MoneyTalk With Bonnie Lister Parsons, Founder of Seen On Screen
In this Interview series, we want to feature amazing and inspiring women who are willing to talk about money. Our goal is to break the taboo around money, share experiences and learn from the community. Please see examples here.
I think we initially met on Insta and then Bonnie came to the Vestpod Series event with Helena Morrissey. She is the founder of SOS Screen On Seen and her mission is to empower us through dance. From hard-hitting hip hop to commercial dance inspired by the greatest divas, SOS uplifting classes are designed to make us feel good. But what I love about Bonnie is her energy, her drive and her mission to make all of us super empowered. Please visit her website, check out the classes and book yourself a class...
Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thank you for having me on the Vestpod blog! I think Vestpod is fantastic and love all the amazing work you’re doing to empower women financially.
I run Seen on Screen - the nation’s best dance classes, taught by the celebrity instructors who work with the stars! We work with the biggest names in fashion, music and entertainment to deliver exceptional dance-fitness experiences. The best bit about this is absolutely no previous dance experience is needed, if you think you can’t dance and have two left feet, SOS is where you need to be!
I work on my business all day, everyday but if I can, I take Sundays off to reboot. I’m 31, married to my amazing husband Jonny, and live in London. 2019 will be the year Jonny and I get a dog who has already been named Toby…
What inspired you to start SOS? What is your mission?
Like so many millennials, I grew up watching my favourite pop icons (Britney, Beyoncé, the Spice Girls) on MTV and Top Of The Pops, and then learned their dance routines in my living room with my sister! So I grew up watching music videos thinking, ‘I wish I could dance like that’.
After watching a Britney Spears concert when I was 14, I decided that I was going to be a professional backing dancer. I’d always loved dance, but Britney was the deciding factor! Fast forward almost 10 years, I’d become a professional backing dancer, and was working on The X Factor Live Shows. 20 million people were watching the show that year and I remember sitting on the side of the stage in between dance rehearsals thinking, ‘I wonder if there’s anything which makes the backing dancers who are ‘seen on screen’ available to those 20 million viewers at home?’ I did my research after the show and couldn’t believe nothing like SOS existed!
After about 6 months of planning and fleshing out the concept, SOS was incorporated and the company was born.
That was about 7 years ago now. Along with our success, growing a business as a young, creative woman has come with its fair share of setbacks, and it’s actually those same setbacks which have shaped Seen on Screen’s mission today. One of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome is raising finance.
About 2 years ago, I embarked on the journey to raise investment for my business and experienced the very male world of Angel investment and Venture Capital first hand. My company had boomed for 3 consecutive years, was loved by major press and thousand of customers alike. I figured (naively), investors would love it too, right? Wrong.
Over a two year period, I spent a lot of time having meetings with male investors and getting “no”s. While this was happening behind the scenes, I was receiving letters from my female students telling me how SOS had changed their lives for the better. SOS had helped them overcome depression, boost their confidence tenfold, and empowered them to believe they can achieve what’s important to them.
At the same time I started receiving these letters, my own confidence was in freefall - until it dawned on me that the reason I was struggling to raise money wasn’t because my business wasn’t worth investing in, it was because I was a woman. My passion for feminism was born in that moment, which has shaped who I am, and who my company is today. No woman should ever know how it feels to be held back because of her gender. I started researching female investment, and learned that just 2.7% of VC funding in 2017 went to female founders. I realised it wasn’t just me, a lot of women were going through the same struggle.
Fast forward to January 2019, and Seen on Screen has just closed the world’s first ALL-FEMALE equity investment round, because after my experiences, I wanted every investor in SOS to be a woman. We announced the fundraise on Instagram and hit our target within two weeks.
It was the resilience, and self-belief that I’d learned as a dancer, which got me through a really tough time and gave me the metaphorical backbone to keep going. That same confidence I’d learned as a dancer was clearly rubbing off on my students too, which is why our mission is to empower a generation of women to believe in themselves, using dance as a source of strength, power and confidence which they can carry through to all aspects of their lives.
