Elaine Ball, wasn’t always sure which path she would take after dabbling with an Equestrian career and working for oil companies. However, her true passion has always been, and still is, improving sales and marketing and the standards of the geospatial industry. It hasn’t always been straightforward for Elaine, but the entrepreneur is now seeing the success of her unrelenting hard work while leaving a lasting impact on her field.
A change in direction
When I left school (where I had been a competitive eventer), having spent my final years at Queen Ethelburga’s College – mainly so I could pursue my horsey passions – I decided I wanted to make a career in the Equine industry. My parents were endlessly supportive, and so they sent me to Texas for three months, working as a cowgirl on a dude ranch – which I loooovvved. It was when I went to work at an eventer’s yard in Gloucestershire that I realised an equestrian career was not for me. The one-week trial I had as a groom was enough for me to realise that horses were best kept as my hobby! I then took my first steps out into the big old corporate world, temping for oil companies in Aberdeen.
I moved to work for my father’s laser survey manufacturing company Measurement Devices Limited (MDL), starting as a marketing assistant, and by the time I was 24, I had risen through the ranks to Marketing Director. I had to work in every department to make sure I had a good understanding of a business and how it works! At that point, the company had grown to include five global offices (Houston, Texas, Canda, Australia, Aberdeen and Yor kand 40 staff members, and I had completed my degree in Business Management.
By 2007, I had become joint Managing Director of my dad’s company at the age of 27.
Sink or Swim
With perfect timing, the Recession hit. The impact was bad and the company turnover dropped 30%. I started facing an uphill battle as a first-time female MD of a board of five men in their sixties – not an easy feat at the age of 27, or when you are the bosses daughter.
I suffered a real crisis of confidence and began to experience debilitating limiting beliefs, so I hired a business coach to support me through it. My dad told me, “you’ll either sink or swim”, and so I chose to swim. It’s an attitude I have had my whole life, thanks to my dad pushing me.
I joined the Institute of Directors soon after and underwent a Neuro-Linguistic Practitioner (NLP) diploma. The coaching was a huge success so I put my entire management team through NLP training. I was then able to grow the global workforce to 120 staff members, and increase the percentage of women from 25% to 50% by the time the company was sold in 2012 to Renishaw PLC.
Onwards and upwards
I saw a gap in the market for a targeted marketing consultancy for the Geospatial Industry, so as soon as I left MDL, I made the gutsy decision to invest my £60,000 savings into launching Elaine Ball Ltd.
I hired ex-MDL colleagues, and the rest is history, as they say. The company currently has four employees and two full-time sub-contractors, and is undergoing a period of rapid expansion. We are now the go-to marketing consultancy for the global Geospatial Industry and I am the world’s first geospatial marketer!
We help businesses and surveyors with marketing and strategic communications, and try to teach kids and young people about surveying, using our campaign Get Kids into Survey. A lot of people don’t know the different strands to the industry, such as types of surveying, drone operations or computer coding, so it’s about raising awareness of all the elements. It educates them.
The Geo Squad comic book – part of the Get Kids into Survey campaign – is 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, and earlier this year we launched it as a complete print comic for the first time. We also have copies for sale in our local bookshop ‘The Little Ripon Bookshop’.
Against the odds
It hasn’t all been rainbows and butterflies however, and last year when the pandemic hit, I expected the impacts of the 2007 recession to be mirrored. However, Elaine Ball Ltd has managed somehow to defy the odds and we have seen huge success. Revenue for the company has increased by 30%.
I put a lot of the success down to the passion behind my team and the clear intent of my colleagues. Their focus on raising the standards of sales and marketing within the geospatial industry has also helped the revenue increase.
The UK lockdown may have also played a part as many geospatial companies were forced to move to online working, which meant it was easier for us to showcase the benefit of digital marketing techniques.
We want to keep building on the success of Get Kids into Survey with a view to resolving the industry-wide recruitment issue. We also want to increase the number of women in the industry – currently, the average employee is male and aged 55 (not that 55 is old)!
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 want to spend time collaborating with more partners and other educational outfits to help spread the word.
In the past few months we have also launched an online course for the industry called The Geospatial Marketing Academy™ which is a self-study portal for Survey companies and Equipment manufacturers (those doing the marketing) to learn the ropes and see what actually works in the industry through the real life case studies I share. It is going brilliantly and we are constantly striving to add content and value to the academy.
Try and avoid ‘shiny object syndrome! – I am very much “ooh, a squirrel” and I go chasing after said squirrel. While this has brought me to where I am today, it’s not a long-term business strategy so I would say have a clear focus and stick to it.
Always follow your gut – gut instincts are always right. If you have a dream to do something, then trust it and follow it – it may not be the path you expect, but if you are ambitious and motivated, you will get there. My gut has always been right and I’ve tried to go against it in the past which has proved me wrong.
Try and enjoy the thrill of the challenge – Everything is on your shoulders and comes down to you as CEO. Your team obviously has their own responsibilities, but the bottom line is, it’s your business so everything stops and starts with you. When things are running smoothly, it is all positive. When things are more of a challenge, it adds stress to every aspect of your life, but it is hugely exciting when you overcome those issues and you think, ‘yes we did it’. So try and enjoy the thrill of change and what it can teach you.
Always have a positive outlook – My glass has always been half full. In fact… it is always full! Having a positive mindset is key and always seeing the positive in everything has helped me make good business decisions. Having this positive attitude makes you think more clearly; there is always a silver lining in everything. This has definitely helped me in business otherwise I think I would have cracked!
Be flexible on hours and time off – I do this with my team and they actually work harder for me. I have had team members come to me really teary with a lot of stuff going on. While it can be a bit of a pain, I send them home for a break – and after some rest, they come back fighting. Sometimes you need to be kind and flexibility is a big thing.