Focusing your efforts and running your own race

“It’s been a year to forget” is what we’ve heard many children’s activity providers say recently.

We’d argue the past year in business might just be the most important to remember.

2020 (and the start of 2021) was an inflection point. Instead of being strategic with our business decisions, we were forced to be reactive and deal with the various curveballs that headed our way. Some activity providers flourished but the majority simply focused on survival.

Like most, we are greeting the lifting of restrictions across the UK with as a sense of cautious optimism.

You probably sit in one of three camps:

  • Positive (possibly thriving), but lacking trust in the months ahead
  • Surviving but not willing to make bold moves just yet
  • Struggling, exhausted from it all frankly

Maybe you sit in between one of those somewhere.

Perhaps you’ve got the same sense of cautious optimism as us but a little timid in approaching the next few months or following through with visions and business goals you once had. 

Try not to be discouraged by how you’re feeling and trust the process most are working through. It’s important right now to know what others are doing around you but we’d argue the term ‘run your own race’ is more pertinent now than ever before.

While every children’s activity provider will have different goals, priorities and ways of doing things, here’s a short list of what we’d recommend you consider focusing your energy on over the coming months:

1. Embrace change
People don’t like change. We’re hard-wired to want to stay inside our comfort zones and keep on doing the same thing we’ve always done. The past 12 months have changed all that and activity providers have had to accept the business impact and make changes to align with customers needs. Along with a number of other industries, our sector has fast-tracked a few years and we think that’s something to be excited about.

One thing we’d recommend doing is survey your customers, particularly those of you who have adapted significantly over the past year i.e. moving online, adding new services etc. Perhaps you’ve heard from some customers about their preferences going forward, but a survey of your whole database allows for a more rounded picture and could potentially change your thinking.

Trying to get ahead of the curve is now what’s needed too. While you’ll likely need to be a little more reactive with Government moving goalposts still (see recent changes to parents and signing in classes), it pays to regularly review (think quarterly/termly) your strategy and approach.

This ongoing attention allows you to shift your priorities and if needed ‘zig’, when you were planning to ‘zag’.

2. Prioritise customers
With parents keen on getting their children back into activities face-to-face alongside restrictions on group numbers, supply and demand has been skewed somewhat. Many ICAP members we’ve spoken to have seen places in classes, clubs and camps sell out in record time.

Of course, this is fantastic news.

However, we urge you to continue monitoring customer needs. Is there ways to continue serving customers who aren’t quite ready to attend in person? Could you continue the successful online programme you’ve been running for the past few months? Could your business model be strengthened with a different pricing strategy? What added value did you supply recently, which parents would like to see continue?

By running these questions over in your head (and surveying parents) you’ll get a clearer picture of what will satisfy customers both now and longer-term.

While the immediate focus will be taking bookings, generating revenue and serving the demand, ensure you continue engage in conversations to identify all opportunities as this will be the true gateway to growth and future success.

3. Work smarter, not harder
This sector is not shy about working hard. If we ran a poll to see how hard providers felt they had worked in the past year, many would testify to it being the hardest of their business lives.

Despite this, you may not have hit goals you set or felt like you haven’t quite nailed the temporary adaptions to your business. You certainly may not have achieved income goals either. And it’s likely you’ve felt a little burnt out or exhausted from all the challenges.

We think it’s therefore wise to adopt the ‘work smart, not hard’ attitude going forward.

Now, this isn’t us giving anyone a free pass to coast along over the coming months. Needless to say, we acknowledge the importance of showing determination and resilience and putting in the hours when needed. Moreover it’s to highlight the importance of leveraging your talents, your staff, partners and spending your time diligently. Businesses all have friction points, blockages in processes or poor systems as examples.

If you constantly feel like your fire-fighting in your business (and we all do from time to time) it’s a really good time to review and think about how smart you’re working. Using your time more wisely can be a game-changer.

4. Play the long game
We live in a world of instant gratification. Have a question, Google it. Hungry, order food through an app. Bored, watch Netflix on your sofa. There’s very little we cannot get access to with a click of button in the western world. The issue with this, is it creeps over into other areas of life, such as our businesses, which are less instant with results.

This isn’t to say you cannot generate income quickly – you can – but it is to say that good businesses weren’t built in a day and great businesses take even longer to develop.

The point? It’s understandable to want to make up for lost time (and earnings) over the coming months and with demand strong this is possible, but try not to neglect bigger decisions to be made – those more strategic plays that may not always have an instant result or even a totally clear outcome.

We’re extremely fortunate to have businesses in the ICAP community that have have been around for over 30 years and others who have only just started. What unites them is the understanding that continuous improvement and commitment to learning is key to long-term success. 

Try and make decisions that will develop you and your business for the long-term as well as quick wins where feasible.

Could ICAP membership be your next great decision? We think so.

5. Be the inspiration children need right now
We’ve not been short of inspiration and leadership over the past year and need to look no further than the wonderful job the NHS and many key workers have done. They’ll continue to inspire and support the health needs of the nation. 

Across the children’s activity sector is not just an abundance of talented professionals, but a strong community of leaders too. In a different way, activity providers have also provided services to support both children and families and will continue to play an important part over the coming years. See our post on why the activities sector is more important now than ever before.

The trials of the pandemic may have shaken your confidence and maybe you’re questioning things more now than before. Our daily conversations with activity providers will testify to you not being alone in that thinking. However, the thing that unites the sector time and time again is the enthusiasm for what we do, alongside the knowledge that with a potential mental health crisis upon us and children’s education and wellbeing taking a knock, we must rise and serve.

Now is absolutely the time to dust yourself off and go again. Children are depending on everyone of us.

Wishing everyone the best of luck as the sector reopens over the coming weeks with face-to-face services once again.

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