In 2011 professional dancer Bonnie Parsons founded Seen On Screen – making dancing accessible to anyone who has a love of moving to great music. They have now pioneered a national fitness trend, teaching thousands of women to dance like their favourite pop icons, while boosting confidence, building a community and helping every student feel like the best version of themselves.
Seen On Screen also provides a range of corporate services, bespoke workshops and consultancy. From brand partnerships and product launches, to team building, employee rewards and beyond, our acclaimed dance classes could be the transformation your business needs: click here to email
So what does it take to turn your passion into a fully fledged business, community and wellness movement? We spoke to Bonnie to find out first hand.
Tell us a little about your background and your role within Seen on Screen?
I began my career as a professional backing dancer, and got the idea for SOS in between dress rehearsals, sitting on the side of stage at the X Factor Live Shows!
When I was 19, I moved to New York and then Los Angeles to train and learn from the best – the innovators. The dancers who set the trends, who pioneered dance styles. I went to the heart of dance, and it was also incredible to learn directly from the backing dancers I’d grown up watching dance with Britney and Beyoncé… I was constantly pinching myself it was so surreal! After I returned to London, and went on to wok with Florence & The Machine, Kelly Rowland, Professor Green, Seal, the MOBO’s, Universal Pictures, the X Factor Live Shows and Sony Playstation.
Having worked in the entertainment industry for over five years, I saw a gap in the market to make the top professional dancers (regularly seen on screen performing with the biggest stars in the world) available to people everywhere. Having grown up doing Britney routines in my living room, I thought ‘I wonder if there’s a company that makes the ‘real deal’ backing dancers available to the public?’. My thinking was – if you can learn from the best, why wouldn’t you, right!?
I was 23 at the time, and had zero business experience. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but I passionately believed in the concept and the potential of SOS even back then. I’m far from perfect – I’ve had fabulous successes, and made big mistakes but I think not having a traditional business background meant I could do things ‘my way’, rather than how I thought it ‘should be’ done, and create a truly unique concept.
My role today is CEO. It took me a while to have the confidence to call myself CEO, but having googled what a CEO’s job description a couple of years ago – that is definitely my job! As CEO, I oversee all aspects of the company, from finances, to business development and strategy, through to monthly timetables and marketing plans. Crucially, I’m in charge of identifying the job roles we need to hire for, and building a fantastic team around me who can help to fulfil Seen on Screen’s potential, and then ensuring we have the capital to pay for them! I still teach classes because I love it, and I find it super helpful to be with my customers – I would feel out of touch if I didn’t see them or go to class. I’m the Queen B, which comes with a lot of responsibility, and a lot of reward in equal measure!
What incentivised you to start your company?
After doing my research and realising nothing like SOS existed, I got super excited about it. But the real deciding factor which made the difference between having an idea, and actually changing my career to start a business was my quest for financial independence. It can be hard as a dancer because you have to rely on agents, or choreographers to provide you with work. I knew this wasn’t for me anymore. So after 18 months of patience, hard work and a few classes with one person in them, we hit the right formula of amazing press coverage with brilliant classes (it took some time to get our class formula right!). SOS took off in the new year of 2013.
Have you ever done anything like this before – where did you first start?
I’d done nothing like it! I started with pop up workshops, great instructors and a fantastic publicist. It grew organically from there!
What’s the best way for an adult who feels like they missed out on developing a ‘talent’ to get started?
I think people assume talent comes from a subject you do at school – like art, or maths, or even dance depending on the school you went to! But you can also be talented at listening to someone and making their day better. Or loving someone – being great at gardening, or cooking… I think a talent is about finding what comes naturally to you. Forget what it was like at school where you needed to be talented at a subject on the curriculum. Think outside the box – what allows you to most easily express who you are in a way which feels awesome?
How do you handle the competition?
You have to know who you are, and why your business exists which is why your mission is so important. Everyone compares themselves to others, but my focus has always been on being the market leader, the best and setting the trends for others to follow. Any market worth being in will have competition, so you have to be aware of it, but rather than looking outside myself and at getting distracted by what others are doing, I know my best strategy is to focus on the best path for my business.
Two great quotes for competition in business –
“the greatest lesson of any competitor or anybody who’s in business… You can only run your own race.” Oprah Winfrey
“If you’ve got a wonderful castle, there are people out there who are going to try and attack it and take it away from you. And I want a castle that I can understand, but I want a castle with a moat around it.” Warren Buffet
So a question you need to ask regularly, is how can you ensure your moat is as wide as it is deep (and has a few great white sharks in it!)? I’ve got to say, the people who want to attack someone else’s castle seriously need to have a word with themselves – build your own!
What do you predict for wellness in 2019?
The boutique fitness industry will continue to thrive and slowly expand nationally across the UK because demand is created by the market wanting a more personalised workout. That doesn’t mean a PT session, but a place which feels like ‘home’, surrounded by people who they can identify with and relate to, with a sense of community, support and of course, a workout which the absolutely love.
I think the big gym chains will need to work on making their service more creative, and fun. It’s not enough to put a load of equipment in a room and say ‘enjoy!’. Group based, boutique lead fitness classes are the way forward, in my opinion!
We’ll also see a rise in VR, and digital on-demand fitness. Plus SOS will explode nationally and be on every corner, of course 😉
How do you promote and PR your business?
