Inspired Business podcast with Abbi Burns video transcript


Just a quick note before we start: this entire first season of Inspired Business was recorded before the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, hence there being no mention of it in the interviews. Thanks, enjoy the podcast.


Toby Bradford: Hello and welcome to Inspired Business, the business podcast from the University of Derby.


Toby: During this series we are bringing you inspiring stories from across the business landscape in Derby, Derbyshire and beyond. We discuss the issues affecting your business and provide key insights from our guests for you to take away. I'm Toby Bradford, your host for the series. I'm joined by my co-host, business expert Angela Tooley, who will offer you valuable analysis on the topics we cover.


Toby: This week we're talking to marketing Derby's rising star for 2019. Abbi Burns is the founder and owner of Darley Dance Productions, a dance and entertainment company, she also advises University of Derby students on life as a freelancer. As always, I'm joined by our business expert Angela Tooley. Angela, in talking to Abbi I was particularly taken by the idea that creative passion can produce business magic.

Angela: I love the sounds of business magic, my team often talk about sprinkling things with fairy dust which I guess is the same thing. It really is about bringing what you do to life, converting what you offer as a product or a service into something that is desirable by consumers, and that they're willing to pay hard cash for, which is really what the business is all about. It's also about sprinkling a little bit of what you do and your passion into what you sell, whether that be a product or a service and that as we know is so important, because most people, they buy into a vision, or a dream and in competitive worlds that's really important buying into someone's values and brand is what sets you apart. And we just think about some of those big household names that we all automatically go for that typifies this, it's not always the best product or the cheapest products is what we go for is it's what we know and we love.

Toby: Thanks Angela. Angela will be back later for our analysis of the interview with Abbi, but for now let's hear what Abbi has to say.



Toby: I would like to welcome Abbi Burns to our Inspired Business Podcast. Abbi would you like to introduce yourself?

Abbi: Hi, I’m Abbi Burns and I run a company called Darley Dance Productions. So, we are a dancing and entertainment company who specialise primarily in professional dancers for events, professional cheerleaders and a Christmas variety show.

Toby: Right, okay. Could you explain that bit so, you provide dancers for events. What sort of events are these?

Abbi: We’ve been going now probably about 12 years, and for the first sort of decade we had dancers in events; so corporate events whether you know sometimes you might go to a Christmas party and there’s dancers there or sports games cheerleaders on the sidelines, things like that. And then a couple years ago we decided that we wanted to have our own event, we wanted a sustainable event that we could grow and that we could build on for the future and make sure that we had something that was ours that was more stable for performers in the area so, we decided to launch the Christmas show and our idea will be definitely to grow that as the years go on.

Toby: That’s been going for…

Abbi: That’s been going for two years. Yeah, we are just in the second year and the idea would be to keep that growing and so, we have a proper event where we can have performers paid work in the city for Christmas.

Toby: Excellent. So, what sort of things are in the show? It’s obviously not a pantomime.

Abbi: No, its not, it’s an old-fashioned variety show. Yeah, we have singing and dancing and a few bits of comedy and it is all very feathers and sequins and fun, and light-hearted and very Christmassy. We have a Dickensian choir; so, we have the big Victorian dress and sing some traditional Christmas carols, and it’s basically fun there’s no heavy moral message, that it’s just come out, have a good time it’s Christmas lets have some sparkle and have a laugh and get into the Christmas mood, and that’s very much what we want to do. And we want people to just come and enjoy it and yeah. So, it’s kind of how I picture theatre in my head and that’s what I put on the stage.

Toby: And where do you perform these?

Abbi: So, we want to perform at different communities so, at the moment we’re performing in two venues; Allestree Saint Nicholas Church which is just in Allestree just outside the city centre in Derby and also at Melbourne Assembly Rooms. The first year we just did one venue, the second year we did two. This year we hope to add another venue so, by the time Christmas comes, we hope that there will be a third venue on there. And each year we want to grow and grow so that we have something that runs all through December. But in community venues we were very keen that, I think theaters now there’s a lot of people that don’t go to the theatre because they worry about the hassle of the theatre, and we spoke to a lot of people and said why aren’t you going? And its expensive tickets, or town traffic with the shoppers, or parking so we thought; right well if we take it out to community venues, then people can have a walk and walk down to their local venue. We’re a professional production, we’re a professional show so, they’re getting professional quality performance, but it’s on their doorstep and they can, you know, bundle the kids up warm and walk down and then walk home again at the end of it. So, it’s very much kind if taking the theatre out into the community, and that’s what we want to do and we hope to keep adding community events and spreading into different communities.

Toby: Fantastic. And you mentioned cheerleaders. So, if somebody goes - where would they see them?

Abbi: The next place they will see them is at the playoffs at Nottingham arena for the ice hockey. The ice hockey playoff finals weekend is coming up so, they will be at Nottingham arena for that. And that’s a big event it’s a great event, it’s a lot of noise [In an excited tone] there’s a lot of colour. And yeah, we love it. So, that’s where they will be next.

Toby: One thing I did notice, I nipped on to your website, I noticed something called first wedding dance what’s that?

Abbi: Yes so, first dance choreography so, basically its couples who don’t want to just stand on the dance floor and awkwardly shuffle at their wedding. [Laughing] So um…

Toby: I’m saying nothing. [Laughing]

Abbi: I mean sometimes people come to me with huge ideas of things they’ve seen on YouTube or they’ve seen a dance on Strictly or there was this dance in this film that we want to mimic. And they have all these big ideas of that they want to do, and at the same time people come and they just say we just don’t want to shuffle, we just want to look like we know what we’re doing. So, then I work with those couples to choreograph a first dance for them that they feel comfortable with, that they feel confident with and that they then do at their wedding. It’s great I love it. I’ve been doing that, oh god, like probably 11/12 years now so, yeah.

Toby: I think it’s a fantastic idea.

