TV presenter Vanessa Cruickshank, 41, looks like she has it all – a successful TV show on Sky Showcase, a thriving production company and a get-up-and-go personality, but it has been a long, winding and often difficult road to get her to where she is now.
In fact, Vanessa’s dream to be on TV and present her own show started when she was at secondary school but it would be several years before she would be able to make it a reality.
In 2015, she was forced to re-evaluate her life following a failed business but it was during this difficult time that she realised the media was still her ‘first love’. She became a radio presenter and began working on plans for her own YouTube show, but when the radio station pulled out of the idea she decided to go it alone and launch her own TV programme using her own money and with her own team.
‘Tell Vanessa’ debuted later that year and has since completed a second series. So how did Vanessa make this all happen? She gave Melanmag.com the inside story on her road to success along with words of wisdom for budding media entrepreneurs.
Vanessa was initially on the verge of making a name for herself after signing a recording contract as part of a girl group when she was 18, but when her music career didn’t materialise she decided to go to university and ended up on a different path altogether. “Performing was always a passion from when I was young”, Vanessa says, “but I guess I decided to go to university because I always thought that I would go back to performing and the media. However studying took me in a different direction and I ended up renovating property and starting a management career so getting into the media went on the back burner.”
‘Don’t be afraid of failure’
When Vanessa launched a spa business in 2015 which did not turn out how she wanted it too, it forced her to reassess what was important to her. She recalls: “I took on too much at the time. I was a foster mother, I had just got engaged, I was a consultant for the NHS and I had started a brand new business. So I was pulling myself in too many directions and had lots of balls up in the air. Something had to give and it all came crashing down but that forced me to decide what I really wanted to do.”
‘Make it happen’
“The new business not working out gave me a lot of time to reflect and think about what I really wanted to do in life, which was media,” Vanessa says. So she started working at a radio station presenting a show on economics and business, and began developing an idea for a chat show. “Life is short and you don’t get to redo it, so I thought what have I got to lose? And the answer was nothing. I literally thought why don’t I just try it? So I approached a TV network with my idea, they really liked it and it went from there.”
‘Find your passion’
Vanessa pitched her idea to network executives at BEN TV and believes her passion for what she wanted to do made the real difference. She recalls: “Obviously I thought they might not take me seriously because I had no experience but my attitude was just to go for it. I already had the concept worked out and the ideas for the interviewees came from topics that I’m interested in and I think that’s really important.”
‘Invest in yourself’
Despite securing the interest of the network, Vanessa initially had to pay for the first series out of her own pocket but this didn’t put her off. She says: “People always expect you to invest in them but if you’re not prepared to invest in yourself why should anyone invest in you? So I think if you are good, and you have a good idea, then you should be prepared to put your money where your mouth is. Also, you don’t always need a lot of money if you are creative with how you spend it.”
‘Surround yourself with good people’
“I had no experience but I put together a team. I advertised for my own director, make-up artist, cinematographer and photographer and I found people who were willing to work with me for the exposure and the platform in exchange for their time and talents.”
‘Learn as you go along’
“Every time you are learning you will make mistakes”, Vanessa admits. “If you look at my show’s first series from episode one to episode five or six there was such a transformation in my presentation skills and the evolution of the set. I literally learnt on the job and I know so much more now about lighting, colouring and production now from those early episodes and evaluating what worked and what didn’t.”
‘Utilise social media’
Vanessa believes social media platforms, especially YouTube, have made it possible for people to market themselves or an idea without waiting for someone else to give them a break. She adds: “If you think about how many people watch YouTube then you already have an audience, which means you don’t have to go to a network to get noticed. As long as you are able to film, you can get your stuff straight out there and then market it via social networks. It’s about showing what you can do.”
Vanessa’s film company ‘(Sassy Little Lady) SLL Productions’ is currently working on longer-format TV programmes including documentaries on human trafficking and cannabis. A third series of Tell Vanessa is expected early next year but she has also set her sights on presenting a show on BBC or ITV sometime in the future. She says: “If you look at media in the UK there are really only a few black female TV presenters. There are others who are just as good, but they are not getting the opportunity, and I think that is a gap in the market.”
‘Don’t hold back’
“I haven’t got the energy or the time to sit and wait for someone to give me a break,” Vanessa states. “If you’ve got a dream, don’t sit around waiting for someone else to make it happen for you, make it happen for yourself. You don’t want to look back in five or ten years time with regrets. Just do what you want to do and do it now.”