Elaine Ball talks to us about her business, Elaine Ball Ltd and Get Kids into Survey, and how she became the original ‘Geospatial’ marketer.
What is the background to your business?
Elaine Ball Ltd was founded in 2013 after MDL, the company where I was MD was sold. I took my savings, my decades of sales and marketing experience, and one amazing ex-colleague and established my own company. Elaine Ball Ltd is a dedicated business & marketing consultancy for the global Geospatial industry, and we deliver business, sales, and marketing consulting services through workshops, online coaching, training, and execution. My role is a bit of everything! I describe myself as one part marketer, one part business development, one part strategic thinking, and one part superhero.
Under the Elaine Ball Ltd umbrella, we established Get Kids into Survey in 2017.
Get Kids into Survey is a fun, action-packed global recruitment campaign to help save the future of surveying – a relatively unknown area, especially among children.
We aim to introduce and educate the younger generation on surveying and encourage them to consider it as a possible career path, creating a new generation of surveyors responsible for protecting the world. Many aren’t aware but surveying actually plays a huge part in this – from detecting bombs, studying planets, finding diamonds, monitoring wildlife, building bridges to measuring earthquakes and volcanoes, carrying out CSI forensics, to name but a few.
I co-founded Get Kids into Survey with my sister Elly and together we oversee everything that goes on within the business, ensuring we stay as hands-on as possible.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
My father, Steve Ball, is a hydrographer and mine surveyor so I’ve always been exposed to the world of survey and been taught from an early age just how important the work around it is. It was inevitable that I’d follow in my father’s footsteps and after I finished my business degree, I joined his company, MDL. During my time there I was able to grow the global workforce to 120 staff members, and increase the percentage of women from 25% to 50%.
I loved working at MDL so much that by 27 years old, I’d become MD, and when the company was sold in 2013, I chose to set up my own business. I invested £60,000 of my own savings into launching Elaine Ball Ltd, the go-to marketing consultancy for the global Geospatial Industry. I hired ex-MDL colleagues and haven’t looked back since. It was hugely rewarding to be able to establish Elaine Ball Ltd is a female-focused business, as the Geospatial industry is overwhelmingly male.
In 2017, I came up with the idea of creating a poster for the AGM of The UK Surveyors Association, designed to teach the surveyors children what their parents did for a living. The poster was incredibly popular with requests flooding in so we made more posters, added education resources and developed a comic strip – from there, Get Kids into Survey was born.
We’ve since launched The GeoSquad Comic; a 40-page digital download, a five-chapter comic book, complete with activity sheets, designed to appeal to children aged 8-12 in a fun and action-packed way. It’s a wonderfully illustrated introduction to the world of survey, created in collaboration with primary school teacher and children’s book author, Mat Sullivan, and artist Marek Jagucki.
What is your point of difference?
Apart from the fact that Elaine Ball Ltd was the first Geospatial Marketing Consultancy in the world?
The difference between Elaine Ball Ltd and other businesses is our goal. I want to raise the standards in the industry globally by supporting surveyors and geospatial professionals in marketing – bringing it into the 21st Century!
With regards to Get Kids into Survey, our mission is to make sure the Geospatial world is continued so that the planet is protected for years to come. It’s such an important issue and so it’s vital to us that we convey this to young children in a way they’ll understand, take the information we’ve given them and act. We want to increase the number of women in the industry, and populate it with the younger generation – currently, the average age is 55!
How do you spread the word about your business?
My entire background is marketing so I use all the tools available to me to promote both Elaine Ball Ltd and the industry as a whole. We are active across all social media platforms, and are now developing a presence within the media our target audience consumes.
We’re also fortunate enough to have our Get Kids into Survey ambassadors located worldwide, all of whom are working towards the same goal, so our mission and goal is talked about globally.
How has business been during the Covid-19 pandemic?
The pandemic hasn’t stopped our campaign in the slightest. In fact, it’s only made us more determined to educate the next generation on how surveying helps protect the Earth and why that’s vital – particularly after seeing first hand, over the last 14 months, how the health of the planet is so delicate. As small children, we’re taught that the Earth will live for billions and billions of years but what we’re often not taught is that for that to happen, we need to play our part. We must do everything we can to protect it and the pandemic has made the issue even more urgent for us.
What’s the hardest thing about running a business?
I’m not sure that you can pick any one thing! When it is your own business the passion and effort never stops, there is no restriction. I suppose if I have to choose one that is relevant to me, it would be maintaining focus on the end-goal. As we are an international company, there are so many opportunities available to us, and so many things we could focus on. I have to take care not to get caught up in ‘shiny object syndrome’ or dilute our efforts by taking our eyes of the main target. As a CEO, this is why it’s vital I surround myself with a strong, supportive team – they help to keep my feet on the ground!
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
As a global business, fluctuating exchange rates have been a real head-scratcher. We have been able to offer very competitive rates abroad, but have lost out as all of our costs are in pounds. Focusing on the best way to resolve that for both our suppliers and our clients has taken up a lot of time recently, but we are there now!
What’s the best decision you’ve made so far?
Committing to our comic book. It has been an expensive endeavour but extremely rewarding and successful.
No… but a business learning has definitely been to avoid giving in to shiny object syndrome! I am very much “ooh, a squirrel” and off I go chasing said squirrel. While this has brought us to where we are today, it’s not a long-term business strategy! So no regrets, but definite learnings.
What is one thing that would make running your business a lot easier?
If we were to focus on just one thing – in this case, our primary offering of Geospatial marketing, delivered through our new Geospatial Marketing Academy. By launching side-projects like Get Kids into Survey, we make our business lives harder and more complicated! However, having your own business makes these things possible, and Get Kids into Survey will help to ensure the longevity of the industry.
What’s next for your business?
For Get Kids into Survey, we plan on continuing to educate the next generation for as long as we can, in bigger and better ways. We believe it’s our mission to ensure the industry doesn’t die out with the current generation of surveyors, so we’ll carry on creating more educational, but fun, resources that explain the fantastic world of survey for many years to come.
Currently, we have an online hub of free resources with lesson plans, quizzes and colouring sheets, our fabulous posters and an Education Fund to support ambassadors and school visits. We’re incredibly invested in the cause and consider it our mission to spread the word, in a way that’s most relatable to children.
We want to spend time collaborating with more partners and other educational outfits to help spread the word.
For Elaine Ball Ltd, the next big thing is the formal launch of our newest product, the Geospatial Marketing Academy. This is an online programme for survey companies and equipment manufacturers/resellers, helping them to get clear on their transformations and bring a client-driven marketing approach in house.