Abbi: Yeah, it’s so much fun to work with the couples as well, particularly when they are feeling, quite self-conscious and quite nervous at first and you get them to relax and you get them to enjoy it, and I always say if you’re enjoying the lessons then you’ll enjoy the dance. So, the lessons have to be fun as well. And we have a real laugh actually. It’s good fun really good fun, and it’s good for them because in the lead-up to your wedding you very rarely get to spend time, just the two of you together and doing something. And a lot of the couples don’t tell friends and family that they’re doing it so it’s a bit of a secret that they keep and a lot of them have said to me that, it’s really good for them because they kind of make it a date night once a week for them and their run-up to the wedding so, all the chaos goes away and its just the two of them. So, its really, really good fun, really rewarding that yeah.

Toby: Now you produce cheerleaders and you provide dancers for events but, one thing that I know you do, you also support these professional entertainers, the professional dancers. Could you explain how you do that?

Abbi: Well I think that, it’s very intimidating as a dancer. I think that you- if you don’t necessarily get into dance college or you don’t want to go to dance college, or at the end of college you don’t get hired by the agent and you don’t go on the West End stage you think that that’s it, you failed as a dancer and I know so many dancers who give up at that point because, they think well that’s it I’m done. And actually, that’s just the beginning, and there’s this whole world out there for freelance dancers and there’s all these jobs that they just don’t know about that are amazing, that are there for the taking and, if they know how to put together a good CV and they know what a good headshot is or how to put together a show reel or how to find these jobs and how to approach these companies then it gives them a much better chance of having that work consistently. And now a lot of dancers who make their living just doing freelance works so, they’ll be working here one week, here another week and it can be hard finding that work but once you get into the network of it, and you get into the structure then you do find that work and you can make a living doing that. So, I think it’s a case of saying to dancers: all is not lost just because you didn’t get on the West End stage, you can have a great career as a dancer and there’s a lot that you can do. And it’s just showing them as best as I can what we look for from dancers, why we hire dancers, what we hear from other companies that they’re looking for, and just trying to be as transparent as we can because, I think there’s not a case of us and them and companies versus dancers like as freelance companies we need as many dancers as possible working in the industry so, that we can all help each other. So, its beneficial to all of us to have these dancers working and a lot of them won’t work if they don’t know how to do that and they don’t know how to find that work or they don’t know how to put together a CV that’s going to stand out. So, I just want to be a very- just open book and say to them: any questions that you have you can ask me and that really started from, my dancers that were working from me The more bold ones started asking me questions and then I was like well you can ask me anything you want and then it did start and they were saying things like well you know, “What did you look for in the audition?” like “Why did we stand out in the audition?” or “Why did she stand out in the audition?” And so, I started talking to them and started realising that actually no one’s answering these questions for them and they’re not necessarily learning this at the dance colleges and they’re not learning it at the dance schools. So, just thought, that it might be something that I could help with and just be honest with them and answer any of the questions that they have and that’s what I’ve tried to do as much as I can.

Toby: And, from a first point of call if somebody did have any questions do you have… the female dancer website (

Abbi: Yes, we have the website with the blogs on and we have our Instagram. A lot of people contact me through Instagram, and we try- and I think we’re gonna start trying to put videos up on there and start trying to get people as that’s an easy port of call for a lot of people now. And then just, I get a lot of emails as well, like literally just people just email me and ask me and I just try and answer anything that I can, and if I don’t know the answers I try and find someone that does because, I know probably- having been in the industry for a long time, might know somebody that knows somebody that can answer it for them so, yeah. It’s just about being open with them and opening up the lines of communication so they don’t feel like they can’t ask. Because, you should feel like you can ask these questions. In a lot of other jobs you’ll be able to go into industries and it will be very easy to see what the path is and what the process is whereas, I think in creative industries you have to carve your own path. So, you have to take inspiration from what other people have done to figure out your part.

Toby: I’m beginning to see now why you won Marketing Derby’s Rising Star last year [Laughter] which is, you know, it’s an award not to be sniffed at.

Abbi: Yeah absolutely amazing award, yeah.

Toby: Could you tell me about that?

Abbi: Well we- because we had a really, shift of the business we went into organising our own event which was the Christmas show. And sort of moved into- from the outside it might not necessarily look like we’ve made a lot of changes but there’s a lot of changes inside the business of how we started doing things and started opening up to dancers, which I’m not sure many other companies were doing. And also wanting this event in Derby and keeping it in Derby and very keen not wanting to take it to London or keeping it in Derby. And so, yeah I put myself forward for it not really expecting- because Derby’s an incredible city full and I always say it’s like, you know, it’s full of innovation and technology, and thinking that a creative company would be able to step into that world was quite intimidating, I didn’t really know where we stood as a business. So, it was really exciting to win and become part of Marketing Derby. And then the year that I’ve just had so, I was rising star 2019. So, the whole year you become part of Marketing Derby and the people that I've met and the support that I've had from them this year has just been transformational for my business, it's been absolutely amazing it's yeah, the award has changed my business definitely.

Toby: And it has been an advantage to us because, you’ve come in and helped us because, we run dance courses at Deda and you’ve made some contacts there haven’t you?

Abbi: Yes it’s been wonderful. I’ve been in and spoken to some of the third-year students about what they might want to do as dancers once they complete their courses and how they might be able to step into a freelance world. And I’m more than happy to do that because, like I say, the more dancers in the industry the better so, I’ve been able to do that. And also brilliantly and we had an intern from the University working with us on the Christmas show this year as one of our technicians for the Christmas show and she was brilliant, it was such a good experience for us and I believe it was a very good experience for her as well. [Laughter] It was chaos, it was absolute chaos and I said to her, you know, if you go and work in a theater everything’s there for you and everything’s ready and toy just jump in and you go. But when you work for us you’re working in church halls and the wirings not right and this box doesn’t work, this plug doesn’t fir, and this is gonna- so, it’s a whole new experience so, it really does.

Toby: Learn a lot from that kind of situation.

Abbi: Yeah, she was great. And we had a real laugh with her, and she really sort of became part of our team over Christmas. So, that was wonderful and that was from meeting Bev Crighton at Marketing Derby and her putting us in touch with the right people, and sort of saying, you know, have you considered an intern? Which we were like no, never even thought about having an intern. But yeah, and that all came out of it and it was brilliant, absolutely brilliant yeah.

Toby: But you talk about meeting the dancers and talking about freelancing but you’ve also been in to speak to our theatre tech’s.

Abbi: I’m going in to speak to them yes. Which I’m hoping, yeah I’m looking forward to looking forward to a lot. Because, I think that a lot of freelance work in the creative industry is transferable whether you are, looking for work as a dancer, an actor, a stage manager, whatever it is I think how you present yourself as a freelancer and how you put yourself out there as a freelancer is the same. It’s just- it’s making sure you look at yourself as a business and look at yourself as a product I suppose in a bit of- in a way and you know how to present yourself to the freelance world as it were. So, I think whether they’re tech students, dancers, actors, you know, I think it’s all very very similar and we all need each other to make the industry work. We all have to be in that industry together you know. You can’t have a theatre production without the dancers, without the technicians, without, you know, we’re all hand in hand so we all need to make sure we’re supporting each other.

Toby: I want to go back to the idea of a dance company providing professional dancers in Derby.

Abbi: Yeah.

Toby: So, where did that idea come about?

Abbi: So, initially I ran a dance school so, I had- I was going to be a dancer and then decided that I wasn’t going to do that anymore and I came back to Derby and realised that actually I didn’t have any skills. And I tried to work in a hotel and then an Italian restaurant, just had no skills but I could dance. So, my mum said they’re looking for a choreographer at Woodland school to choreograph, where she works, choreograph a Christmas show, just go and do it. And so…

Toby: How old were you at this point?

Abbi: 18, 17. 18 probably. And I was like okay that’s fine. So, I went and hit it off really with the students. And created essentially, over the next 8 years, created a dance school at Woodland school. So, we did all of the dance training but, the school we were kind of hand- in- hand with the school. So, we were part of their extracurricular set up, but it was sort of an independent dance school. And it was great, and I really enjoyed it, and it was great to work with those students and it was a big learning curve for me to see, how dancers developed really. And then essentially, we outgrew the school there was too many of us, there was too many people wanting to join from outside of the school. So, I decided to move to new studios and create Darley Dance, we’d been Woodlands Dance previous to that. So, that was in 2008 and we moved into these studios and almost immediately, I realised that we were one of many dance schools. When we'd been at woodlands it was lovely because we were offering the woodland students something extra. And we had a core focus on performance and not exams so, it was all about the performances and a lot of the dancers had been going out and performing at a lot of events. And once we moved into town a lot of the dancers now were older, they were adults 18,19,20 and they still wanted to perform. And I kind of was like at a crossroads of do we want to be one of many dance schools who are training dancers up to the point of 18 and then sending them out with nothing to do, which there are many of those. And that’s brilliant because you need that training. Or do we want to be the next step and try and pick up those 18-year old’s and find something for them to do. So, I decided that really that was, the place that needed something.

Toby: So, there wasn’t anything like this at all?

Abbi: No, no I think there was a company similar in Birmingham, bit there wasn’t anything at all. And I wanted to dance, I wanted to perform with feather and be a showgirl and all these things that…

Toby: That’s what Derby needs.

Abbi: Yeah, obviously and so I thought, you know, if I want to do this and I didn’t want to go back to London, I didn’t want to go on the cruise ship so, if I want to do this and other girls want to do this then that opportunity has to be there for them to do it without having to move away. So, kind of on a wing and a prayer and not really knowing what I was doing, I just started trying to find places to put dancers and trying to appeal to businesses to say, you know, let's try this or let's try this or let's do this, and through the years kind of muddled about finding events for them and putting them in events.

Toby: So, what sort of events were they performing at? Certainly an issue when you started out.

Abbi: Well so, initially it was more probably, some of the early events for night clubs so, if they had sort of big DJ’s on like Greg James and things like that at the night clubs, a lot of student nights. We would perform as warm-up or ball’s, charity ball’s things like that. And charity do's we were performing at and, and adding something extra on the door so we started doing, basically because we have some beautiful costumes, my mum's a costume maker, we have some amazing costumes. I wanted the girls to stand on the door for things, so, we had it so that we were like we'll put the girls on the door and frame the door because, it'll be a lot cheaper than trying to find decorations for the door, I know it sounds ridiculous now.[Laughter]

Toby: People are cheaper than decorations that’s not anything we really want.

Abbi: We’ve got costumes, they’re wonderful and if the girls can do it and we can pay the girls to stand on the door in costumes, it’ll be a lot easier than trying to hire in a lot of lights, and a lot of things that, you know, we’re gonna end up not using again and stuff. And the girls wanted to be on the door and want to be greeting people and this whole meet-and-greet thing kind of came in so, we started doing a lot of meet-and-greet work as well which is fantastic and it's great fun I've done it myself and it's it's really good fun. And sort of it sets the scenes for events and it kind of grew and developed from that so, yeah. I don't really know how it happened. [Laughter]

Toby: So, so these days in 2020 I know you’ve got the Christmas show.

Abbi: Yeah.

Toby: Where else can people see your dancers?

Abbi: Well, there are now loads of companies that do this…

Toby: Right.

Abbi: There are lots and lots of companies all over the country that are providing dancers, showgirls, Gatsby girls, things like that for events. So, it got to the point where, it was a case of going right, we’re now in a saturated market we’ve gone from being a bit of a niche to being saturated we need to think of something else to do or we’re going to just drown in these companies. So for me it was very much like; what can we do that’s going to be a step to the future and that’s why we created the Christmas show. So, now really you’ll see the girls cheerleading at the ice hockey definitely, we’re trying to get cheerleaders into other places. In my opinion all sports should have cheerleaders although, I have to admit they don’t really work at football because it’s not very stop start, but there’s a lot of sports that they do work with and I don’t feel like England embraces cheerleaders in the way a lot of other countries do.

