11 Ways Activity Providers Can Ensure Long-Term Recovery Post-Covid

It’s been over a year since the UK entered the first lockdown and the children’s activities sector has been significantly impacted.

We’ve seen temporary and permanent business closures, enforced business sales, large drops in revenue and profit and more widely, concern about the viability of operating models. However, it’s not been all doom and gloom.

We consistently reiterated our position that the global pandemic might just have been what many business owners needed for a multitude of reasons. Below we’ve summarised some of our key thoughts on what will help children’s activity providers ensure long-term recovery post-Covid.

How many of them apply to you?

1. Risk assess your business
We don’t mean the type of risk assessment you might do for health and safety and insurance purposes. This risk assessment refers to the risks identified for your business; financial, reputation, customer satisfaction and processes are a few. By seeking to isolate the risks and analyse how much control you have over each you can consider what is a high or low level risk of impacting your business. While some might think this level of assessment might be overkill for the children’s activities sector, we actually think it’s a fundamental element to business ownership that’s often overlooked in our industry.

2. Embracing change can lead to growth
We’ve seen more innovation in the children’s activities sector over the past 18 months than ever before. Activity providers have been quite literally forced to stop doing what they’ve always done and think creatively, firmly pushed outside comfort zones and that has seen great progress for our sector. New ways of thinking and doing things are essential to ensure progression and we’re now seeing the fruits of that labour with whole business models changing for the better and new systems and processes developed to level up across the sector. That said, we know change isn’t always welcome and can be incredibly demanding. Now might be a great time to seek outside support/advice if needed.

3. Taking action is essential
Results are only ever achieved by implementing a plan (even a loose one). Making decisions can be tricky when you don’t feel in control of all the variables (and the pandemic has highlighted this) but it’s those decisions that will elevate your business to higher levels. Maybe you’ve experienced having a great idea but you never took action? The potential power of any idea is lost if you fail to make a move.

We’d encourage you to move away from what’s stopping you taking action. For example if you’re waiting for the perfect moment, it will probably never come and if you’re waiting for the idea to be developed more then again you might find that it never gets developed ‘enough’ for you to go ahead. Embrace the trial and error approach or a ‘culture of test and learn’ to ensure you get things out there and once you’re doing that implementing at least one new idea or improvement to your business per month should be a simple goal everyone can achieve.

4. Focus on what is within your control
To have the greatest influence on the success of your business, you’ll want to focus on what you can control. By thinking constantly about what’s outside of your control i.e. when the pandemic will end, may leave you in a stage of revolving concern, and magnify the negative aspects of the world we currently live in. Positive psychology can be very powerful in focusing your mind where it really needs to be so think about your health, your habits, your behaviours, your systems, your programmes and aiming to influence them as much as you can will likely lead to more positive energy and results.

5. Work ‘on’ your business rather than ‘in’ your business
We wrote a whole article on this not long ago and global pandemic or not, this something we continue to urge children’s activity providers to do. You absolutely have to find time in your weekly schedule to work ‘on’ the business, and not constantly ‘in’ the business.

If you find you’re constantly chasing your tail, responding to customer emails, delivering activities, doing admin then chances are you’re working ‘in’ the business. Working ‘on’ your business usually relates to more strategic or broader areas of operating such as speaking to new suppliers, demoing a new software system, simply planning your working week, creating financial forecasts and developing business strategy. If you have plans to grow your business and reach more children, only ever working ‘in’ the business probably won’t get you there.

It will also more than likely lead to burnout so make sure you take time out for yourself to recharge from time to time.

6. Working on all areas of your business
Naturally we tend to do more of the stuff we love and less of the stuff we don’t. Hate accounts and analysing spreadsheets? Chances are you probably don’t know your key financial metrics at any given time or fully understand what position your business is at. Perhaps you’re not much of a social media person and that hinders your time spent focused on social media marketing, which then impacts your ability to get the online traction and awareness your programmes really deserve. Whatever your favourite areas of business are, you’ve likely got to wear multiple hats in any given week and it’s critical you share out your time to each area sufficiently:

These areas might include:
Programme development
Service delivery
Operations and systems
Sales and marketing
Customer service

7. Update your service and product mix
Sometimes when we see a downturn in business it can be a sign that you need to change the way you’re doing things. Think carefully about what you can do to improve this situation. Maybe some revenue streams you’ve created simply aren’t profitable enough to justify the time and cost to run them and the pandemic may have highlighted that. 

Typically there are three ways you can do this:

  • Increase sales in existing markets i.e. more of what you current do
  • Sell existing services into new markets i.e. approaching schools or nurseries with an already established programme
  • Sell new services to new markets i.e. offering online events to a brand new audience

Each of these will involved a different level of time (particularly the last one) so be sure you’re moving in the right direction.

8. Review your pricing strategy
Often activity providers will price their service based on what competitors are doing, and that alone. Ideally your pricing strategy should be more considered. Competitors pricing can be an important point of reference absolutely, but you should also commit to looking carefully at what positioning and quality level your business offers and where you sit in the market. Perhaps you could discount prices to reach more customers (although note we don’t tend to recommend this as price wars and low price points don’t tend to work out in the long run for our sector). The other option is increasing prices to improve margins and increase revenues or at least maintain them with less customers to serve. What you choose will largely be dictated by your business model and it might be sensible to use an online calculator to help guide your thoughts on what small changes can do to your profit margins (and we’d highly recommend you focus on profit first).

9. Get a marketing strategy in place
It’s really important you get clear on your marketing and communication strategy. Once a nice to have, now an essential. It’s important to note here that your marketing strategy is NOT just your social media strategy. While social media continues to be a key aspect of almost every business in most industries it should form part of, not the whole, strategy. 

Creating a simple marketing plan can help you clarify your thoughts, get organised and stay on track with goals. Here’s a document we created you might like to print off and use.
10. Staff and their value offering
The pandemic has given us time to think about exactly how our businesses operate and with the financial pressures it brought the chance to review whether the staff we have our essential or not. For those who haven’t ever taken on staff, it may have also highlighted the need for you to employ someone to take the weight off your shoulders or to simply enable you to grow. Think about the various areas of your business mentioned above and what needs more time and attention. If you can’t do it, is it feasible to hire a staff member or outsource the task to someone else? 

Also worth mentioning that if you do have a team of employees constantly checking in with them to help with wellbeing is something we should all commit to as employers. Happy staff more often than not leads to happy customers.

11. Keeping your eye on the ball with finances
It’s important to regularly review your financial position both personally and for the business. Reviewing your own situation can often be the best starting point and while times feel a little more steady now than at the peak of the pandemic try not to leave this task too long before updating. While your business finances should be ideally kept completely separate, many providers will find this is intertwined with personal. Either way, knowing what you realistically need both personally and for the business will help in budgeting, forecasting and planning ahead.

Not all of these pointers are specific or advice based on the impact of Covid-19, however they are all crucial to the success of your business and in times of difficulty and in terms of growth so making sure you pay close attention is what we’d recommend wherever you may be on your business journey. Best of luck over the coming months.

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.