I was sitting with a great publicist I had hired to do some consultancy for me, and we were updating Seen on Screen’s press release. She was asking me questions about the business to help her write it, so I was answering one of them and she said ‘give it a sh*t?’. As in, what I was saying wasn’t worth giving a sh*t about. This sounds brutal but it’s absolutely the best way to PR your business.
What’s the hook, the ‘give a sh*t’ factor that’s going to make everyone from a journalist to your customer sit up and pay attention?
Once you’ve found that magic hook, experiment with the best platform to connect with your customer and blast that ‘give a sh*t’ hook everywhere. Is it print, TV, events, activations, influencers, social media, direct to consumer in class, word of mouth… try different routes to market and when you’ve found what works – expand it and build on it.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I honestly don’t have a typical work day! It all varies, and depends on whether I’m teaching or not. Sometimes I work from home, sometimes I’m in the studio all day… sometimes I’m in meetings (which is always fun, I like meetings) and then I’ll find somewhere to sit down like Soho House, absolutely love it there, and catch up on emails, admin etc. I like the freedom of that so I don’t really have a typical work day.
What has been the hardest thing(s) about starting this latest venture? How you’ve worked around the challenges
Funding the business has been a challenge because I’m not the typical start up entrepreneur so I’ve had to be pretty creative when it comes to finance! I got to know the investment world in my late twenties and it actually fuelled my passion for feminism and women in business.
I couldn’t believe that in today’s world only 6.4% of Fortune 500 CEO roles are held by women, just 15% of FTSE 100 executive roles are held by women in UK, 2.2% of venture capital investment went to companies founded by women in 2017 and a tiny 5.6% of the total number of Heads of State in the world, are women.
That is slowly changing, but I had no idea how far we have to go until I experienced bias towards women in the business world first hand. It’s a glass ceiling I look forward to well and truly smashing!
What advice would you give to someone looking to start in the health and wellness industry?
Get stuck in! Meet people, go to festivals, go to as many classes as you can. Network and have fun! Wellness is a wonderful industry to be in because you’re helping people be their best. There is a tidal wave of empowerment, sisterhood and togetherness… throw yourself in to it and enjoy!
What are your favourite brands right now?
There’s a few!
- adidas – They have a great focus on women and empowerment. I’ve also just bought the most fabulous jacket from them!
- IVY PARK – for dance wear because obviously, it was created by Beyoncé.
- Lululemon – for quality and their ‘Principal Dancer Jacket’.
- LNDR – for brilliant leggings which don’t fall down, and aren’t see-through when you bend over.
- Ray Activewear (a luxury activewear start-up) – it was founded by a wonderful female entrepreneur Georgia Ray who not only creates awesome activewear, her mantra of empowering women is woven into the foundations of her business which as you know… I’m all for!
What’s been your biggest achievement in life thus far?
Getting married to my amazing husband. We celebrate our 10 year anniversary from our first date next month – he’s my rock, my best friend and biggest fan. And I’m his right back!
And biggest failure?
I don’t believe in failure, only life lessons which help you get on the right path. I do my best to rise to any challenge that comes my way, and come out the other side better for it.
What’s been the funniest moment of your career?
My sister is a make-up artist, and I was a dancer – which meant at the beginning of our careers, we enjoyed our easy mornings living together to the fullest, ha! A cup of tea and a day time fashion segment anyone!? Fast forward a few years, I was invited to go on This Morning with SOS, so my sister very kindly did my make-up for me so we could both get to go on to our favourite TV show! That was pretty great, and funny! My sister is now one of the top make-up artists in the world and has done my make-up twice. Once on This Morning, and then on my wedding day.
Who were your role models growing up?
Beyoncé, Britney Spears and for business, my Dad.
Did you have a mentor or people you asked for advice?
My husband’s business partner is a formidable female CEO who has been so supportive of SOS. I’ve learned a huge amount of business skills from her, especially on the financial side. Because of her, I can bang out a financial model no problem!
My Dad because he has a laser beam ability to cut through the noise and get to the root of a problem, and then loves to ‘think laterally’ as he puts it, to solve the problem. It’s so helpful to run things past him.
I also think the internet is a wonderful tool – if you want business advice from someone, type their name into Google, followed by the business question and you will get a video, article or quote from them about that question, assuming they’re well known enough!
How has what you do, changed you as a person?
I don’t think it’s changed me – I think my career has given me the platform to be more of the person I’m here to be.
What are the top 5 books and blogs on your reading list?
- Seat of the Soul – Gary Zukav
- A Good Time To Be A Girl – Helena Morrissey
- The Life Plan – Shannah Kennedy
- Super Soul Sunday Podcast – Oprah Winfrey
- The next Game Of Thrones book when it finally comes out!
If you could do any other job, aside from what you do now, what would it be?
A backing dancer for Beyoncé (obvs!)
What’s yet to come?
A national business which reaches a generation of women.
Do you have any unconventional words of advice?
Break the mould, before it breaks you!
What is your motto?
If in doubt, get Sasha out.
Sasha Fierce is Beyoncé’s alter ego and what my best friend and I say to each other.
If money and time were no object, what would be on your to-do and to-see list?
- Build an empire.
- Play my part in ensuring women reach 50/50 equality with men so future generations can grow up in a safier, happier, more balanced world.
- As much of the world as possible!
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