Getting to know you: Sharon McBean

What do you currently do?

I launched Nia Ballerina in August 2016, and have sold almost 4,000 music boxes worldwide, with the biggest markets being USA, UK and Canada. We have now sold our unique boxes in over 10 different countries and if you Google music boxes with a black ballerina the only box you will find is mine!

What is the inspiration behind the business?

My daughter is the inspiration for Nia Ballerina.  She loves ballet, and she has been dancing since she turned three.

I had just assumed you could get music boxes with black ballerinas and, after nearly 18 months searching for one, I realised there was a gap in the market. Almost every little girl I know, no matter what their ethnicity, loves to dance and most little girls want to be ballerinas.  As my daughter pursues her passion for ballet I want to ensure she sees herself represented and this should be true of the toys she plays with.  Every little ballerina should see themselves when they open a music box.

What defines your way of doing business?

I have found a gap in the market, and have been able to establish an extensive need/want for my product, which is a unique offering not only in the UK but worldwide. I produce good quality products at an affordable prices.  This will continue as the product range expands, which will be very soon as I know the window of opportunity is short.

Who do you admire?

Where do I start… there are so many amazing dancers that I admire. However one person stands because I grew up watching her, and that is Debbie Allen.  She played the dance teacher in Fame.  I remember the first episode and I used to tape it on the old Betamax videos.  She has gone on to do so much, so if I could meet anyone it would be her.

I could also mention Misty Copeland, Michaela De Prince and I took my daughter to watch the Alvin Ailey Dancers when they came to the UK in the summer and she was mesmerised, which really surprised me.  I thought she may be too young but she watched the show from start to finish, and got more and more excited as the show continued.  I have recently come into contact with an organisation called Brown Girls Do Ballet who are based in the USA, and the founder, Takiyah Wallace has a similar passion for inspiring young girls from diverse backgrounds to get into ballet.

Looking back is there anything you would you have done differently?

I have learnt so much and have developed as a person, a mother and as a businesswoman.  If I knew what I know now then yes I would have done a tonne of things differently.  I am in the process of rebranding and extending the product range, and I am only able to do this because of what I’ve learned on the journey so far.  I have not got everything right first time but I always try to look at it as a learning experience.

What advice would you give someone starting out?

Find that gap in the market or make your product a unique offering to your defined audience.  Make sure you understand your audience, and how best to target them. Test the market first, and do not be afraid of pursuing international markets.  There is a lot of free support out there if you’re considering exporting, particularly from the Department for International Trade’s website.

I’d definitely recommend getting a good mentor who understands your business, and has some experience to provide you with relevant advice.

Marketing strategy is also really important, and using social media needs to be a big part of that from the outset. Having a well presented website, even if it is just for information should be a top priority too.  Branding is vital to marketing strategy, and make sure you protect your Intellectual Property, so make sure you know all the legislations and regulations that could affect your business, and protect yourself with business insurance.