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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
Finance
Admin
Staff


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

John Preston

Mathnasium, Managing Director (UK) & Master Franchisee

John is a former investment banker that quit the city to scratch that entrepreneurial itch and become a franchisee, whilst making a difference in children’s lives. John has successfully scaled his own network of centres as well as scaling Mathnasium and supporting it’s network of franchisees in the UK. John is passionate about franchising and improving the lives of others, whether that is helping students who struggle with mathematics or assisting franchisees to become leaders of successful businesses.

Katie Cannon

Gold Medal Business

5 x British Champion turned 7 figure entrepreneur Katie Cannon has been in the children’s activity industry for the last 20 years.Over the last 20 years, Katie has been in the trenches building classes in gyms, studios, leisure centres etc. She has owned gyms, closed gyms down, hired amazing teams and let teams go. You name it, she has done it in this industry.

Katie now teaches entrepreneurs in this industry to uplevel their business systems and teams to scale their business. One of the key attributes which makes gold medal truly unique is she not only brings her 20 years of experience, she is still in the industry today, bringing 20 years of knowledge plus whats working today.

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.

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.

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.

Craig Jones

Chief Children's Experience Officer

Craig has over 30 years’ experience working with children and young people in the education, sport, health & fitness and childcare industries. Craig is a high energy professional, with a passion for providing high quality, engaging experiences that are sustainable solutions to childcare and children’s activities, with a focus on increasing physical activity levels within children and young people. Craig’s approach is nurturing, developing and supporting the best people to manage, lead and inspire children’s professionals within organisations. A results orientated individual with experience across the UK and in Europe, including mergers & acquisitions along with implementing Children/Family strategies across 5 countries, including; product development, financial/operating models, training, H&S, Compliance and full stakeholder engagement from Board level to Government.

Ackora Ansah

Marketing Manager - We Make Footballers

Having previously navigated the dynamic world of marketing with beauty industry leaders such as L’Oreal, Clarins and Unilever, I’ve gained a breadth of experience in how to acquire customers and grow brands.

Now, as Marketing Manager at We Make Footballers I support over 50 franchisees across the UK, US and UAE to scale and grow in an ever-changing landscape through strategic local marketing. Alongside this, I run 3 of my own We Make Footballers franchises and so look forward to sharing my learnings from both perspectives.

Tamara Holland

Marketing Consultant for Children's Activities Providers

Tamara is the award-winning expert behind Dot & Stripe, a marketing consultancy for children’s activities providers and family focused businesses.

Tamara works with franchisors, franchisees and independent businesses to nail down the best marketing strategies to get them results and has over 20 years’ experience across the marketing mix.

She’s also been on both sides of the children’s activities industry – as a franchisee and leading the marketing for a franchise.

She has literally got her hands dirty- so she really gets it. You want to share your amazing activities business with your perfect customers- but finding the right direction, time and resources can be tricky.

Tamara has truly got the expertise, the support, and the accountability to make sure your marketing is not just done but done in a way that’s absolutely perfect for you.

Alexis Boyett

Bippity Boppity Bankrolls / Business Coach + Speaker

BECOME FRIENDS WITH THE VILLAIN WITHIN: HOW TO TURN YOUR INNER-CRITIC INTO YOUR BIGGEST SUPPORT SYSTEM

No amount of positive thinking will overpower an engrained negative belief. Regardless of how hard we try, how many therapists we talk to, or how many meditations we do, nothing seems to silence the inner-critic within. So instead of trying to silence it, what would happen if we started to communicate with it? As someone who struggled with a poverty mindset, eating disorders, bullying, toxic relationships, and no support system, Alexis understands how loud and how powerful your inner-critic can be. Instead of giving into the voice, Alexis learned how to harness the power of it and use it to master her self-love, propelling her into her dream life. In the past 15 years she has been a professional model/actress in Hollywood, run a nationwide company, traveled the world full-time and become the most influential business and personal development coach in character entertainment. It all started when she learned how to communicate with her inner critic and use its voice as the compass to her dreams. In this keynote, you will walk away with: A new understanding of your story and how it affects your business How to communicate with your inner critic to support your vision How to self-soothe when the villain within is on a rampage