There’s a well known saying – ‘she believed she could, so she did’. What if that said ‘she believed she couldn’t, so she didn’t’? Confidence is is so important because it will make the difference between picking yourself back up, and giving up. I know how powerful Seen on Screen can be, and it’s become my personal mission to ensure every woman who walks through Seen on Screen’s doors, believes she can.
What’s your relationship like with money and personal finance?
Honestly, I’ve been so focussed on the businesses finances that my own have felt more like an afterthought until recently! Initiatives like Vestpod are fantastic because I think women need to start talking about finance so we can learn how to make money work for us, and get as educated as possible about money.
There’s a few fantastic companies which make personal finance approachable and give a new level of clarity through their online apps which I’ve found super beneficial. Starling Bank allows you to see exactly how you’re spending your money every month, and allows you to set saving goals. There’s also companies like PensionBee who allow you to manage your pension online, and give you a level of clarity we’ve never had before… and both companies have female CEOs. Even better!
But in short, I think my relationship with money and personal finance right now is to really learn as much as possible about how to make it work for me.
What does financial independence mean to you?
Not having to ask anyone’s permission to spend the money I have earned. If it’s my money, it’s my choice. Simple as that.
What’s the one thing you indulge in?
Deliveroo, and candles, and Uber… sorry there’s not one thing! I work late and a lot of the time I don’t have the energy/time to cook - although I love cooking. Uber makes taxi travel cheap (ideal for ladies wearing heels), and I think life is too short not too enjoy a good candle.
What is the best financial decision you have ever made? And what is the greatest long term investment?
Starting my business, and investing in my business.
Have you ever experienced a financial epiphany? A sort of wake-up call, where you suddenly think - “I must start doing things differently”?
Oh yes, many! I’ve come to call them breakthroughs, rather than breakdowns!
But I think the seismic shift or ‘wake up call’ was when my parents were going through a dragged out divorce. During that time (I was around 22) I vowed that I would never rely on anyone but myself for money. For me, it was my parents’ divorce which drove my decision to end my professional dance career early and start a business - for anyone who knew me at the time, starting my own business was totally out of character!
What is Vestpod for you?
For me, Vestpod was like a breath of fresh air! Traditional finance can be so stuffy and intimidating. It’s a black and white world of acronyms, forms and suits - everything I’m not! I remember seeing the Vestpod newsletter and thought… “wait, I can use heart emojis and still be good at finance!?”. It sounds silly, but it was a real game changer! I think for me, Vestpod feminises finance in a way I can relate to, and also makes me feel excited to learn about finance in a way my accountant never could. You’ve also created an incredible community which I’m really grateful to you for. I always meet brilliant women at Vestpod events who I really respect, and we always keep in touch and support each other after meeting. Vestpod is much needed, and I think you’re doing an incredible job, thank you Emilie!!
Own up. Have you made any major financial faux-pas?
Yes, lots, and it’s those faux-pas which drove me to become financially savvy and know my P&L before my accountant does. The problem is, the only way to learn is by making mistakes, but also I’ve learned how to recognise what my weaknesses are when it comes to finance (and not be ashamed of them). I have put a firewall around myself of people who can support me where I need it. I’m definitely not afraid of asking for help and would strongly encourage others to do so.
What do you wish you have done earlier in terms of financial planning?
On a personal level, I don’t think I wish I’d done anything earlier. I love the idea of having a portfolio, where I invest in stocks, and then have capital set aside to invest in female-led startups, which I’d like to develop for the future. But you can only do what you can do and I’ve always done the best I can, with the resources and knowledge available to me at the time.
What would you recommend to younger women?
It is your responsibility, and yours alone to decide what you are, and are not capable of. Never let any person or situation put a ceiling on your potential.
Favourite books / podcasts?
Anya Seton – Katherine
Mary Beard – Women & Power: A Manifesto
Michelle Obama – Becoming
Or generally anything by Philippa Gregory or Alison Weir
Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations
Kat Harrocks – Put Yourself First Podcast
Deborah Frances-White – The Guilty Feminist
Where can we find you?
Seen On Screen website
Twitter: Bonnie on Twitter
Facebook: SOS Facebook Page
Instagram: SOS on Insta
Youtube: SOS on Youtube
Thanks a lot!