Work life balance through a family friendly franchise


Emma Hayward has changed her life completely in the last four years, moving from a high-stress marketing role to running her own business teaching children dance as a franchisee for diddi dance, which recently won the Family Friendly Award at its Top Franchise Awards.

Just over four years ago, Emma was a marketing manager of a major credit card company, often starting work at 7.30am and not leaving until 6pm. She would also regularly work from home in the evening.

She had been at the company for 12 years in various different roles, having done a fast-track management internship early in her career with the company.  After having her son seven years ago, she went back on a four-day week, but found that on her day off she was waiting for him to nap so she could jump on a conference call or check in with work.

When she was on her second maternity leave two years later, she did some thinking. She wanted to go back to work, but knew her work was not family friendly, that she was spending a lot of money on childcare and that it was all a bit too much. She felt that she needed more of a work/life balance with her young family. She tried to reduce to a three-day week, but was not allowed to unless she opted to take a more junior role. However, there were some redundancies on offer so she applied and was accepted.  

She didn’t know what she wanted to do, though. She thought about starting her own business. She had taken her older son to diddi dance classes and he had loved them, but she knew there was already a person covering her area. Then she moved to the outskirts of Shropshire – to an area with no diddi dance representative. Things fell into place and she rang head office to find out if she needed professional dance experience to be a franchisee. She didn’t as diddi dance has its own unique accredited training programme. She went to an open day in London. She knew then and there she wanted to be a franchisee. Halfway home, the franchisor rang to offer her the franchise in her area.

Emma then completed the five-day training programme which was scheduled around diddi dance’s AGM. This is done where possible to avoid franchisees having to make two separate trips to London. She was also given plenty of advance notice so she could arrange childcare.

Support to grow

Emma launched her business on 5th March 2012 with six classes a week and faced particular challenges since she lives in a rural area. She says head office was very helpful with logistics and marketing.

Since then she has taken on two more franchise areas in Central Cheshire and Central Warrington. She now has 10 teachers working for her on a self employed basis, covering 26 classes. A further four are opening in September. Two of the teachers are also helping with administrative work.

Emma says the support from head office has been very helpful. “Anne Marie deals with all the major things, such as policy and best practice. That takes a lot of pressure off. She signs off the business plans too,” she states. “Running a business is pretty hectic anyway, but having to do all that from scratch would be a lot more work. Head office allows us to be independent, but provides the support we might need when we need it, including in the evenings.”

Head office also provides the structure – the curriculum, guidance on the age range they cover, the resources and extra training, plus there is a Facebook platform for franchisees to discuss any issues that crop up and advise each other.

Switching off

Although some franchisees bring their children to classes occasionally, Emma prefers not to mix work and family life.

She says hiring the right teachers has been a challenge, but the biggest learning curve for her has been a personal one. Since she was used to a job with lots of deadlines, she finds it difficult to switch off from work. “I wish I could turn my head off and tell it that not everything is urgent!” she says.

Although she can flex her day now, take her children to school and take most of the summer off, she has had to teach herself to relax. The advent of social media has also meant she can save time by cutting down on leafletting and directly targeting parents with information about classes.

Emma has also managed to earn almost the same as she did in her marketing job. She hopes to hit parity with her leaving salary in the next year. “Every year my earnings have increased so far,” she says. “And I get to do that through working for my own flexible business.”

Would she go back to her old job? “I would never do what I did before now,” she says. “I’ve already given notice to renew the franchise early. If I was still doing my old job, my children would be in all the school clubs all the time. They wouldn’t get to play in the garden or go to their friends’ houses. I would never go back to that now.”

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