Starting a business in a competitive industry

Starting up a business can be tough, especially in a fiercely competitive industry. We asked Clara Beasley, the founder of Gridmodels.com, about her experiences of starting up and running a model agency business in the motorsport industry.

How did you come to start your business?

“I started out doing grid-girl work and hospitality at motor-racing events as a part-time job towards the end of my university career, and soon realised that there was no agency that specialised only in providing promotional staff for this particular industry. This meant that when I decided to start up an agency myself, Gridmodels.com became the first ‘motorsport model agency’, and clients in the motorsport industry came to us for our expertise. We had found a niche in the market.”

What was the hardest thing when you were starting out?

“It’s difficult to know where to get good business and financial advice, which is really essential to planning in the first stages of running a new company. It is also difficult financially if you don’t have an investor, or in my case if you turn down an investor and try to do it all on your own.

I would advise anyone starting a business to seek sound financial advice, even if you have to pay for it, and to write a detailed business plan with targets that must be reached.”

There is a lot of competition between model and promotions agencies - how did you make yours stand out?

“I always tried to make sure that my service was better than other agencies, going the extra mile for clients and adding a personal touch.

My main focus in the early days was also heavily on PR and marketing because I wanted to create a high profile for the company within the industry in the shortest time possible using unusual methods. This really suited my creative and flamboyant nature, always full of ideas.

One example was getting my Ford KA sprayed with images of models and racing cars, and calling the press to a publicity launch for our annual calendar on Golden Square in Soho where the car was parked with grid-girls draped over it!”

What were your experiences of managing staff and models?

“One of the problems with any kind of temporary staffing agency is always going to be reliability because the staff don’t have a long-term career commitment to the job. However, I managed to foster loyalty within my team of models by treating them fairly and paying them well, and always being friendly and approachable.”

Which aspects of running the business did you enjoy most?

“Every small business has certain core functions such as book-keeping and accounts, payroll, marketing, PR, business development, client relationship management and IT. When I first started out I was doing all of those myself which, although challenging, could be quite dull! However, there were many perks to working in the modelling and motor sport industries such as invitations to lavish parties and F1 races.”

Did you feel you were able to take risks to make the business work?

“The main risk I took with the business was starting off without external funding which put a lot of pressure on me to succeed and perhaps slowed the business down in terms of development. I would recommend that anyone starting a business looks into funding options, and where possible works with a business or investment partner who has in-depth business knowledge and expertise in the appropriate field.”

What was the high point of your time running Gridmodels.com?

“Winning our contract with SEAT was very exciting as this was our first major client, and we built a strong relationship with them, working with them for several years in racing and for other events such as motor-shows and dealer days.”

What did you take away from the experience of running a business?

“Obviously I learnt a huge amount about the everyday functions such as finance and people management, but the main thing I took from it was a fundamental business principle that making money involves selling a product or service that makes a high return on a low time investment. Labour intensive businesses can be limited.”

How difficult was it returning to the workforce after giving up the business?

“I handed over the running of the Gridmodels.com to my business partner in 2007 and the bookings were outsourced to a dedicated booking agency to make the company more efficient. I then returned to full-time employment for a while.

People often say to me that it must be hard to work for someone else when I had been my own boss for so long, but I believe there is always something new to learn and always someone more experienced who I can work for and learn from. If I respect someone I am happy to work for them.

For the last year though I have been busy setting up an online portfolio of websites/social networking pages, as well as my own PR services website www.clarabeasley.com which will allow me to utilise the strong network of contacts that I built up when I was running Gridmodels.com.”

What advice would you give to others who are starting a business?

“I would advise anyone starting a business to do a lot of market research into the viability of the product or service and the return on investment etc. Try to make sure you are doing something that no-one else can, and that many customers will want. Seek sound financial advice; and always make sure that it will be something that you love to do, because you will be working a lot of extra hours in the beginning and hopefully you will be doing it for a long, long time.”