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Meet Jen Smits of Fresh Start Studios

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jen Smits. 

Jen, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
At a young age, I had an attention for detail and an eye for things most people didn’t see. In 2001 while traveling Europe with my high school choir I was handed a Canon SLR film camera and it changed my life. Standing there in the Notre Dame Cathedral with my point-and-shoot disposable camera it was obvious I was seeing things differently than others. I was seeing the light and how it bounced color off of things from the stained glass. While everyone else was photographing the stained glass, I was photographing what it did to the light which was hard to do on a disposable camera. ⁣ 

My best friend’s mom was chaperoning the trip and she saw something no one else did, she saw my talent for seeing things and she asked me to photograph the rest of her trip for her with her Canon SLR. It was a pivotal moment that would change the entire course of my life from that day forward. Having someone believe in me was one thing but having someone see something I didn’t even know about myself and then having the good faith to entrust me with the memories of her trip was huge. ⁣ 

Fast forward 6 years. I graduated with a Degree in Photography from Grand Valley State University and opened my own studio, Shutterbug Photography. 9+ years in business and I had the honor of photographing some of the most important events in people’s lives; Graduation, engagements, weddings, and births, I was there. ⁣ 

In 2012 I became a stay-at-home mom to my son and put everything on hold. In 2016 after my divorce, I decided to work for a small business as their in-house photographer, marketer, and managing their office. I had put the late nights and weekend schedule to rest and stepped into a different role altogether, closing my studio doors and pursuing an avenue that would open new doors in my industry. 

In 2020, after reflecting with a lot of joy and gratitude on that day back in 2001 when I was given a gift that would stay with me for a lifetime, I decided to do something big. I decided to get back to what I’m most passionate about, photography. I completely rebranded Shutterbug Photography and switched gears with Fresh Start Studios to encompass several of my passions; photography, videography, real estate, and small businesses like myself! 

Fresh Start Studios is bringing life into focus by helping build visual content for realtors and small businesses while also welcoming portraiture clientele! With new services to encompass the ever-growing real estate industry our offerings go far beyond photography and include drone services, videography, 3D Virtual Tours, Floor plans, and Virtual staging. 

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Owning your own business is never a smooth road to start. When I originally decided to open my own studio, it was after interviewing with a prominent wedding photography studio in Grand Rapids at that time. They offered me a job and then proceeded to tell me I had learned nothing in school and that I would need to completely relearn how to photograph. They were willing to teach me but I would go without pay for the first year. I turned down their offer and instead of giving up altogether on my passion I made a business card and started marketing myself to everyone and anyone willing to listen. I have no quit in me. 

I was never a good student so I struggled a lot with insecurity as most people do. ADHD and anxiety were no stranger to me but I managed to find ways to make them work for me and not against me. Running your own business is fun but it’s a lot of work. Not only do you get to do what you love but you also have to do a lot of other things that you might not love so much. Lots of trial and error in those first years made me a strong businesswoman with quick thinking and fantastic problem-solving skills that have helped me through the years countless times. 

I relaunched my studio during the Covid-19 pandemic after the buyout and downsizing of the company I did in-house work for. I had made so many small business and entrepreneur connections in our community my heart broke seeing them struggle to keep up with the restraints the pandemic had brought on. Our world was becoming virtual and not all small businesses were equipped to make that change. I decided this would be my focus. I would help these small businesses I cared so much about create a virtual presence. I began helping with web design, social media, branding photography, product photography for e-commerce, video, online courses, virtual tours, etc. Whatever they needed I figured out how to offer it to them. It landed me where I am today. Sometimes obstacles can bring you down and sometimes they can help expand your knowledge, your services, and your skillset. Being self-taught in most of my services I am thankful for the obstacles life threw at me because it opened doors, I never thought I could open. 

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
Fresh Start Studios is a locally owned and operated small business that works with realtors, home builders, property managers, and small businesses to showcase their homes, services, and products. 

Our portfolio includes companies such as Van Andel Institute, The Right Place, Foremost Insurance, Make-A-Wish Foundation, The Ford Foundation, Grand Rapids Natural Health, Valley Popcorn, Love Your Deck, and many others. After launching Fresh Start Studios and adding to our service offerings we became passionate about building relationships with realtors and small business owners, empowering them with high-end visual marketing media. 

Fresh Start Studios is dedicated to providing realtors in Grand Rapids, MI, and surrounding areas with the highest quality real estate visual content. Our mission is to create beautiful imagery through photography, videography, drone, 3D virtual tour, and Floor plan services to help your listings stand out above the rest, sell faster, and for more money. 

We pride ourselves on our high quality, quick turnaround, and expansive portfolio that allows you to choose the package that is right for you and your client. With over 15 years of photography experience, we look forward to working with you. 

If you had to, what characteristic of yours would you give the most credit to?
As a child growing up with learning disabilities, I learned at a very young age how to work hard for everything I wanted in life. I remember at the age of 5 my mom told me to take the phrase “I can’t” and throw it out the window. From that day forward I didn’t let anyone tell me I couldn’t do something. I wasn’t afraid to try and I wasn’t afraid to fail because I learned from all my mistakes. Looking back, I am so thankful for the person these obstacles and setbacks made me. They were hard lessons at the time but they taught me perseverance, strength, and if there’s a will there’s a way and I was going to find a way no matter what. I am not a quitter, I stay positive, and I always find a way to make things happen. 

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Image Credits
Tiffany Ann Photography

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