Bonnie Parsons stopped over at YHP’s HQ and spoke to us about her journey as a dancer, performing at shows such as the MOBO Awards, X Factor Live with the likes of Kelly Rowland, Professor Green, Florence & The Machine, to starting Seen On Screen, her company which provides dancers with top dance classes & workshops.
Bonnie Parsons is the CEO and founder of Seen On Screen and this is her story.
Hi Bonnie, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Not a problem, always happy to help out! I found this sort of thing really helpful (and still do) when I started Seen On Screen.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I’m originally from Birmingham and left home at 16 to pursue my dance career. I trained until I was 18 at The Arts Educational School, Tring Park which is well known as a ballet school (I had no ballet training so had to catch up really quickly!). Once I graduated I moved to New York to further my training in commercial dance and then did a final 3 months training in LA. Upon returning to the UK at the end of 2007, I thankfully booked my first job, which was dancing in front of the Queen and a few million TV viewers at the Royal Variety Performance for Seal!
From then I have worked on projects such as Sony Playstation’s DanceStar Party where I was the dance character you follow and play, to the MOBO Awards, X Factor Live shows and performing with incredibly talented artists like Kelly Rowland, Professor Green, Florence & The Machine.
I started Seen On Screen as a result of my dance career and have been a full time business director for around 18 months.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
I got into business because I was disillusioned with the dance world and wanted to take control of my life. I found it very frustrating that I had to be ‘right’ for a job or wait for a choreographer/agent to get me a gig. I was determined that I wouldn’t need to rely on anyone but myself to earn a living again. Even working a lot as I was at the time, it couldn’t give me the lifestyle I wanted anymore and I felt like I could do things differently from my employers and do them better.
After teaching at various gyms and dance schools, I saw a gap in the market for what Seen On Screen is now. I was perfectly placed to do it as all the top dancers were my colleagues and I couldn’t believe no one was doing it.
I did some research to confirm my concept for SOS was unique and then set up a meeting with my account and asked him to register a limited company for me. From there, I scouted studio space, invested in a quality website and got the best teachers I knew on board and that’s how Seen On Screen Fitness was born!
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
I think the hardest part of starting a business is having to grow a client base from scratch and build your vision from the ground up. You have to learn extremely quickly as there is rarely room for error, especially where your customers are concerned. I think you have to be very focused, determined and passionate because you have to inspire and communicate your vision to everyone from your bank manager to a journalist with no track record and convince them your company is something to pay attention to.
What is Seen on Screen Fitness & Events? And what are you trying to solve with it?
We aim to solve a couple of things but first off from the perspective of our clients…
Seen On Screen makes you feel like a million dollars, building your confidence through dance and helping you achieve your dream body. We never put pressure on your to be a perfect dancer, we just want to see you let go and have a fantastic time dancing like your favourite star. You’ll also pick up some exclusive industry tips such as how to master the perfect Beyoncé hair whip along the way!
We don’t just stop at teaching dance routines, we recreate your favourite music videos and bring the glamour of TV & stage into our dance classes, taught by the best teachers the UK has to offer. The general reaction from reviews is ‘how can something this fun be good for you?’ but they are all in agreement it definitely is! I personally never diet and my only form of exercise is dance and pilates which is what SOS offers. I wanted to share this with other woman because you should be able to eat the food you enjoy without stressing about calories and the only way you’ll be able to do this is by finding a form of exercise you love which is what SOS is all about.
From a business perspective I wanted to run a company which gave dancers the respect and pay I feel they deserve as highly skilled professionals. Dancers are constantly taken advantage of by their employers so I was determined to make SOS a great place for dancers to work.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
When I founded Seen On Screen, I was working on DanceStar party for Sony Playstation so I was able to reinvest the money I was earning as a dancer into SOS. A year later I got a small bank loan but so far it’s been mostly organic growth and reinvesting the companies profits. When I launched SOS I did my best to keep costs and risk low which I would advise to anyone starting out.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
The first few months were great and very much about learning to tread in new territory. I actually look back now and can’t believe I did it but my strategy was pretty simple. Create a fantastic, high quality, unique product and make sure people know where to find it. I started off by calling around Time Out, Cosmopolitan and The Evening Standard in my lunch break as I had set up our first workshop. This involved a back-to-back Janet Jackson and Lady Gaga special with one of the dancers who was on tour with Janet at the time and also one of the main boys in Lady Gaga’s Alejandro video. In my mind, I was convinced the press would want to write about it even if I had to weather some icy journalists on the other end of the phone!
Luckily the editor of the Time Out blog got back to me and featured it, and then she passed it on to the Daily Candy editor who emailed out of the blue as they wanted to send a newsletter out about us. This initially launched SOS to our target market.
How did you initially get traction?
From there, I set up an itinerary of workshops and hired Seen On Screen’s first publicist who got a full page feature in the Evening Standard which resulted in our first sold out workshop in October 2011.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Listening to my customers is #1! We do regular feedback forms and I like to keep SOS personal and responsive to what our customers want. Once I had the right product great PR in the right place at the right time for me was crucial.
I do my best to ensure SOS is always professional and I only work with equally professional teachers who I can rely on to represent our brand and give our clients an exceptional experience every time they book a SOS workshop which they can not find anywhere else.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
So many! Being invited to feature on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch in April was brilliant as it was the perfect platform to launch our UK tour. Seeing people read an article about SOS when I’m on tube sitting next to them is a strange and very cool feeling! If I had to pick a particular moment, it would be when Emerald Street featured us as the workout for 2013 entitled ‘Dance Like Bey!’
We received over 120 bookings in a day and it was the start of our sales shooting up by 500% in less than 3 months. We had been pushing for a feature with Emerald Street before Christmas but I had no idea SOS had been confirmed for the newsletter so it was a complete surprise when the website crashed as it had so many hits and my company transformed over night.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the Seen on Screen Fitness & Events team in the next coming months?
Well, that would be telling. We have some really exciting things up our sleeves but I can’t reveal that just yet! But you can expect many more fabulous workshops across the UK and see us build our membership considerably. We would like to branch out into more corporate events and team building as we work with some great companies already but this is something I want to develop in the coming months.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1) Make sure you love what you do because your work life and personal life will blur into one in the first few years. I feel like I am SOS and SOS is me, whether that’s healthy I’m not sure but I live and breath it and can dedicate so much to it because I really love what I do.
2) Always listen to your customers, be good to your staff and test your market before you put any serious money behind your business.
3) Make sure you have the right team. You can’t run a business on your own, especially when it starts to grow so you need to have hard working, committed people around you that you can trust. I have been lucky to have people around me who run successful businesses of their own so I always pick up the phone and ask someone more experienced than me for advice if I need it. If you don’t have anyone like that in your circle, there’s lots of help on the Internet like Start Up Britain and government funded organisations dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground.