Swimming to success

Kate Evans made a dramatic switch of career just over three years ago. Having been a registrar in emergency medicine she decided to take on a franchise running swimming classes for babies. Her move has just won her the franchisee of the year award from Encouraging Women into Franchising.
Mum-of-two Kate was nominated for the award by the head office of her franchise Water Babies. Another Water Babies  franchisee was a finalist for new franchisee of the year - a good result for the franchise which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this summer.
Kate says the award was “a total surprise”. She had been working in emergency medicine for 10 years when she decided to change her life. She says the medical job came with a lot of anti-social and long hours, but she had gone part time after having her daughter Polly. However, she was one year off becoming a consultant which would have meant studying for and sitting a lot of exams. Her children were two and a half and one at the time. “It was not very child-friendly,” she says.
She handed in her notice before she went back from her maternity leave after having Sam, her youngest.
“As soon as I had Polly my focus changed. It caught me by surprise,” she says. “I was very career oriented, but my priorities changed totally. I really enjoyed work when I went back, but when I had Sam I looked at what I ultimately wanted. My work meant night shifts, working Christmas Days and the like. I started looking at alternatives. When I was on maternity leave with Polly I had thought about being a Water Babies instructor. With Sam, I thought about being a franchisee and said it would be amazing if the Plymouth, Torbay and Cornwall territory where I lived was up for grabs. I asked about Water Babies franchise programme and the woman who had been running the local Water Babies was selling it off.”
Kate bought the franchise for £127,000, complete with three instructors and a large list of regular clients.  She says a new franchise where the franchisor has to build up the business costs £25,000.

Learning curve
Immediately after taking on the franchise which runs swimming classes for children aged 0-4 [Kate's youngest client was just seven days old when they started], Kate advertised for and employed a full-time administrator and has since taken on three more instructors. All of this was part of the business plan she developed with head office. “They got me to present pessimistic, realistic and optimistic growth plans,” she says. “There was a lot of support.”
The reason for hiring the full-time administrator was because Kate knew she was taking on the franchise to get a good work life balance. She didn't want the children in full-time childcare and wanted to be able to be around for holidays. At the beginning she says everyone “mucked in together” and she admits it was a steep learning curve. She even taught a Saturday swimming session for a while. Now she can step back a bit from the day to day running of the business and focus more on business strategy.
“I've had the Easter holidays off with the children,” she says. “That's what I wanted.”
She plans to grow the business over the next year, increasing the teaching hours, the number of babies taught and the number of venues she uses. However, she says her focus is her family so she is happy not to grow it too fast.
She has also been able to use her medical expertise. She played a big role in writing a pediatric first aid course for Water Babies and has used her medical knowledge to draw up forms for Water Babies staff to fill in about any medical or special needs problems.
She doesn't miss her medical days, though. “I have no desire to go back,” she says. “I wouldn't change having been a doctor, but this is a new phase for me. Swimming can be enormously beneficial to children, particularly for children with special needs. It's a real equaliser for parents and children and it's a real bonding experience.”

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