Jenny Duffy had been working on a casual, part-time basis as a dance teacher for several years, but had never been able to make the transition from teacher to professional choreographer, which was her goal.
While she had extensive training and had performed on a freelance basis for well-established artists like K-OS, The Black Eyed Peas and Michael Bublé, Ms. Duffy found it challenging to progress to the next level in Vancouver's competitive dance industry.
"I knew I had the skills to set up a choreography business, but I just didn't know how to get myself out there and take things to the next level," she said in an interview.
An accounting graduate from UBC's Sauder School of Business, Ms. Duffy had pursued her hobby of dance since the age of three.
Even while completing her studies and obtaining her CA [chartered accountant] designation, she continued to dance and teach in her spare time. While articling as a junior auditor she completed three seasons as a professional dancer with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League team.
After her time in public practice had come to an end, she felt compelled to take advantage of her unique skill set and make a business out of dance.
What she really wanted to do was choreograph large scale shows, work for larger corporate brands, and have her work seen by viewers nationwide.
In 2010, Ms. Duffy made the move into entrepreneurship with the launch of Jenny Duffy Dance Services where she offers choreography, dance lessons and coaching. She is also the artistic director of Endangered Dance Co. in Vancouver.
She used her business training from Sauder to create a personal brand, build a digital portfolio, and pursue her target market using social media and content marketing. She used Facebook to share videos from her classes and to promote new classes she was offering. To position herself as an authority in her field, Ms. Duffy regularly blogged about dance and choreography techniques, including performance reviews. She also optimized her website for search to ensure that dance industry professionals like casting directors or music video producers would find her online.
Soon Ms. Duffy identified a ripe target market: Vancouver's booming acting community.
"I had spent a lot of time doing what most pro choreographers loath to do – which is coaching beginner-level dancers. This niche skill made me perfect for working with actors and opened a door for me in Vancouver's thriving television and film scene."
She also applied a marketing lens to dance trends, leveraging the latest moves. Following the popularity of Psy's "Gangnam Style" song, she saw an opportunity to cater to Vancouver's burgeoning k-pop fan scene and tailored a dance course to students that allowed them to star in their own music and dance video.
Building a brand around a company, Ms. Duffy attracted several large-scale clients by 2011. She was hired as dance expert on the TV pilot for the E! Networks reality show "Brave New Girls" and was also invited to be choreographer for the BC Lions, where her work is seen by people across Canada on game days.
She has choreographed three television commercials for BC Hydro's "I Got The Power" ad campaign, as well as for an upcoming TV movie "The Lighthouse" on the Lifetime Network.
Says Ms. Duffy. "Now, as an established choreographer, I get e-mailed when directors need dancers. My brand is growing, and I am excited to see what new opportunities are around the corner."
Jeff Kroeker is a lecturer in the accounting division at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.