Bea Waterfield

Owner & Franchisor Baby College

I’ve been working in the sector for 20 years. In that time I have been a franchisee, an independent business owner and a franchisor. I have come through a few challenging times (especially the last few years) along the way but have built Baby College to an international network of 30 businesses in the last 10 years in a sustainable way with a consistent profitable self-sustaining business year on year. I don’t think there is a very clever secret to that. Looking back I think I rely on hard-work, determination, courage, indefatigable positivity and to be friendly to everyone…

Gayle Berry

Founder of global parent & baby wellness business, mentor & philanthropist

Gayle Berry-Founder of Blossom & Berry, BA, Dip. Law, PGCE, IAIM, Birthlight, Dip Hypno, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Life Coach ITEC Massage, Author, Pregnancy and Post Natal Yoga Teacher, Children’s Yoga Teacher, Doula & Sleep Consultant.)

Gayle is a love activist, community architect, the founder of Blossom & Berry, an expert on baby massage, baby yoga and nurturing care for babies and the world’s leading mentor for parent and baby businesses.

Gayle is the mother of three amazing humans who have inspired her journey to teach love to millions of babies through her connected community to create a more peaceful and joyful life for all.

Gayle has over 20 years of experience empowering others to share the power of nurture and nature for families across the globe.

Gayle is an advocate for nurturing touch for babies, a multiple publisher author, and speaker on “Nurturing The Future-1001 days to save the world’

She is also very proud to be an ambassador for a number of mother and baby wellness brands and she is Channel Mums’ Baby Massage Expert.

In more recent years Gayle has mentored the world’s leading birth and baby schools to expand and scale their impact to create even more connection. Everything she does comes from a place of love, connection and community

Contribution is also a huge part of her why. She is the co founder of the charity Love Support Unite where she has enabled a safe motherhood project for mothers and babies in poverty in Malawi impacting hundreds of vulnerable babies.

“All babies deserve to be seen, heard and express their needs. When we respond to babies with love, we teach that the world is a safe and loving place and help children reach their full potential.”

Sarah Booth

Xero - Partner Consultant

My passion has always been to help business owners understand the numbers and how a great Accountant, along with cloud software, can provide the financial data they need to make the best business decisions. Prior to joining Xero I worked as a qualified Accountant and specialised in supporting my clients to understand their business financials in real-time. Working with Xero has given me the opportunity to support Accountants across the country in adapting to the cloud, improving their processes and ability to provide insights for their clients business.

Lou Willis-Keeler

CEO of Psych-Logical (Safeguarding and Behavioural Consultancy)

An international safeguarding consultant with over twenty years experience in safeguarding and behavioural science . Working with a wide range of organisations, across sectors to ensure compliance as a minimum and outstanding practice as a reality. Lou has depth of professional expertise working with a variety of organisations and before forming Psych-logical was an area manager with the NSPCC / ChildLine. She has been commission by the Department of Education to develop best practice resources and is work on professional standards for the out of school settings. An energetic, innovative and engaging speaker who simplifies safeguarding and makes it accessible to all.

David Batch

Premier Education Group

Last academic year, Premier delivered 723,815 hours of activity in over 10% of the nations schools. In addition, as the largest supplier of School Holiday Activity days in the UK, over 20,000 parents have given a 5-star Trust Pilot rating. Premier represents the sector on several Dept. of Education steering groups and was winner of ‘Best Business Culture’, at the 2023 Business Excellence Awards. David founded Premier 25 years ago and since then, the group has grown to encompass businesses which include a mother and child fitness franchise, a school improvement business and is an Ofsted rated ‘Outstanding’ Independent Training Provider.

Natalia Shvarts

Franchise Lawyer

Natalia is an experienced franchise solicitor who is passionate about her clients and their success. Having worked with franchisors, franchisees and spent time in-house, Natalia really has seen it from both sides of the fence. Natalia is a member of the BFA and is a regular contributor to franchise publications and franchise events.

