Brona MacNally is a classic example of the saying "do what you love and the money will follow". As the first Irish graduate of the Royal Ballet School in London, MacNally returned to Irish shores and set up her ballet school in Blackrock in 1989. Twenty-eight years later she is still educating and inspiring young dancers in her south Dublin base.
What distinguishes your business from your competitors?
There are teachers on every corner and I have to differentiate myself from them. It’s really been educating my customer that I am different. I trained at the best school in the world and I’m imparting the knowledge I got there to your children. I’m not just another ballet teacher. In London everybody knew, if you trained with the Royal Ballet, exactly what that meant. In Ireland, I’ve had to teach them.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face in business?
One of the major things that I still struggle with and have to keep learning is technology. It runs ahead of you all the time and now nobody places an ad anymore. It’s all social media, it’s Facebook ads, how to hit your target audience. That’s all a new learning curve for me and I have to keep on top of that.
What’s your major success to date?
It’s a general success of becoming, I believe, one of the best ballet schools in the country and students consistently getting extremely high results in their exams. Watching the girls who start with me at three years of age dancing on stage as mature ballerinas, I taught them how to do that.
What more do you think the Government could do to help SMEs?
If there are grants or help out there, advertise them, make it more available to us. The Arts Council run a lot of grants and help the artists. Even though I'd regard myself as an artist, they regard me as a business owner.
Do you think that the banks are open for business?
I think we’ve had a very tough time, everybody has. Just from speaking with friends who are looking for money for their own businesses, I think the banks are now so overly cautious, their doors may as well be closed. You almost have to sell your soul to get some money. They are losing out on some great opportunities, I feel, because they are just not prepared to lend.
What’s the biggest mistake that you’ve made in business?
Being afraid initially to spend the money on the marketing budget. But, actually, by spending the money you get it back. It was just being brave enough to have a consistent marketing budget because you always need to make that noise that you exist. I wasn’t doing that for a long time but I’ve learned my lesson there.
Whom do you admire in business and why?
My father, he set up his own business, Donal MacNally opticians, many years ago. His positivity, work ethic and always telling his children ‘you can do this. If you can do something on your own, do it on your own, don’t work for somebody else’. Five of his six children all run their own businesses and I really admire him. I learned a lot from him.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
I’d say it was from dad. When I wanted to go off and do the ballet, my mother was a bit nervous saying that I’d starve doing it. And he said ‘let her do what she’s passionate about, let her absolutely follow her passion and the money will follow’. The money will always follow if you do something that you’re passionate about.
How do you see the short term future of your business?
I was away last summer doing some more courses on pre-school kids. There is always more to learn and advanced training techniques. I used to always teach adult ballet but my own school got so big that I couldn’t do it anymore.
I see there is a big demand for it now and I’m considering starting that again, which would be fun for me, so I’m developing new ideas and new classes.
What is your business worth and would you sell it?
They wouldn’t be buying bricks and mortar as I rent. They’d be buying goodwill and that can be tricky. But I suppose long term, eventually with a view to retiring, I will be looking to sell it, only not for a very long time.