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system for children activity providers

How Systems Can Help You To Grow Your Children’s Activity Business

No one started their business so they could spend hours and hours doing admin.

Yet that’s exactly what most business owners do – replying to emails, checking and chasing payments, updating registers, updating websites, raising invoices, filling out tax returns, reconciling payments, writing content, following up with prospects… 

It gives me a headache just thinking about it!

Not only is all this admin tedious and boring – it is hugely time consuming.

And all that time could really be put to better use – delivering more classes and activities perhaps, or just taking some time off. You know, the fun stuff

All this admin does need to be done – but it doesn’t need to be done by you.

Yes, you could hire someone or some people to do it for you – but that can be a bit of a stretch for many children’s activities providers. 

Instead, it’s much better to use technology to do it for you.

Not only can tech do the same job as a person for a lower cost, but it works 24/7 without complaining, and it gets it right every time.

I know it isn’t sexy or fun, but systems will transform your life for the better.

Imagine taking bookings at 2am while you sleep.

Or following up with potential customers while on holiday – whilst sliding down a waterslide.

Or submitting your VAT return or Payroll at the click of a button.

And at the same time, giving your prospects and customers a better and more consistent experience.

In this article I’m going to give you a practical guide on the key systems you need to embrace in order to foster growth and sustainability in your business.

First Things First: What Are Systems?

Think of systems as the silent engines of your business, working tirelessly behind the scenes. 

For the purposes of this article, I’m talking about digital tools that you can implement in your business to perform the tasks that you normally do.

By implementing these digital systems, you are systemising your business – which, as Michael Gerber taught us in his legendary book ‘The E-Myth’, is the key to growth.

Benefits of Systems

By implementing robust systems, your business can enjoy:

  • Streamlined Operations: Automated systems eliminate the need for manual entries, reducing errors and administrative overhead.

  • Enhanced Customer Experience: Parents appreciate the convenience of easy online interactions, from booking sessions to receiving automated confirmations and reminders.

  • Improved Scalability: With systems handling day-to-day tasks, you can more easily scale up operations, adding more classes or expanding to new locations without a corresponding increase in stress or staff.

Key Systems to Implement, and Why

  1. Communication Systems

Your prospects and customers need to be able to contact you easily – it makes your customers happy and allows you to engage with them. Which leads to more sales.

In today’s world, parents have their own preferences when it comes to how they communicate, so it’s important that you offer multiple communication channels — email, phone, text, WhatsApp, Messenger — to ensure that they will get in touch when they have a question. 

Tip: We’ve found that adding a WhatsApp chat option to our website (with WhatsApp for Business) has increased the number of enquiries from our website and helped us to engage with prospects quickly and efficiently.

  1. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System

A CRM system does more than store contact information. It automates the entire customer lifecycle from lead capture and communication to conversion and feedback collection. 

In a CRM system, you can create landing pages and forms to offer lead magnets and collect prospect details. You can then create a campaign which sends emails and text messages to automatically follow up with those prospects, deliver value, and build a relationship. Once they have become a customer, you can send feedback surveys to help you to improve customer retention.

Check out these CRM systems as a starting point

  1. Booking and Payment Systems

Without a booking system, the admin burden on activity providers is intense. Not just that, but the booking process for customers is drawn out and frustrating – and unprofessional. 

A booking system will automate critical tasks such as taking the bookings and payments, creating attendance registers, sending follow up emails – significantly reducing your administrative burden.

There are lots of booking systems out there for you to choose from, with different strengths and weaknesses, and you can now get booking systems that have been specifically designed for children’s activity providers, which makes a big difference to the functionality they offer.

I suggest you book a demo with a few to see which one best fits your business needs. Our system, Book That In, is a great option for most activity providers – both in terms of functionality and price – but others to consider include Franscape, Class 4 Kids or ClassBiz. 

  1. Accounting and Bookkeeping Systems

When my parents ran their own business back in the ‘90s, they kept a physical record of all their receipts and business expenses and did their bookkeeping in a massive paper ledger. I helped them to move their accounts over to Excel, which was genuinely transformative for them back then – but using Excel for your accounts now is just as archaic as paper ledgers were back then.

Modern-day accounting packages like Xero, Freeagent or Quickbooks do so much for you, for about £20 per month. Your bank transactions are imported automatically through Open Banking; your receipts and bills can be automatically created and stored by uploading photos to Hubdoc (free with Xero) or Dext; and they can process your VAT returns and payroll at the click of a button. They save SO much time and ensure accuracy and compliance at the same time.

Add to that the reporting they give you to help you understand the performance of your business, and – truly – signing up for one of these solutions should be a no-brainer. You can even get FreeAgent for free if you have a Natwest Business Bank Account.

Integrating All This Technology

The real trick to automating your business processes comes in when you make all these different systems talk to each other.

Tools like Zapier or Make.com connect your different systems to create a seamless operational flow. 

As a simple example, I recently helped one of our clients set up an automation in Make which sends a bespoke ‘Welcome’ email to her customers after they book, telling them what to expect from her classes, what to bring etc. – but it filters out existing customers, so it only goes to new customers. She was sending these emails manually previously – now it all happens automatically.

Another, more complex example is below. I’m just trying to open up your mind to what is possible here – because this really is a game-changer for so many businesses: 

Trigger: You take a booking and payment via your booking system, which adds the booking to your register and emails joining instruction to the customer.

  • Zapier adds the customer’s details to your CRM, so you can send marketing emails later.
  • Zapier creates an invoice for the booking on your Accounting, logs the payment and sends an invoice to your customer.
  • Zapier creates a post on your social media, welcoming your new customer and encouraging others to join the same class.
  • Zapier then triggers your CRM to send a follow up email to your customer with a link to the post, asking them to share it with their friends.

 

The key here is that tools like Zapier and Make enable you to do things like this and much, much more – while you’re sleeping.

One Step at a Time

Systematising your children’s activity business can transform chaotic operations into a model of efficiency, enabling significant growth and improved customer experiences. 

But getting all these systems set up can take time. 

I recommend you start with just one thing: determine a particular pain point in your business – a repetitive task that sucks up a lot of your time – and start there. Find a system that will do that task for you, implement it, and then move onto the next one. 

In this way, you can progressively build a comprehensive digital ecosystem for your business. 

The setup effort will pay dividends by freeing up time, reducing stress, and allowing you to focus on expanding your business and enhancing your service offerings. Remember, the most crucial step is to start — once your systems are in place, they will revolutionise how you operate, letting you focus on what truly matters: creating memorable experiences for the children you serve.

About the Author

Tim Freed is the Co-Founder of both Toddle About and Book That In.

He founded the Toddle About Magazine in 2010, which is now a thriving franchise business, and went on to launch Book That In in 2017 with his business partner, Alec Wadey, which is now one of the fastest growing online booking systems for activity providers in the UK.

Book a demo of Book That In at bookthatin.online/demo 

Advertise your business for free on the Toddle About website at toddle.fun/free-listing

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.