initially, photography started off as a hobby for me. It wasn’t something I wanted to do or even thought of. Back in 2013, photography went from a hobby to an entrepreneurial endeavor when I received a lot of praise and recognition from some engagement photos I took of my sister. Once those pictures were released people were inboxing me for photo sessions. So a former business partner and I formed S&R Images. I am mainly self-taught, but I did take photography courses at OCM BOCES, Syracuse University Light Work and I attended and still do attend many online photography classes through various companies.

How did you start S Marie Photography?
S’Marie Photography came about in 2016 when I decided to embark on my photography journey alone. S’Marie is actually just may name shortened (Shaneika Marie = S’Marie). I decided to brand my name.

What is your favorite part of doing what you do?
Capturing moments that will create a physical memory for families. I love to see the smile on people’s faces and the laughter they have while looking at their pictures. It also warms my heart when I see people share photos I took of their loved ones and even more so when they share photos I took of their loved ones that have passed away. I love that I was able to capture a moment in time for them that they can have and look at forever. When I realized how meaningful a physical memory was that’s when my passion for photography turned into my purpose.

Do you have any advice for other females wanting to jump in to the photography business and what the most important thing to remember is?
Yes my advice would be: Don’t get discouraged about the saturated photography field. Everyone has their own lane and niche that will make them stand out from the rest. It doesn’t even have to be that you provide the highest quality images it could just be your personality that sets you apart. What God has for you is for you.

Also, everyone is not your client! Never be offended or become discouraged if people do not like your work or prefer not to use your services. Some people will love it and some won’t- that’s life and its OK! I always say I prefer Aldi’s over Wegmans; Walmart over Target while others prefer Wegmans and Target (get where I’m going?). At the end they all have their preferred clientele and so will you! Thank goodness for options 

What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic?
The biggest challenge for me has been juggling work, homeschooling and making the tough decision to temporarily close my business. I closed for about 2 months and then reopened on a limited and reduced basis.

What has been your biggest success both personally and professionally and why?
My biggest success personally was not succumbing to the statistics of teen moms. Being a teen mom presented some challenges but I prevailed.

Professionally, Stepping out alone to start and grow my business. This was huge for me because I am the behind the scenes type of woman. Believe it or not I do not like attention . I’d rather be the mastermind behind the scenes . Stepping out on my own meant I had to come from the back to the front which took a lot of courage .

Who has made the biggest impact on your life and why?
Of course my children impact my life. It’s because of them that my strength, drive and determination to succeed is magnified. I value them and want to leave a good legacy for them. Additionally, I’d like to give recognition and credit to the environment I grew up in. My environment was a huge impact on my life. My environment (neighborhood, family dynamics, etc.) was one of such that I did not want to be like, live like, or live in! It was a huge motivator for me to stay focused and do what I needed to do to create a better life for me.

What do you think is your strongest skill as a photographer?
My ability to connect and build a rapport with my clients. This connection has led to referrals, returning clients and most important genuine friendships. I have met some beautiful souls whom are dear to my heart through photography.

What do you know now that you didn’t know 10 years ago about yourself?
How I will purposely find advantage in adversity. My life’s motto is “it is what it is” so with I always try to find some good and some opportunity in adversity.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced in your life, and how did you overcome it?
My biggest obstacle was presented in my teen years, when I found myself pregnant at 16. I just knew my life was “over”. When I say over I mean all the dreams and desires I had for myself were no longer obtainable. I was sure I would be everything I said I didn’t want to be and everything others around me said I would be because I was pregnant at such a young age (uneducated, on welfare, etc.). However!! As you can see I’m none of those! I always had confidence in myself. I always believed in me! I always bet on me! So no matter what I knew having a child wasn’t going to hinder me. My journey may have been altered by my vision was not. I graduated high school on time with my class. Class of 2000. I walked across that stage to where my baby was on the other side waiting for me. I went on to working full time and furthering my education. Now I presently sit in front of you as Ms. Shaneika Ford, MBA, Owner of S’Marie Photography and current Executive Director of a local non-profit which employs approximately 45 employees and services 80 individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities.

Are there any resources or even advice that someone has given you that have really helped you on your journey?
The good ol’ practice, practice, practice advice! You cannot improve if you don’t get out there and shoot!

What has been your biggest accomplishment in your career thus far?
My biggest accomplishment thus far is receiving 2 construction photography contracts with a well-known and prestigious company. My goal for S’Marie Photography in 2018 was to tap into larger revenue generating projects and this included receiving contracts. I put out a Facebook and Instagram New Year post and said I was looking for contracts of all sorts and lo and behold I received two not even a year apart  . Construction photography also allowed me to venture into another form of photography.

