10 mistakes to avoid as a Children’s Activity Provider

Running a successful children’s activity business can be a challenge.

Operating over the past 12 months or so alongside the pandemic is testament to that (collective nod of the head). However there are things the best business owners tend to do and things they tend to avoid. Nobody is perfect, and seeking perfection is in itself a mistake but there are some common pitfalls we’ve seen over the years that some providers fall foul of. We thought we’d share some of these with you.

Here’s our top 10 in an order we think is pretty accurate:

10. Chasing shiny objects
We’re all guilty of this from time to time. Once the initial buzz of one idea you take action on wears off, we need something else to get excited about. It might be a new idea, new programme, new system or a whole new business concept. While we think exercising your idea muscle and constantly thinking of pain points to solve for people is important, trying not to get distracted by all these new ‘shiny’ things is important because balancing one plate can be hard enough, balance multiple can at times become impossible.

9. Trying to get rich quick
If you’ve listened to any of our online events that we’ve spoken on, we often mention the old adage that ‘business is a marathon, not a sprint’ and it’s something that we believe in strongly. If you’re looking for a quick earner then the children’s activities sector is not for you. Can it be financially rewarding? Yes absolutely. Can you build a business to one day sell for a nice profit? Yes many do. But understand that you need to plan for the long haul, which allows for realistic expectations and better decisions that will strengthen the foundations of your business for the future.

8. Becoming obsessed with competitors
Whether you’ve been in the children’s activity sector for a few months or a few decades you’ll know that it’s very busy with competitors and while we recommend you keep half an eye on what your local rivals are up to, focusing too much on them is a waste of energy. You need to have confidence in your own abilities and programmes to deliver great value to customers regardless of who is operating nearby. It’s easy to fall into the trap of worrying about their newest venue opening, or their latest booking system, or a new provider launching locally but the reality is the more distracted you are by others the less likely you’ll deliver on your own potential. Typically there is plenty of demand for everyone to do well so just focus on running your own race.

7. Treating your business as a job
We’ve spoken about this one quite recently and it continues to be something we are mindful of in the children’s activity sector. When you only ever see your business as a job, chances are you won’t make good business decisions such as deciding what customers want, reinvesting your earnings into developing ideas, choosing a slightly more expensive booking system if it’s fundamentally a better fit for your needs. Adjusting your mindset to that as a business owner as opposed to someone who earns money through teaching children is important. You’ll start to think longer term with goals (strategic and financial) and this will lead to better decisions for both you, your business and importantly your customers.

6. Not investing in yourself
If you’ve ever felt like you know it all and you can’t get any better in different areas of business, chances are you’re in denial. As mentioned, most providers have one or two talents and so committing yourself to continuous improvement every month, every term, every year is critical. It’s part and parcel of pushing yourself and business to be better. This might be learning more about social media, it might be using business development tools to understand your strengths and weaknesses or it might be learning from others who have more experience. Regardless, consistently exposing yourself to learning opportunities is key.

If you’re not sure where to start, you might want to consider ICAP membership which has 100+ resources, tools and webinars to watch + our new popular mentoring programme

5. Having no clear marketing strategy
Having a presence on social media and posting regularly in Facebook Groups alongside some leafleting locally is not a strategy. They are tactics you can use as part of a wider strategy, which involves you taking the time to consider your target market, promotional channels, marketing messages, securing sales, adding more value and increasing awareness of your services. We recommend you don’t dip your toe in this area, you go all in. Take time and make a plan, think carefully about everything you’ll need to succeed in your market. Here’s a free resource you might like to use to plan your marketing.

4. Letting complacency creep into your way of working
It’s hard to be consistent sometimes. Other things take priority, workload increases and life can get in the way. But being consistent, when you’ve reached a level of excellence, is fundamentally important to establish yourself in your market and go onto do really great things. Once you’re there though, try not to take for granted your position. Children and parents deserve 100% of your efforts the first moment they experience your activities all the way to the very last. By focusing your mind on this point you’ll be less likely to become complacent and let slip the high standards you may have set yourself and your staff.

3. Aiming too low with ambitions
The saying goes ‘aim for the moon and if you miss you’ll land among the stars’ or something like that. It’s a bit fluffy that saying, but we believe in the basic premise that reaching for the top and shooting your best shot is needed to fulfil potential. If you’re going to do something, why not go all in and aim high? Want to become the number one activity provider across the UK in your specialism? Go for it. It might seem like a big ask at times, but with the right approach and great service there’s no reason why you can’t make inroads and establish yourself in way that brings you fulfilment and feeds your personal ambitions. And if your ambitions don’t extend to being the number one in the UK (or even locally) taking great pride in what you do should be a pillar for providers across the sector.