Toby: So, so the crowd in football, now this is gonna be very footbally for our listeners, when they’re doing var checks, having cheerleaders on the pitch for the crowd would make them feel less aggrieved maybe.

Abbi: Well yeah, that’s true that’s something that’s quite new, we spent the season at Burton Albion…

Toby: I don’t think they have var.

Abbi: I think yeah, that’s a good point that there’s definitely a gap in the game there that you can definitely fill. But because football as a general rule is very much power forward just keep going whereas, a lot of other sports like cricket with the T20’s and obviously ice hockey, they have a stop- start system. So, the girls keep the flow going and the cheerleaders just keep that kind of momentum up and keep the crowd- like the difference kinda like a warm-up comedian at a sitcom gig or something. So, it’s a case of just being there for that. In England I feel that cheerleaders are very, very well... we just don't really see them in the same way that other countries do. And they are wonderful brand ambassadors for clubs and there are wonderful entertainers and performers and can be, I don't want to use the word used, can be used for so much more than they are. So, I will always be flying the flag and trying to find places to put the cheerleaders.

Toby: Fantastic. Now you talked about how it was a niche and you've talked about it being a leap of faith but, knowing about business and going into business on your own, you must have some kind of business brain to be able to do that.

Abbi: I think so. I think a lot of it initially was naivety, which I think can actually serve quite well initially because, I think if we overthink things, we do stop ourselves from doing a lot. My mum is a creative- my mom's always been in theatre, she was a drama teacher, she was a director. My dad's in business so I think that I'm perhaps, maybe, the ultimate mix of them. And always knew really well, I mean my mum always says that, you know, I was never really going to work for anyone because I just don't have that kind of brain. I know what I want and I try and figure out how I'm gonna get it and sometimes, trying to fit into someone else's box isn't going to work for some of us and sadly for me that was not going to happen.

Toby: Not sadly surely, just meant you have your goal, I know how to get there and I'm going to do what I can to get it.

Abbi: Yeah and I think that, sometimes it's amazing and sometimes I feel like... I think I definitely have a brain full of ideas and I sometimes I like my ideas are good, but I don't know how to get them from A to B and so, I wish I had more of a business brain in that sense. Because I think that sometimes my ideas are better than my business will allow me to be. But I think that yeah you've got to have a very organised sense of self, and you've got to have a very- you've got to be able to trust your instincts I think that that's it. And I've always been able to do that and I've always had a feeling of like well, I'll just do that or I'll just do it myself or I'll just get on with it, which I think is probably a business brain.

Toby: And if it doesn't work?

Abbi: Try something else.

Toby: Try something else to make it work.

Abbi: Move and develop and grow and change. And so, I think yeah, I've always had that mentality of just do it so, that probably is a business brain really I suppose.

Toby: But when you were starting out when you as somebody who didn't- was kind of making it up as they go along. Did you have any support?

Abbi: So initially, I was with the Prince's Trust and we had funding and alone from the Prince's Trust which was wonderful the support from the Prince's Trust did die off and initially it was terrifying genuinely terrifying. I can't remember, not knowing anyone in business back then it was very different.

Toby: Different in what way?

Abbi: Well I think that, nobody was in business everybody had gone, obviously people were in business, but nobody I knew was in business. People went and got jobs and had careers and had, this is the job that I'm going to do and went to university and went and got a job. And I can remember there were times, when I very first start out thinking well, I know a guy who does alarms he's in business I wonder if I could talk to him or like, I just didn't know anyone in business and Facebook was very new, social media was very new. So, people weren't connecting online and talking about business. I mean it seems so strange to think now because, it's not that long ago relatively speaking but now, I mean I can think of five of my friends just off my head who run their own businesses and I connect with so many people whether it's online or at networking events and the support now is incredible and comparatively speaking it's a different world it's completely different world. And initially now I don't feel like I had any support I feel like I was running around in dark rooms screaming and going, I'm just gonna make this up and spend a lot of time going I'm just gonna make this up. And years later, I remember particularly writing proposals and things like that I had no idea I just wrote them and then years later I remember someone giving me a proposal for something that was a proper business and asked oh, I didn't do a bad job this is quite similar. But it was just a wing and a prayer I think whereas now, the support is very, very, very much there. And it's wonderful if you are in business now, you know, you don't have to go 10 feet before you meet someone else that's also in business that you can talk to and that you can share and you can support each other. So, that networks definitely there now.

Toby: Now this is something that's come up a few times within our podcast series. Do you think being creative gives you advantages in the world of business?

Abbi: I think that it gives you advantages in the sense of having the ideas. I think sometimes you have to- I remember speaking to someone not long ago and he was trying to teach creative thinking, and I was like how, what do you mean and he was saying: "oh, you know, you have to try and get people to think about things in a different way and think outside the box." And I realized everything that he was trying to teach I was naturally doing so, I thought I clearly have a creative mind I think that whatever you have you take for granted, and you don't realise is an asset or otherwise. And you just think that that's the way everyone thinks and that's the way everyone works. And there was a couple of people that were talking about how you know they were trying to drink from their left hand all the time instead of their right hand so, that they would try and wake up parts of their brain that were perhaps maybe- try and get them thinking differently and thinking outside the box. Whereas, I think that, I think outside the box most of the time but I think that having a creative business can be more challenging because, a lot of the time, and this is sad but it's true, people don't always value creatives they think oh you can just come and do a dance that this can't you. And it's like well, oh it's only five minutes it's like was not five minutes. It might be five minutes of dancing but it's years of training its weeks of rehearsal, it's costumes, it's... And so, I think sometimes people and, we've had this a lot, aren't necessarily willing to pay what they should or are willing to pay and unfortunately that then damages your business and can damage the industry as a whole. I think that there are times when, because you work in an industry that people are willing to do for free, you know you have a lot of amateur dramatics you have a lot of dance schools that will perform at this and perform at this, then I think sometimes and not always of course not always, but sometimes there is a responsibility on businesses to not take those freebies and to not go oh well we'll just get the local dance school to perform or we'll get the local cheerleading group to come and do some cheerleading and it's like, but that's not how it works. Because professional dancers are trained in a different way and professional cheerleaders are trained in a different way. And there is definitely a responsibility on other businesses to recognise that creative businesses are worth their value. You wouldn't have an amateur plumber come in and do plumbing so why would you have...

Toby: I would never do my own plumbing.

Abbi: So, I think that it's a shame when you see businesses sort of bringing in dancers for free or expecting freebies because you are creative. And I think in that way being a creative business is so much harder, because you seem to spend your life going: I'm not going to ask my dancers to work for free, I don't ask anyone else to work for free and I'm not going to do it to them. So, you have to, I think sometimes I feel like I’m someone who is trying to sort of guard them and protect them, and entertainments one of the most valuable things in the world anyway. But we take it for granted because, there’s so much of it around that is free but as a creative running a business, I think sometimes that can be an advantage because if you hit a wall, you find a way around it and I think that in the industry that I’m in you hear no so often that you don’t worry about the no’s, if you hear a no you go okay maybe let’s try it again, or let’s go around this way or let’s try it this way or let’s change it whereas, I think perhaps maybe that would make other people panic whereas for me I think adapting and adjusting ideas and moving around them comes from having a creative brain.

Toby: Cool. Thank you. Now you talked about training for years, when was the first time you went to dance school? How old were you then?

Abbi: So, I was about 3 so, I don’t remember a time without dancing the story goes, apparently I stood in the street and saw a poster in the window of a dancer and I said to my mum that I wanted to be a dancer and so she thought, you know, well why not and rang them up and got me going to dance classes. And yeah, you train hard and you do train hard you grow up with it so, you don’t really know what it’s like not to do it but it’s funny actually cause I was talking to someone last night who was a dancer and she gave up when she sort of got to her late teens. And she was saying you, you don’t realise how much of your life is dedicated to dance when you’re a teenager and, I mean you can’t cut your hair because you have to wear your hair in certain ways for exams, you can’t do anything dangerous because you know, if you went ice skating and twisted your ankle you dance teacher would not be happy with that. So, your whole life is kind of built around the training and around what you do and, you spent more time with your dance teacher than you do with any other teacher in your life, you know, I was with my dance teacher from the age of 3 to 21 so, you know it’s 18 years of my life with the same dance teacher I obviously had other dance teachers at the school but my core teacher was the same all the way through. And that person knows you better, knows what you develops you- your body develops in a certain way your whole mindset develops in a certain way. And I’m very, very grateful that I was given that opportunity because at 3 years old you don’t make the decisions my mum made that decision for me, and I’m so grateful that she did because it really, well set me up for life my whole life revolves around it. So… the training is hard its hard and you do have times like you do with anything, where you want to give up and you want to quit and those cold nights…

Toby: Cause you did go away to dance school decided…

Abbi: Yeah, I had a little blip. So, I got into the Brit Academy in London and it was all very exciting, and I was moving to London, I was gonna be a dancer and that was it, it was set flight. I mean this was years ago so this would have been in…2000 and I was only 17 and I moved to London, and I went and I thought; ah no what have I done and I thought I can’t do this. There’s a very and it’s very different now because we are talking like 20 years ago there’s a very, I mean it’s still competitive but a dark side to it. And it was- you felt like you were never going to make friends because your friends would happily stab you in the back for the job, or…

Toby: But it’s a very competitive industry isn’t it? If you’re auditioning for 1 role and there are 20 dancers going for it.

Abbi: I mean there could be 1,000 dancers going for it. I mean we have like 250 odd CV’s sent to us if we put a role out for a dancer so, the big things and I just thought you know what I don’t think I can do this, I don’t think I want to do this, I don’t think I want to dance anymore. And I was kind of getting to the point where my body was rebelling, and I was like ah, I’m just gonna quit. So, I decided to drop out of college and quit and, obviously everyone was like, what are you doing and I’d got into the college against all odds it was the only non-fee paying college in London at the time. So, it was like the only one that I could really go to if I didn’t get a scholarship. And I’d fainted in my audition anyway, because I had not been very well so, I’d passed out in the middle of my audition which was just ridiculous. And I thought well I’ve messed it up and they only took 1% of students from outside of London. So, all the odds were stacked against me so when I got in and got this place everyone went mad when I quit. And I was like, I just know in, my gut that it’s right. In the same way that I went sixth form initially and did a couple of months of sixth form, and then just got up one day and walked out, I was just like no, and literally I just got up out my classroom and walked out of the school and went home. And rang my mum like: “So, I’m not doing sixth form anymore” and she goes; “what ?!” so I’m very good at following my gut instinct and…

Toby: It's interesting isn't it, because you're clearly not a quitter in the sense that when you did find, what was right for you...

Abbi: Yeah.

Toby: You stuck at it.

Abbi: I think that you know instinctively if you're on the right path. And I think sometimes it's hard to trust that instinct but, I think it is there, definitely. And I knew at Britt that that wasn't right and that I was done. So, so I quit dancing completely for about a year and I cut my hair really short and I gained a load of weight and decided never ever, ever that was I going to do it ever again. And then after about a year, it's a very strange thing to explain, but dancing and I know that if there's dancers listening to this, they will know what I mean. It's just part of who you are, when you train for something for so long you can't, really put it down because your body and your mind is geared up to be that thing so I couldn't and I was very much kind of like I'm going to head- and I knew that I had to go back to it. And I was like kind of went shuffling back to my dance teacher very out of shape and was like: "Yes I'm out of shape I need to get back onto it." So, and I didn't know what that meant but I just knew I had to get back training and get back to the bar and ballet bar. And get back into those exercises and then once I started doing that that's when the job at woodlands came up and I thought right well, at least it'll help me get in shape for a few months until I figure out what I want to do. And yeah, it just kind of went on from there.

Toby: Getting towards the end of our podcast. Now I'm going to ask you some difficult questions.

Abbi: Okay.

Toby: First one is: what do you consider has been your greatest achievement professionally?

Abbi: See now that is so, so, difficult. I think that there's been some things for me where there have been moments where I've gone wow, how did this happen, I think being with the cheerleaders at the ice hockey was something that we wanted to do so much and standing in the arena with sort of 10,000 people screaming for the hockey and seeing these cheerleaders around the arena is a, is an incredible moment. At the same time being on set we've done some film work and being on set and seeing people, my dancers working with people who I've seen in film and who I've admired and thought, gosh that's amazing and seeing those things, but then also at the same time I think things like winning the Rising Star for me personally felt like a huge achievement. Because it felt like sort of confirmation that what I was doing was a business, [Laughter] and it had a place in the business industry. So, I think there are achievements that make you feel amazing and make you have pinch yourself moments. We did some live TV for Cricket a.m. and that for me because, I actually danced in that so, for me personally as a dancer was an, a great achievement but I think as the business having that confirmation from business peers and people around me, was probably the greatest achievement for my business definitely.

Toby: I understand that completely having, you know, somebody says to you yes, you are what you think you are.

Abbi: And also having someone stand back and say this is what your business looks like and you go: "oh wow, I didn't realise I'm kind of so caught up in the middle of it." Having someone- having them, the acceptance of people around you and saying, you know, your business is random and, I all and I always say you know I didn't know if my feathers and sequins are gonna fit in and it's one of those things where they do and it's really surprising I'm really rewarding to hear that and to be part of that group as it were.

Toby: And another difficult question: what's the single most important piece of business advice you can give to our podcast listeners?

Abbi: Okay, so this is something that someone said to me and I have literally carried with me all the time and that's; everything that you want is on the other side of fear. I'm someone who worries and panics and doesn't want to do things and gets fearful and I think we all do because putting your business out there is very raw it's very personal it feels like you're putting a bit of yourself out there. So, you suddenly become fearful of everything but you have to think, that if you push through that fear that's where all the magic happens and everything is just on the other side of that fear so, you just have to lean into it and push through it and all the times in my life when my business has been at its best have been when I have gone through that fear barrier and beaten it in myself and got to the other side.

Toby: And found the magic.

Abbi: Yes, absolutely!

Toby: I love the idea of business magic.

Abbi: Yeah, I think there's loads of business magic you've just gotta find it. [Laughter]

Toby: Well thank you very much for joining us today Abbi. We talked about your website's where can people find you online?

Abbi: So, mainly on Instagram which is @darleydance, that's where we spend most of our time, we're on Twitter and Facebook and it's all just Darley dance and our website obviously But mainly Instagram, is where we spend most of our time. So, if you want to get in touch that's where we go.

Toby: Fantastic. Well, thank you very much again Abbi Burns for joining us on Inspired Business.

Abbi: Thank you.



Toby: I'm joined again by Business Expert Angela Tooley. So, Angela, Abbi is clearly very much a champion of the freelancer.

Angela: Yes, Abbi’s such a great role model for the modern freelancer. It’s interesting because for many years the business world has seen freelancers is a bit of a poor relation. Kind of population of people who drift and other can't or won't get a proper job however thankfully this mindset has changed many freelancers have unique or niche skills that businesses, normally don't have in their own employee population. Often because they don't need them all the time or, they don't need, a large number of those resource if you think about projects and things like that. Even large companies like Rolls-Royce will bring specialist design engineers in for certain key projects and then they'll sort of move on to something else.

Toby: So, having a strong freelance work force is a major asset to the business community.

Angela: Procuring these services on an as-needed basis is really cost-effective because not only does it enhance your own organisational skill sets but it normally means you can procure someone who really is at the cutting edge of their industry. As a freelancer if you're going to be continually successful and grow your business you do need to be on top of your game in terms of skills refreshments. The other benefit of course is having someone from outside come in and work with your team. I think we all find that working with the same people all of the time, it is easy to get stale, it's very easy just to repeat what you've always done, this is how we've done it, it's worked why should we why should we change what we do things like that. But bringing someone from outside can really help you challenge yourself and your team to sort of explore and see if there is a better way or a different way of doing things that might be more cost-effective or that might be more appealing to the customer, or the market, or even sort of help you sort of guide you in terms of, sort of, how competition is moving on and, and what other direction you could go in to keep ahead of the game.

Toby: But what about the freelancers themselves. What do they get out of this relationship?

Angela: From an individual perspective being a freelancer can be rewarding, both in terms of job stimulus and work-life balance after all you are your own boss and you can pick and choose your projects, and control your work load. If you don't fancy a project, if you don't feel engaged with the work, with the project team who you're going to be working with, then you can simply say no. We have seen a massive growth in the economy over recent years and this really allows people to work between other elements of their life whether that be family, or other interests and give people a better work-life balance. It also, allows people to explore new passions or try and develop businesses in a less risky way. Because you can do that for a couple of days a week and then do something else do another job for the rest of the week, that brings in some sort of baseline income while you're growing your new business. And what we've seen over the last few years is a wealth of new entrepreneurs, home-based cottage industries, people who are taking their passions, and many of those are in the creative and digital sectors, and having a go at turning them into their own business. And obviously with the growth in social media it's very easy for people to, go out and sell those products and get those products out into the public domain, without having to spend too much costs, in terms of things like marketing.

Toby: But it’s not easy starting out as a freelancer.

Angela: Being a freelancer is hard work, and not without risk. And actually, I take my hat off to anyone who decides to go down that route. And you do have to put yourself out there and the reality is especially at the start you probably have to take jobs that you don't particularly want to do. Ultimately, you're only as good as your next client or your next gig. Some people do worry about not having a guaranteed future income stream so, actually you really need to consider some of these factors when you're starting out. And of course, you don't get perks such as paid holidays, and Pensions, healthcare, and all those other benefits that you get from working in a large company. And of course, it can be lonely because quite often you're working on your own or you're working with project teams that you will go in and, you'll spend a few weeks with them and you'll come out again you may never see them again. The other thing to consider is that if you are looking to borrow money, whether you're looking to buy a house or buy a car, or anything like that. It is often harder as a freelancer to go through that loan application process. And so, that, you know, these are factors that you do need to consider and it may be that there's certain times of your life that moving into this sort of freelancer world is more suitable for your lifestyle and your family than it is other times. And I guess what we're seeing is a number of people starting out as freelancers when they leave school or university and their early twenties but they're actually they might go into a corporate world for 15, 20 years as they're getting themselves financially established and they need, that protection and that cushion of working for a business. And then they're moving back out again and we've seen a high growth in terms of people moving into that sort of freelancer business world, who are in their 40's and 50's. And actually now have the freedom to explore some of those passions and see if they can start

their own business.

Toby: Having been in that position herself starting out, Abbie knows how important a support network is.

Angela: Yeah, as I alluded to earlier, one of the most difficult things that freelancers find is getting themselves out into the marketplace and promoting themselves and their skills, and that is something you have to do yourself you, you don’t have a big marketing team around you or budgets or things like that. And actually, ultimately people will buy people so, it’s important that this is something that you do yourself however uncomfortable it might be for some people. You do need to set time aside to do this, and obviously remember this is a time that you don't get paid for this is not client time. So, you do need to think about how you manage this time to get the best return there's lots of different things you can do, there's lots of business networks around you could join, you can tend events, you can use social media whether that be through some of the free things through LinkedIn, and Facebook or through paid advertising that you can do. You need to think about what is the right social media platform for your product or service. Creative sort of crafts food and drink things like that work very well on Facebook, more professional services, are perhaps better place on something like LinkedIn or Twitter. So, you really need to sort of think about what, what you're trying to sell, who your target market is what platforms they might use and and try it out. And if it works, great, if it doesn't work then try something different.

Toby: Abbi is focusing a lot of her time on Instagram.

Angela: Online marketing is most effective when it’s quite targeted rather than a large scatter approach. And Abbi has shown that she’s got a real focus and, and, sort of really focused her time in terms of a specific region and specific business networking groups and things like that. And she’s shown that sometimes just focusing on one or two targeted groups and building a strong relationship, and trust within those groups may be better for your business in the long term than actually a scatter approach, where you attend lots of networking groups, eat lots of breakfasts and chat to lots of people but actually, you don’t really know them they don’t really know you, you don’t build that relationship. And without that relationship with someone in a networking group then, how are they going to have the trust in you to refer you on to someone who they know. So, these are some of the things that you need to think about. Also think about how you utilise your existing clients. Testimonials and case studies are a great way of promoting yourself and the skills you have so, don't be afraid when you've done a piece of work to ask for a quote or a little case study or something like that, that you can use to put out by social media or we share with people. Also look at your client list and consider if there's similar companies, or similar individuals who you could target with what you've done before. So, actually so almost a repeating selling into the same sector or to the same sort of customer type works really well.

Toby: And Abbi's going out into her own community.

Angela: Abbi’s got a real focus and has invested her time in building her network, particularly through sort of Marketing Derby business community as well as a local residential and school communities around where she runs her business. This is really targeted in terms and the offer and she's obviously getting the benefits from it. She's got a really good understanding of what her customers and their community value. She's also been really smart in how she's sort of spending her money so, rather than sort of investing in lots of high-cost sort of traditional marketing activity to promote what she does. She was investing that time and money in doing her community Christmas shows for example, which is great because not only does it showcase her business far better than any printed advertising might do. But it's also giving something back to the community which people really value and, and that starts to build trust in people as well.

Toby: And Abbi's building trust within her own creative community, the Performing community providing support.

Angela: Yes, in close the business community such as Derby people do help each other out for the greater good. Creative cultural businesses such as a bazaar, great for the city as it what attracts people into the city to live and go out, and obviously spend money which is great for the city's economy. So, it's so important that we support and nurture those creative businesses.

Toby: When Abbi decided to set up her business there were times when she was terrified, she couldn't see where the support was going to come from. Is there more support available now?

Angela: Small businesses in Derby are really lucky because, there's some great are really lucky because, there's some great networks available to support them. And the business community's really vibrant, Marketing Derby sits at the heart of that and it's, it's, it's a great support organisation. Because you have startups and young entrepreneurs, and freelancers mixing with senior executives from some of the very large businesses that we've got in the region such as Rolls-Royce and Toyota. So, it's a great opportunity for people to go, and talk and get advice and, and sort of join in that sort of business community aspect, which is so important particularly for freelancers and, and sort of startup businesses because it's a very lonely place, when there's only one or two of you in the business. The creatives alongside Marketing Derby we do have Quads and Quads are very engaged in the creative and digital industry across the East Midlands. And there's a number of collaborations that they do with not just the university, but with other organisations to support as this is in that sector. Here at the University obviously, we've got a School of Arts we've got a vibrant creative student community so, there's a lot of support not just for students, but also for others within the city who are in those sorts of sectors. For our student entrepreneurs we have 'Be the Boss' program, but also there we have our newly opened innovation 'Hot House'. Which is based at the Enterprise Centre and Banks mill on Bridge Street, which is our incubator for creative and digital businesses. And these are open to anyone, and you can come in and that there's space for you to sit and work in a hot desking facility but also you can get access to business advice and mentoring. And also sort of thought that team will help you in terms of signposting, in terms of what else is available across the region to support you in the creative industry.

Toby: And again, social media and connectivity in general has improved. The support networkers expanded from the local to the global in a sense.

Angela: Yes, I do think the power of the Internet and the improvements in social media and connectivity, have definitely benefited the creative industry. And it really is a sector now without borders. So, Abby might upload a YouTube clip of one of her dancer’s performances in one of her Christmas shows and that can be seen by anyone in the world. And, you know, it may be that there's a potential client in Vegas even who, you know, who's seen what she does, seen some of her dancer's and say actually this is the sort of thing that I'm looking for. Yet, and yet again social media is great for promoting yourself, not just locally but also globally. Then in the creative sector particularly some of the design areas and things like that, actually you don't need to travel to deliver the service to your clients so, if you're, you know, if you're doing some form of sort of marketing design, or illustrations, or something in the digital space around gaming and things like that actually, you can work from the comfort of your own home, and then share what you do with your client overseas. So, actually it really has opened up opportunities for the sector.

