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What is an Upstart? People who have launched businesses on their own, to create something of their own. They are driven, they challenge the status quo, they go their own way and they start before they’re ready. Invention, innovation and inspiration is in their DNA and we want to celebrate them for their independent thinking and granite-like resilience.

Meet our Virgin Money business customer Ross Adams, TV soap star actor, and British Soap Award winner. Having grown up in a small mining town in North East England, Ross developed a dream of becoming a TV actor however soon became creatively frustrated when there was a lack of professional training opportunities in his local area. Today, Ross is empowering the next generation of young TV talent in smaller areas through his business – Small Screen Talent. We caught up with him to find out how he did it.

1. How did Small Screen Talent begin?

“I moved to Manchester at 18 to study performing arts. Once I graduated, I secured an agent at 21 and started to work professionally from there. In 2015, I landed a role in Hollyoaks. I was initially on a 6-month contract and we all know as actors it’s a very precarious job as story lines can come to an end whenever. I started to think more about my future, and I knew that I had to do something to secure another source of income should my role in Hollyoaks ever come to an end (I’ve been very lucky to still be there after seven years). Plus, I had always known there was a gap in the market for TV training for youths, out with the big cities. So, I decided to go for it and launch my own business in 2016 - Small Screen Talent.”

2. Did you have to overcome a fear of failure when launching your business?

“I remember the first day of the academy opening, we only had 6 kids turn up and I thought ‘what have I done? This isn’t going to be a success; it’s going to fail’. With a bit of perseverance, and lots of tests and learns, we slowly grew the business and the classes went from 6 students to 30 and we’ve now opened a second academy in Wigan. I chose to open our second academy in Wigan as it’s very similar to where I grew up as it’s an old mining town. It’s important to me that my business reaches out to those kids in smaller areas, like myself, who wouldn’t have ordinarily had that opportunity if it wasn’t for something like Small Screen Talent being available to them.”

3. How much knowledge did you have to have in other aspects of business to succeed?

“I had no experience or knowledge in the daily running of a business. But I did have resilience, confidence, and creativity which I think is so important when setting up a business. I always felt confident in the creative and brand side of the business and I had a clear vision of what I wanted for Small Screen Talent. However, the admin, accounts and finance side are what I found most daunting. I’d definitely say, the people you surround yourself with play a massive part in the success of your business. My partner works for a bank so helped with the books, I have a great accountant and an amazing business banking relationship with Virgin Money.”

Group classes in action
Group classes in action

4. You spoke about your business banking relationship with Virgin Money, how has the bank played a part in Small Screen Talent's journey?

“I moved over to Virgin Money through the business banking switching scheme and when I moved over initially, I was concerned that I wouldn’t get the same level of support that I had at my previous bank. But how I was wrong. The service and support that the Virgin Money business banking Link opens in a new window team give to me is superior and they have helped make running my business so much easier.

One of the great things they’ve helped with is the process of collecting tuition fees from students. Previously, this was done through standing orders which was a very laborious process especially when I’m acting, making lesson plans, teaching and running the academy and agency all at the same time. When I spoke to the business banking team at Virgin Money about the problem I was having, they helped me set up a direct debit process instead which was more beneficial for a number of reasons. The team couldn’t have been more helpful, they guided me through every step of the way, and even helped me with our website so parents could do their direct debit mandate online. This has made the payments process so much slicker and less stressful which has allowed me to devote more time to other areas of the business. This was one of the biggest changes that we’ve made in terms of the running of the business and it’s all down to the Virgin Money team for helping make it happen.

I’m also an avid user of the Virgin Money Mobile Banking app Link opens in a new window. It’s so easy to use and I login to check my business current account Link opens in a new window several times a day. One of my favourite parts of being part of the Virgin Money family is knowing that if I have a problem, there’s an expert team on hand to help.”

5. Talk us through how your business has grown.

“When I launched Small Screen Talent, we were just a TV acting academy for young performers aged 5-19. However, as the classes grew and the kids became more confident in their abilities, we realised that so many of the kids were enormously talented and were ready to do professional work so we launched a casting agency, 6 months after we launched the business.

Our casting agency puts young performers forward for professional work, some of our kids have went to star in Warner Bros. films and act alongside actors like Sheridan Smith. Also, every year, lots of our performers star in the big TV Christmas adverts such as John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco. Nothing makes me prouder than to see our performers on television and it’s really rewarding knowing that you played a part in helping them achieve their dreams.”

students auditioning
Lights, Camera, Action

6. How has the pandemic impacted Small Screen Talent?

“When the pandemic hit, filming stopped entirely, even Hollyoaks took a halt for about 4 months. We had lots of projects scheduled that our kids were contracted to do, so that was a bit of a worry for us as we really had no idea how long production would be stopped for. We’ve ended up having a really busy year this year because there’s been so many new things commissioned as well as catching up on last year’s projects.

Also, throughout lockdown we moved our acting academy classes to Zoom. This was difficult as trying to keep young people engaged over video is far more challenging than in a 1:1 environment. But we got through it by being creative and innovative. We had some special guests come along and host practical lessons through Zoom, such as a professional TV make-up artist who held a special effects make-up class for the kids. Lockdown made us think outside the box and realise that there are other opportunities to grow our business through adding an online operating model. We’re now looking into providing online training to people from across the UK.”

7. Has social media played a big part in the company’s success?

“Massively! When I first launched the business our marketing campaign was essentially thousands of printed leaflets distributed around the area. They went to thousands of doors and in week 1 we only had 6 children turn up. That first day was hard for me and it made me doubt the business. I then turned to social media and created an ad campaign on Facebook Link opens in a new window and Instagram which meant we were able to target our ads to specific audiences in the local area - the difference in the uptake for classes was incredible.

I now do all our marketing through social media. I make sure that our social media isn’t just about getting new attendees but ensuring it’s a place where we shout about our student’s achievements. Lockdown made us start using social media differently as well. We started to use it for Facebook and Instagram Lives and reels – for Q&A’s as well as simple how-tos and practical videos. This means that our content is helpful not only to our young performers but to young performers everywhere. We’ve definitely seen the power of this shareable content as it’s allowed us to grow our social media presence, engage with more people, reach a wider audience and has led to more enquiries and applications to our academies.”

Students acting
Getting into character

8. What’s next for Small Screen Talent?

“My dream is to grow the business across other areas of the UK. I am passionate about giving opportunities to young children and adults that are outside of the major TV acting schools in London. There’s talent all over the UK and a lot of people get overlooked because they aren’t from the major big cities – I want to change that.”

Head over to Small Screen Talent Link opens in a new window to find out more about Ross’ business.

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