Workingmums.co.uk talks to Kim van Dongen, franchisor of answering service eDivert about how she set up the business and what it offers franchisees.
Kim van Dongen’s franchise business offers a comprehensive answering service for modern businesses – not just telephone calls, but also live chat and email.
She started eDivert after using a similar telephone answering service before and because she wanted a business that would fit around her family life. At the time – 2014 – she was a single mum. Her background was in banking and business. She had previously run a home care business, but says her heart was in the business to business sector.
Kim researched eDivert before starting up the business and found many similar services were quite specialist, only offering telephone answering. Her research showed businesses often needed more. In addition to live chat and email answering eDivert also covers both incoming and outgoing customer calls.
“We provide a fully tailored package to businesses,” says Kim. “Once we understand how a business works and what they want to communicate we can use that knowledge to help provide a more comprehensive service rather than them having to use three or four different suppliers. Nowadays customers expect businesses to offer a range of communication channels. They expect to be able to go on social media and get on live chat to find out information about different products. Once we have an understanding of the business and the type of questions they get it makes sense for us to cover these different channels.”
From freelancers to franchisees
Kim started the business in an office in Maidenhead with two members of staff. Two years later she realised she could make the business more profitable by reducing office overheads and converting it into a homeworking business for those who wanted to work flexibly. She started with freelancers and then built a freelance network before deciding that the franchise model suited her business better and would promote a greater sense of commitment to the brand. The franchising process meant agreeing standards, offering the same training to all franchisees and building a network where everyone could rely on each other and tap into each other’s resources and skills.
It took Kim around six months to put the franchise together, supported by a bank loan. She now has four franchisees, all mums, based in Wigan, Liverpool, Kent and the Midlands – three came through workingmums.co.uk and the other was a freelancer. All have worked in an office environment and have experience of answering phones. Two more, both men in their 50s, are in the pipeline.
Head Office – with Kim, her husband and two employees – is now based in Cirencester. Training is provided online and franchisees can do it in their own time. Kim provides a training manual which includes videos and quizzes which aim to build up their knowledge.
Prospective franchisees are sent eDivert’s prospectus and are introduced to franchisees who can talk about their experience. They are offered the chance to come to discovery mornings to meet members of the team. If they want to go to the next level they are given access to documentation including information about the kind of packages eDivert offer clients.
The franchise offers ongoing support, including via a Facebook and WhatsApp group, and material necessary to set up and market the business. Franchisees get together via video conference every Monday and can discuss any issues that have come up in the week. The sessions often involve additional training.
Kim says franchisees need to devote at least 15-20 hours to the business per week, but she says it is flexible enough to allow for time off over the summer holidays. Franchisees can also cover for each other where necessary. Kim says she receives up to 10 inquiries a week.
Built on variety
EDivert offers three different franchisee packages – a basic business in a box package at £4K; a £9K accelerator package which includes one year’s membership of a business networking, a personalised marketing system with access to 1,000 business contacts in industries that use eDivert services; and an elite £12K package with access to 2,000 strong business contacts, a personalised website and monthly business mentoring for a year.
Kim says franchisees can choose whether they do the answering themselves or outsource it to others. She adds: “We are keen to have a mix of franchisees and to offer different models. The business is built on variety. It gives people a fascinating insight into different sectors and companies.”