“A-list invitations, red carpet events and rubbing shoulders with VIPs are all part and parcel of being the founder of a modelling agency. However, when I started WINK Models at age 21, I was under no illusions that the world of modelling was as glamorous as it seemed. For starters, one of the motivations for running my own agency was to improve models’ working conditions.
But I was less prepared for the lack of respect people had for me as a business owner. Having grown a successful agency from scratch did not translate into people taking me seriously. Whether it was because I was young, female, or a model – or a combination of all three – it was difficult to convince people that the business achievements were the result of my own hard work.
Stereotypes about models are entrenched in the business world. They range from ‘she must have a partner or boyfriend doing the real work behind the scenes’ to ‘her parents must be rich, so they’ve funded her business interests’. These preconceptions reduced my achievements to being a brand ambassador at best, or having a business as a hobby at their most dismissive.
Nothing could’ve been further from the truth. I quickly realised that to take control of my business narrative, I would need to come up with concrete ways to tell my story so I could continue to build and launch businesses.
Establish a personal brand
It was clear people saw me as a model first and an entrepreneur second, if at all, so it was time to establish my personal brand to ensure I was perceived in the right way. I worked on my story, how I started in business, and then started telling the story in public. Repeatedly. Having a clear and consistent narrative about yourself, one that you tell at speaking events through to your social media accounts, and when presenting to potential new clients, is essential to create a definitive view of your journey.
Don’t shy away from talking about the challenges you’ve had. People have come to expect that anyone who establishes a business has had plenty of hard knocks to go with the success stories they read in the media, and they love hearing about the ‘lessons learnt’. Being frank illustrates how genuine you are, which makes your personal brand resonate across all your channels. It helps people to empathise with you, or want to get to know you better.
Businesses do not succeed in a vacuum. Develop strong networks in your industry by connecting with like-minded individuals with similar business interests, a support network that understands you. In addition to helping you become better educated and better connected, good networking helps you become better known, which means people are more likely to understand you and take you and your business seriously.
This has been an uplifting experience for me on many fronts, but particularly helpful when I needed motivation. The creative talent industry is full of so many amazing people focused on pursuing their passion, and seeing this is truly inspiring when things aren’t going so well.
Set long-term goals
Goal setting is probably second nature for many entrepreneurs, but I believe setting yourself a scary but exciting long-term goal, one that you abide by and never lose sight of, helps you become more resilient to what other people think of you.
It wouldn’t be a business journey without setbacks and long days in the office. If you learn to embrace these and aim for the end goal, you will propel your career forward and be better placed to achieve your objectives.
Having to deal with stereotypes has made me thick-skinned about the ways others regard me and my business. If you focus on a goal and people choose not to take you seriously, that proves their lack of vision, not yours.
The worst thing about being underestimated is that you can get locked out of conversations – or even business deals – that could be significant for the advancement of your business. Being able to address that by taking control of the narrative is crucial. But the best thing about being underestimated? When you prove them wrong and achieve your goals because you knew your worth and backed yourself. That’s the secret to being a successful entrepreneur.”