Busting the myths holding your children’s activity business back

We’ve often found there are a number of limiting beliefs that tend to hold children’s activity providers back at times.

We tend to see these beliefs as ‘myths’; a widely held but false belief or idea.

This week we hosted an online learning event in support of Wales Children’s Activities and Service Awards and discussed myths in the children’s activities sector. While you’ll perhaps have many of your own you’ve come to learn while running your own business, here’s some of ours that we thought we’d try to ‘bust’…

Myth #1: Your business is unique
We wrote about this recently discussing that the vast majority of businesses in our sector simply weren’t unique, and that this was actually perfectly fine. In fact, when you look at most mature industries (and ours is still in its relative infancy) you’ll find the majority of players have much more in common than they admit. They may have unique approach or a unique feature, but generally the product or services are very similar. When this gets to a stage where customers can no longer distinguish the difference, it’s sometimes referred to as a commoditised market.

The problem for activity providers? People can get hung up on being ‘different’. That’s not always their fault. Entrepreneurial individuals tend to want to stand out from the crowd as best they can and one way of doing that is having something different to offer customers. However what if we said we believe the vast majority of activity providers (think 99%) simply weren’t unique and that actually what distinguishes the more successful operators are the ones who are hard-working, determined and focused on executing above all else?

If you’re stuck constantly trying to be different, we’d recommend letting it go.Be brilliant, put your customers first, develop amazing programmes… but don’t go chasing something new for the sake of it.

Myth #2: Build it and they will come
It’s important to know what to focus on when running a business. Typically when starting out or launching a new programme or service, sufficient time needs to go into developing that. However, frequently activity providers fall into the trap of focusing ONLY on that and not on the actual marketing of it.

Many providers who switched to online offerings during Covid-19 have fallen foul of thinking that by simply adapting their service to video and telling their existing customers what they were doing that was going to be enough. Unfortunately building sufficient brand awareness and attitudes to your offering takes time and lots of effort.

It’s also important to note that many customers (parents) are less discernible to the differences between providers so even if you have created the best programme possible and you’ve worked and re-worked every aspect of what you do in your classes, clubs, camps etc understand that if they can’t see you, it doesn’t make any difference. If you really want to hit the ground running when you can relaunch in person activities, be prepared to out-work your competitors in the visibility stakes. 

Myth #3: Customers only care about low prices
Rarely in our sector does the business with the cheapest offering become the most successful. While competing on price is a valid pricing strategy (and works very well in other industries) it doesn’t tend to work in the children’s activities market. Why? Because the ability to scale a service based business like most providers run can be limited. You can hire staff or you can franchise your business as good examples of growth strategies, but understand competing on price in general is a surefire way to end up with squeezed margins and lower value that you deserve.

Importantly, customers are frequently less concerned about price when it comes to children’s activities. If you live in a highly affluent area you may find it’s barely a factor parents consider at all. Parents are far more concerned about value. If you abide by the basic business principle of under-promising and over-delivering it won’t matter what you charge, you’ll likely have a very satisfied customer base with high retention and wait lists.

Myth #4: Success is about making money
We’ll start this one by saying everyone’s definition of success is different. What you consider to be ‘success’  may be drastically different to others. Right now for those of you home-schooling while schools are shut, success might be surviving to the end of this week!

You can decide what success means to you, but what we would say is of all the wonderful activity providers we’ve worked with (big national brands and excellent independent operators) rarely have they been driven by, or seen, money as the defining factor in their vision or success.

For those of you who have been greatly impacted by Covid-19, perhaps income is on your minds more than ever before. We understand that. However, we fully prescribe to the statement of trying your utmost to ‘enjoy the journey’ whatever that brings and we’d like to think the fulfilment that comes with educating, entertaining and inspiring children is the most defining success factor of them all. Making money is the natural by-product.

Myth #5: You need to spend money to make money
This one may come as a great relief for many activity providers, but we generally don’t believe you need to spend inordinate amounts of money to be able to earn a good living in our sector. Sure, sometimes you need to invest in outside support or expertise. Perhaps you may need to pay out on new systems or software to take your business to another level. However, throwing money away on poorly executed marketing campaigns should be avoided and seeking lean methods of operating and promotion (particularly now during Covid-19) makes perfect sense.

In our experience of running successful children’s activity businesses and talking to our members, we know working smarter, thinking outside the box and clever strategies is vital in growing your business. At times that will need some financial outlay, but following a plan, iterating where needed and focusing constantly on return on investment will go a long way to ensure you don’t fall foul of this myth of spending money to make money.

Myth #6: You need to be active on all social networks
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest, Youtube, Reddit, Tik Tok (soon Clubhouse?)… it’s an exhausting list to both read and write. We notice some activity providers who try to be active on all platforms and we tend to think this is grossly counter productive. Why? Because, who has the time or resources to effectively be active, engaging and building their audiences on all these platforms?

The reality is even large corporates struggle to do it and they have significant spending power.

We’d argue being strong on two of these platforms is perfectly adequate for the majority of children’s activity businesses, and while customer profiles will differ from business to business, typically this is Facebook and Instagram. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t perhaps have a Twitter profile or LinkedIn company profile – there’s benefits to those at certain times or for SEO purposes. You may also want to test the waters with the newer platforms too, but try not to lose focus on where the vast majority of your customers are hanging out online. 

Myth #7: You need to have it all figured out
This is the biggest myth of them all. We’re in a privileged position at ICAP to work with all sorts of activity providers and frequently, whether it’s the big brands everyone knows in our sector or the smaller local operators, everyone to some degree is ‘winging it’. This isn’t to promote that (too much ‘winging’ can be highly detrimental to success), but it is to say that as business owners everyone is working, adjusting, refining, tweaking and iterating what they do all the time.

If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll find running a business very difficult at times. You’ll need to let that go to reach full potential because the people who get things done and iron out the kinks later are the ones who tend to get ahead. Needless to say, once you find what works you’ll tend to repeat it and success isn’t a random occurrence of course, it’s reserved for those who work hard and smart in equal measures. 

We hope you enjoyed this insight piece. If you did, you might like to follow us on Facebook or Instagram. If you really liked it, you may want to consider membership.

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.