Toby: One thing Abbi spoke passionately, about is the need for people, other businesses to value creatives as we said already a strong freelance work force is a huge asset to the business community but, they need supporting. In Abbi's experience this sometimes isn't happening so, you wouldn't use an amateur plumber and you wouldn't ask a professional plumber to work for free for exposure so, to speak.

Angela: The creative sector is so important for UK plc. It actually contributes 270 billion pounds to the UK economy and employs over 2 million people, which is about 6% of the population, which I was quite surprised about when I looked at the figures before we did this interview. But actually, if you think about it for most people it's our creative interest that help us enrich our lives and kind of make is human whether that be engaging in them ourselves through our own sort of musical talents, or our own sort of interests are actually, just indulging in going to the theatre or listening to music, or things like that. And of course, as I mentioned earlier it's a sector that really helps build communities, and brings people into a region to live and to socialise. If you think about it, they're the sorts of things that you're looking for if you're looking at moving to an area, it's not just about what the job is or what else is there? What is there for me to do at the weekends? Are there they're rights hubs and social circles for my children? And things like that, and therefore it sort of helps really, helps build some other sectors as well such as hospitality and tourism. Creative talent and skills isn't just for the creative sector though, we've all seen at firsthand the benefits of creative innovation and marketing in terms of brand, or design, or sort of content and things like that. Whether it's the Apple logo, or Dyson's vacuum cleaners they're all products that we covet to have that whatever expense. And it's not necessarily the best quality and at certain are not the most cheapest, its attractiveness - and it's that whole design innovation, creative marketing sort of aspect with it, which is drawing us to buy that product, or invest our, invest our time in something. And those sorts of skills come from those individuals that we're talking about.

Toby: We've spoken previously in this podcast about using no as a motivator in the sense of, finding out why it's a no. Abbi says a creative mindset means, you don't worry about the no's you adapt, and you adjust ideas to find a way around the no.

Angela: Abbi certainly used her own creative skills to advance her business. She recognised very early on that her business needs to constantly evolve and diversify to remain competitive, as others start to do what she started out doing and importantly to bring in some different revenue streams. Creativity and innovation is something that smaller businesses do particularly well more so than larger businesses I think as businesses grow and more processes and policies are brought in it kind of stifles people, and sort of staff get very siloed because they're quite often focused on one or two key tasks as part of their job role rather than sort of working across the entirety of the business. And as a result, they do lose some of that creativity, and that creative thinking that is really important for businesses to have in order to keep them one step ahead of the competition. You quite often see that in sort of schools and sort of education and things like that are- and if you think about children when they're at infant school, a lot of their time is spent in playing, and being creative, and things like that but as they move up into the education system and they go into primary schools and it's more focused about results, and performance and things like that. You do see that change in, in children as well and they do spend less time playing and things like that. So, I'm a big advocate in terms of encouraging people of all ages to just get that creative mindset, we go and go through whatever means possible because actually it's all there because, we all had it when we were young and they're one of those skills that we just really forget that we that we've got and things like that. It is important, it is a differentiator that helps a business be more successful. And of course, small businesses can move a lot more quickly than the larger businesses, there is less bureaucracy, there's less decision making in order for ideas to be taken forward to get approval and things like that. So, actually small businesses do have the advantage there in terms of getting ahead of a competition, it's interesting we are seeing large businesses look for those smaller businesses, those innovative businesses to partner with are actually coming to the University and work with our students on R&D projects, or to engage them in live projects and challenges where, where a company will set them a project or a challenge to say, you know, think about where could I take this product next? Thought, how could I adapt this or what can I do differently? And things like that because, actually it's good to get ideas from outside and get people thinking differently, you've got different views in terms of your business, and your products and services to help you. We also deliver training workshops in a lot of areas with staff and, and particularly some of those also involved sort of an element of play using things such as Lego simulations. What you find is that these sorts of activities really help with staff development, particularly that they're seen as non-threatening and they help people relax into the environment, and start to think outside their box. So, they're really beneficial.

Toby: Abbi trained as a dancer but, clearly has a business brain. She puts it down to trusting your instincts.

Angela: Trusting your instincts and the ability to take measured risks, this does get easier with experience which is why it's great that Abbi is supporting others in the sector just starting out by showing her own business experiences with emerging entrepreneurs. And she spends a lot of time with our creative students at the universities - which is fantastic. It is terrifying at the start I've been there and I know you have as well taping I'm not just at the start also it many steps along the journey which is why that that network of supporters, those trusted people who you can chat to, and talk things through with to get validation, is so important. Also taking the time to properly research and understand your marketing customers is something else that Abbi has proved is really important that you do but, she did also prove what is possible with sheer hard work and symbology mindedness. I do agree with Abbi about the word know without sounding just like a five-year-old, I do like to use a word why when people say no. Often you can find a way around and no or a problem, by just using that word. It is actually, a proven problem-solving tool this is very simple to apply to a number of situations. I'll leave it to you to work out how many times you should ask why before you get to the answer normally, but the problem-solving tool is called five why's.

Toby: Thanks Angela. I'd like to thank Abbi Burns again for joining us our Inspired Business podcast, and of course I'd like to thank Angela Tooley who helps me navigate around the business ideas we discuss, thanks Angela.


Toby: You've been listening to Inspired Business a podcast from the University of Derby telling amazing and inspirational stories from businesses in Derby, Derbyshire and beyond please subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts. Leave us a rating or review and tell a friend who might also like to listen. Also, if you'd like to be a guest on a future episode of the show please get in touch you can find contact details and more information about the series at /inspiredbusiness. Thanks so much for listening we'll catch up with you again very soon. Next time, we'll be joined by John Eno founder of Hot House music schools.


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