Ellie Baker

BilinguaSing

After 10 years in the UK education system, Ellie quit the classroom to set up her award-winning children’s language & music class company, BilinguaSing, which she franchised in 2014.

Today Ellie uses all of her teaching and business experience to coach educators to become business owners, writes about education and helps her network of BilinguaSing franchisees to thrive in their businesses. In 2023 she authored her first solo book, The 2 Hour Tutor; which reached the #1 spot in 3 educational categories.

She’s an ‘extroverted introvert’ who dreams of living a nomadic life, educating her 3 kids while travelling the world; but for now lives happily in sunny Maidenhead. 

Stacey Cann

Franchise Marketing Strategist

Stacey Cann is an award winning franchise marketing strategist who specialises in helping franchisors create successful franchisees and make more money in their business. Stacey has 20 years marketing experience, working with global companies, including Chelsea FC, Jellyfish, BT, Sports Direct and The Telegraph. Marketing training and empowerment is at the heart of everything Stacey does. Her work has been featured in numerous press articles, including; The Sun, The Metro and iNews. Stacey is a franchisee and Franchise Development Coach for multi-award winning Daisy First Aid. She consistently helps new franchisees with no previous business or marketing experience to start making money immediately and hit their initial goals within 6 months. Her proud moments include Daisy First Aid being awarded the British Franchise Association 2023 Continuous Improvement award and helping numerous women successfully leave their previous jobs to become profitable franchisees to fulfil their dreams of independence and work-life balance. Stacey lives in Surrey, UK, with her partner and 3 children and is also a passionate advocate of parents’ mental health following her own experiences as a self-employed mum.

Karl Fox

Franchise Support Director

I’ve worked in the franchise industry for nearly 25 years, building a successful multi-territory franchise business which deploys over 100 Activity professionals and Playworkers. Utilising my experience within my role as Director of Franchise Support for Premier Education, I support our franchisees to build successful, sustainable busineses as we continue to grow our wider network.

David Pearce

Owner / Director - Rhythm Time

Following a successful corporate career as Divisional MD of a FTSE 250 PLC, I started helping people to get into Franchising in 2008. I have been involved in many different Franchise Businesses as a Franchisee, Franchisor and as a Consultant and Coach to Franchisors. My advice has been sought by a variety of leading UK and International Franchise Brands. Finance & Numbers form a fundamental part of any successful business and I am passionate to help others to get to grips with their numbers!

Al Wadey

Book That In, CTO

Al Wadey is the CTO of Book That In, the market-leading booking system for activity providers in the UK, and is also the Vice President of Strategic Consulting at Aprimo, the international software company. Al’s extensive background in business change, digital transformation, and strategic consulting, especially his role in leveraging technology for superior customer experiences, positions him as a leading authority on innovative strategies. His blend of technical prowess and commercial insight, paired with his experience in guiding businesses through digital evolution, means he will be bringing a unique viewpoint to ICAP’s strategy panel this year.

Phillip Archer

Business Planning & Funding Manager

Phil joined d&t in 2019. Background in sales & marketing in asset finance and funding spanning more than 30 years. Responsible for growing the commercial side of d&t to include fully independent business planning, funding, asset finance and of course the full range of accountancy solutions. Recently with Franchise Finance which he joined following a career with roles in the UK and across Europe starting with Lombard/Natwest group and latterly with Renault Banque and SNCF, the French state-owned rail goliath. Phil has a wide and diverse background, grounded in pragmatism and is passionate about supporting both new and existing franchisees on their journey. For a new Franchisee the proposition can be quite daunting and Phil’s goal is to help the franchise industry demystify and simply the business start-up process into one seamless and fully integrated solution. This avoids confusion, self-interest and contradiction and ensures a rounded, more holistic approach as your advisor becomes your trusted partner for the long term. Much of this is achieved by helping franchisees align their personal and business goals and in ensuring sound business planning practices become habits and management tools. Phil contributes to a number of industry publications and forums and is a judge for both Workbuzz and Elite100.

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.