What is your favorite form of social media in 2021 and why?
I tend to gravitate more towards Facebook. Facebook has been the most beneficial platform for me. It allows me to have my own business page, promote, sponsor to reach a larger audience, showcase my work, and so much more. I especially like that my clients can share the pictures that I took of them and I usually gain more followers and most importantly more clientele that way.

Many people have unrealistic expectations and ideas about being a professional photographer and running their own business. How have you overcome these?
I’m a realist so I wouldn’t say I had to overcome any unrealistic expectations. I didn’t have the unrealistic expectations that I would become a top photographer overnight or everyone would know my name nor did I expect that everyone would love my work. I knew it would/will take time for me to become one of the best and to be known so I knew I had to get out and put the footwork in.
#17 Where do you see yourself 1 year, 3years, 5 years from now?

I have been saying this for the last couple of years and now I’m manifesting that I retire at 40 and go full fledge into self-employment/entrepreneurship. Along with photography, I am exploring additional wealth generating opportunities to help me reach this goal. So to answer your question, I see myself retired from working for others and solely working for me.

What has been your key to successfully being in business this long and makes you not just a great photographer, but a female entrepreneur?
A few things have been key to me being successful. First, I would say being a woman that is confident and eager to learn and grow has been key to my success as a photographer and female entrepreneur. Additionally, being able to achieve balance in all aspects of my life has helped as well. Lastly, being professional, open-minded, and having a positive mindset keeps me going and thriving.

What makes Women’s History month special for you?
Women shine 24/7-365 so we should be recognized all day every day  but it’s nice to have a month solely dedicated and putting focus to recognizing our historic and present contributions to the world. Women are amazing and do amazing things. Women are killin’ it!!

As a business owner, what would you say are your top priorities for both yourself personally and in your business?
One priority I would share is self-care. It is so important that we take care of ourselves. We are no good to our business or our self if we don’t indulge in self-care.

How do you market your business during the pandemic, and which avenues have you found to be most successful?
I’m grateful for word-of-mouth marketing. A lot of business during the pandemic came from client referrals. Additionally, my social media accounts remained active so people were able to find me and view my work that way.

Tell us about one event that has happened in your life that has changed you and why.
Having a child at a young age changed me. I already felt I knew about responsibilities because I am the oldest child and often helped my mom but having a child of your own is a whole other level to responsibility. I was a typical teenager that liked to hang out with friends and didn’t always make the best decisions. Living in the type of environment I grew up in it was easy to get caught up in the wrong crowd. Having my son forced me to make the right decisions for my life and his life despite what my surroundings showed me. It forced me to be responsible at a higher level. I truly believe had I not had a child that no matter how determined I was to not fall victim to my environment I could have. It gave my life more purpose and drive to succeed.

I want to make it clear that I’m not condoning teen pregnancy at all! I encourage all teens to wait until they are an adult to experience parenthood. Don’t take away the years you need to experience and explore life. This is just an event in my life that changed me. This is the life plan that God has written for me to live.

What have you found to be successful or a hindrance being in Central NY?
A success and hindrance to being in Central NY is that it’s a small community. Everyone is connected to everyone in some shape or form. This is a good thing and bad.

Do you think being a minority has helped or hindered you in business?
I think it has both helped and hindered. The business as an entity may be eligible for several resources that are great even more so with having my MWBE Certification I’m afforded more opportunities but the hindering is being labeled a minority which does harm at times because of the bias and stereotypes that follow us within the system.

Who has been your biggest influence or a mentor photographically and why?
Again, photography was initially a hobby for me so I do not have a long standing history following photographers. However, I have been following the work of Shamayim. I also love the fact that photographer Polly Irungu created a space for black women photographers. Black women photographers is global community and directory where your work can be shared and featured for more exposure and recognition.

Tell us about your most memorable photoshoot and why is stands out above others.
My most memorable photo shoot was a maternity shoot that I shot at a local hiking trial. It stands out above others because the scenery was absolutely beautiful and the area the mother chose to stand held so much meaning. She choose to stand by a huge tree that roots were so visible. This tree, for her, represented the tree of life. Signifying strength, courage, new life and immortality. The roots were so prominent supporting this huge tree. For me it was very symbolic to a mother being the foundation, birthing, nurturing, raising, and forever supporting her child.