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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

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.