At just 25 years old, Jessica Elliott is already a successful entrepreneur and award-winning businesswoman. In 2008, Jessica founded her own dance school – today J’s Dance Factory provides weekly classes to more than 1,000 children across 24 London schools. We’re used to seeing career-related headlines filled with doom and gloom – from youth unemployment to the professional difficulties young women experience; Jessica is proof positive that it is possible to set up a business regardless of the financial climate. We spoke with the talented young entrepreneur about ambition, success and her projects for the future…
How did you set up your business?
I didn’t really have a clue about running a business when I first started – just my intuition and perhaps things I picked up from my parents along the way, as they are both quite entrepreneurial. I started off holding dance classes in a church hall to 12 students (a few are still with me six years later), and I’ve learnt everything along the way through trial and error – and making mistakes. For me, it’s been the best way – and I continue to learn as the business grows.
Who helped you out along the way?
My Mum has been my biggest support. I believe it’s very important to have personal support from family and friends, as well as business support – particularly when you’re facing tough times. I have developed a great team of people in the business, and some of the parents of the children in the dance school are very loyal and always help out. In terms of advice, I have been really lucky to receive ‘words of wisdom’ from some amazing business people.
Any advice for would-be entrepreneurs?
My main piece of advice is to make a start and keep going. Starting a business is so exciting but you should expect tough times too. You need to have a vision or a goal of where you’d like to be in a few years time – and having a mentor is invaluable too. It’s important to surround yourself with positive people who want you to achieve.
How did you get funding for J’s Dance Factory?
I started my business with £200 which I borrowed from my Mum – I have never really received funding until very recently. About a year and a half ago, my current business partner invested into J’s Dance Factory to get the franchise opportunity off the ground. I have now received funding from the government start-up loans scheme through Rockstar Youth.
Are things really that much more difficult for women in business?
I don’t know if things are more difficult for women in business because I have never been a man! I think it’s a challenge for anyone to start and grow a business. I personally think girls rock; we need to support each other a lot more but I can’t say being a woman has hindered me. Business is a very male-dominated world, but it needs to be sprinkled with awesome businesswomen too.
What qualities are needed to succeed as an entrepreneur?
To succeed as an entrepreneur you need a good sense of humour, and you have to be able to see the positives in even the most negative situations. It’s important to learn how to remain motivated and know how to work independently – but understand when to accept help.
What do your family and friends think about your business?
My true friends have seen the business grow from nothing, so I think they think it’s great and help out when they can. My family at first probably thought I was mad not to want to have the ‘stability of a 9-5 job’ but if you want something you can’t let anyone put you off – you just have to roll with it. My family are awesome now though and enjoy supporting me. I am lucky to have a business that according to my younger family members is ‘so cool!’. J’s Dance Factory just performed in Disneyland Paris and I was able to take my little cousins. They love it and say they want to have their own business when they grow up too.
Who inspires you?
My Mum always has, and always will be my biggest inspiration. Things haven’t always been easy, but I am inspired by her strength and will to succeed. The children who attend the dance school also inspire me too.. seeing them excel, grow in confidence and develop their talents is truly amazing.
What’s next for you – and for J’s Dance Factory?
I am now in the process of developing the J’s Dance Factory franchise opportunity. I have sold my first three franchises, and I am now really looking forward to helping my franchisees achieve huge success in their own businesses and growing the brand worldwide. I am also growing JDF Management – my model and talent agency – and am always really excited to see my clients gain work in the professional world of TV, film, theatre and print.
And lastly – can you run in heels?
I LOVE heels but can just about walk in them! So no. I tried once… which concluded with a hospital visit, crutches and an old lady telling me ‘there are two things you should never run for buses and men!’