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The beauty of business: Shaping a model business

Posted 2 years ago in Small business by Erin Smith
Posted by Erin Smith

Taryn Williams is the award-winning CEO & founder of and Wink Models. She has been recognised as a finalist or winner of numerous business awards including Women’s Agenda Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year, AIM Leadership Excellence Awards, Optus My Business Awards, SmartCompany Hot 30 under 30, and B&T Women in Media Awards in the tech category.

We spoke to Taryn about the highs and lows of her business journey as part of our beautiful business campaign.

You could say I grew up in the modelling industry. I was a model from the age of 15 and started trying my hand as a producer from 19. Working on both sides of the talent–client relationship, I saw all the inefficiencies and inequalities that came as a result. People didn’t get paid on time and most model–agent relationships were not great. Quite simply, the business model didn’t work.  

At the age of 21 – and still very naive to the world of business – I decided it couldn’t be too hard to change things. So, I took the $30,000 I’d saved and started an agency called Wink Models. I wanted to align myself with decency and respect and build a company where talent got paid within seven days. I wanted the agency to be an extension of the talent’s team, to provide a safe harbour where models could feel supported and respected.

Trust in technology

We won a global campaign in our first two weeks, which brought us kudos in the industry and helped bankroll our launch. It meant we grew quickly to have 650 models from across Australia on our books.  

I knew that if I wanted to scale the business, I needed a trustworthy system to streamline the payment and booking processes for hundreds of models, so I could make good on my own values around prompt payment and protection of talent. I worked with developers to build a piece of end-to-end payroll management and integration software.

That’s the moment I fell in love with technology and realised the potential to transform a business if you embrace the tools available.

A digital answer to latent demand

That aha moment with technology was the lead in to my next business,

Nearly two years ago, I realised there was a move away from traditional marketing towards smaller bits of snackable digital content. People were looking for relatable, authentic talent in their campaigns, social media influencers were making an impact, and budgets were changing accordingly.

Once I realised there was that latent supply and demand in the industry – and taking the approach of paying promptly and looking after creative talent well – I realised I could build a digital marketplace that connects clients who need talent with talent who need opportunity.

We launched about 18 months ago and it now provides 6,500 talent across Australia including actors, presenters, makeup artists, dancers, bloggers and more. Our clients range from startups doing their very first content shoot to ad agencies with multimillion dollar campaigns. It’s been amazing to step away from my firstborn business, leave it in very capable hands, and grow another idea out in the world.

What matters to my business

Running a business demands energy from you every day. You have to be willing to be vulnerable, accept when something is outside your skill set, and use your smarts to fill that gap. As an example, I didn’t study finance or accounting, so I quickly found a reliable CFO and accounting team to run Xero.  

That done, I focus on the personal successes that keep me energised. For example, I care deeply about how our customers feel about our product, including the positive brand sentiment we track through our Net Promoter score. Are our values resonating with theirs? That’s incredibly important.  

Then of course, there’s our team. Are our people thriving? Do they love being part of this team? I never want to be the smartest person in the room, so I hire people who inspire me. If they’re not amazing you and dazzling you every day, you’ll struggle. Even if you think you can’t afford that special person, my advice is to find someone who you absolutely admire and who you can learn from. They will more than pay for themselves.

The beauty of business

I often hear the question, “Are entrepreneurs born or made?” and I think of that when it comes to the beauty I find in running a small business.

I’ve always been self-employed and I can’t imagine doing anything else. My parents say I was incredibly strong-willed as a child. There was nothing they could do to stop me once I set my mind to something. I find it very difficult to accept the status quo and believe the fastest way to go backward is to stay still. I’ve always been like that.

That’s what’s beautiful about business to me – you get to take the tools at hand and create change for yourself. Thanks to all the technology available to businesses today, you’re either going to disrupt something or be disrupted.

I’m not a tech founder and I’m not a developer, but I know the problems I want to solve. When it comes to technology, I really think anything is possible with the right time and investment put toward uniting the right people with the right processes.  

Taryn mentored small business owner and Xero customer Brooke Rudzis about marketing and social media as part of our beautiful business campaign. Find out what they discussed.

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