2. Not focusing your time
This one doesn’t quite make it to number 1 but it sure comes close. Whenever someone asks us what the secret is to success in the sector, it’s never a simple answer and there isn’t a silver bullet so to speak. However, one thing we’ve observed for sure is the providers who stand out tend to be those who have the ability to laser focus in on what they need to get done at any one given moment. Doing deep focused work requires minimal distractions and putting yourself in the mindset and environment to do this will help you succeed. With most children now back in school, the vaccine programme working well and normality slowly getting to where we expect, now is the time to focus your time as efficiently as you can. Your future self will thank you for it.

1. Trying to do it all yourself
Possibly the biggest mistake you can make is thinking you can do everything yourself. Depending on the size of your business, it might be possible for you to physically do everything, but it’s likely you’ll be doing many things poorly or by not involving others you’ll be making bad decisions. We all tend to have one or two talents that we excel in and ideally you’ll know what these are to ensure you harness them as you grow your business and where feasible outsource, delegate or simply surround yourself with others who compliment your weaknesses. Of all the very top children’s activities businesses we work with and speak to, almost all have mastered the art of delegation and seeking outside help when needed.

Did we forget any? We’d love to hear from you, send us an email with your thoughts.

If you found this article useful you might like to share it with another children’s activity provider who might do too. Best of luck over the coming weeks as we approach summer.

By becoming a member of ICAP you’re joining a community of like-minded professionals and business owners in the children’s activity sector working towards excellence

Pip Wilkins

Pip Wilkins is the Chief Executive of the British Franchise Association (bfa). With 25 years’ experience in the franchise sector, Pip has worked her way up within the Association, gaining insight from all areas of the business and the franchise industry. She is well-known and highly regarded in franchising for her dedication and depth of knowledge. Pip regularly speaks at conferences and seminars both domestically and internationally, as well as writing on franchising matters for national, local and franchising trade press. Pip is also a regular judge for the annual bfa HSBC Franchise Awards, the Franchise Marketing Awards and Global Franchise Awards. Pip represents the UK at both the European Franchise Federation (EFF) and World Franchise Council (WFC). The bfa has grown to be one of the largest franchise associations in Europe, and one of the most successful associations in the world.

Theo Millward

Theo Millward is a graduate of Lancaster University with a BBA in Management. In 2016 Theo purchased UK swim school, Swimtime from the founders which teaches 20,000 children a week. Following a multi-award- winning digital transformation, during the global pandemic, Theo and his team founded Franscape, a saas that digitally transforms Franchise brands. FranScape won New Business of the Year at the UK Business Awards.

Andy Georgiou

Andy is the Founder of ICAP and a leading UK Franchise Business Consultant. He is fiercely committed to helping children’s activity providers build successful and profitable businesses. With qualifications in Business Management, Digital Media and Marketing, he has helped build, advise and grow leading 6 and 7 fiqure children’s education, sports and activity brands in the past 17 years.

Frank Sahlein

Frank has been active in the Children’s Activity Center industry as an athlete, coach, business owner, consultant and business broker. He is a native of San Mateo, California and graduated from San Jose State University in California (USA).
Frank was a pioneer of the Children’s Learning Opportunity Center concept from 1976 – 2016 at the Wings Center in Boise, Idaho (USA) – a blend of Sports Instruction, Arts, Education, Entertainment and Outreach programs.
As a business management innovator, Frank has delivered over 1,000 presentations for a variety of Children’s Activity Center industries such as gymnastics, swimming, cheerleading, dance, martial arts/ninja and child care/education.
3rd Level Consulting is a Business Development and Service Provider Partner for private industry companies, associations, and organizations in the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Panama.
Two-time recipient of the National Business Leader Award from USA Gymnastics, Frank is the author of “Building Your Business Potential” and “Designing Your Empowered Life”. He is the creator of the SmartEDGE™ Business Applications and Management Certification Courses. He is the co-founder of LEAP Learning and the MetaSpheres Corp, and is the founder and Executive Director of the International Association of Child Development Programs.
His passions include his beautiful wife Lourdes Gonzalez, family, friends, fitness training, transformational reading and travel.