Swimming school franchisee Claire White was working when the workingmums.co.uk Top Franchise Awards ceremony took place and wasn’t optimistic about winning. She was up against 24 other franchisees for the Franchisee of the Year Award in a public vote. Over 3,000 people voted.
When she got out of the pool, she checked her phone and found lots of messages congratulating her on winning. She sent out an email thanking people for voting for her. Several responded, saying her win was thoroughly deserved and that their children loved coming to her classes.
Claire says her success is down in large part to the family support she has had. Her dad, who died 18 months ago, supported her from the beginning and delivered leaflets for her. Her mum and in-laws have helped with childcare.
Her children are also firmly behind her. “When I won the award, my youngest went into school and said that mummy had won an award for being the best,” she says.
Claire’s background is in teaching. She did a degree in sport and exercise science and then a PGCE before teaching PE at secondary level for 13 years. When she left in 2012 she was a head of year.
Her children are aged six and 10 and she worked full time until her son Freddie was born and continued to work part time when her daughter Abbie was born. However, she gradually became disillusioned with the education system.
Claire had swum competitively when she was younger and had been swimming with her children since they were babies – in fact her son wants to be a poolside assistant when he is older.
She thought teaching swimming could be a way out of her job and would mean she could continue to teach, but in a different environment. It was a scary decision to quit the security of her teaching job, but Claire says she had had enough. “It was time to make a change,” she states.
Her husband ran his own marketing business and helped her a lot initially. She thought about setting up her own business, but felt it was too daunting to go it alone. She felt a franchise structure would give her the support she needed.
Although she didn’t hand in her notice until 2012, she began researching the terrain several months before. In fact she first made contact with Seriously Fun Swimming a year earlier, but felt Abbie was too young at the time for her to think about starting something new.
When she was ready she came back to Seriously Fun. She had researched other franchises, but she liked the wide age range Seriously Fun covered – children from four months to 12 years, the fact that it was not focused solely on either babies or young children, the high standards it expected and the support offered to franchisees.
The lessons seemed very organised with a set, consistent structure so that the children – and their parents – knew what to expect and when.
Claire also liked the fact that it was a family-run business as well as the franchisors’ caring attitude and love of swimming – and fun.
She became a franchisee before she left her teaching job, doing training on the business side of things at head office. She was already a qualified swimming teacher, but needed to get her baby and pre-school qualifications.
She also shadowed some baby and preschool classes and taught some lessons at head office before launching her first intensive one-week half term course in May 2012 which then fed into term-time lessons.
One of the main challenges she faced initially was getting her head around the finances, but her husband and head office helped her out.
She advertised through leafletting schools, at local baby shows and latterly on social media. For the first three years she had her car covered in Seriously Fun starfish wrap. “The kids loved it. They called it my bubble car,” says Claire.
The fact that Seriously Fun was an established franchise helped her to find venues for classes and she built the business gradually, mainly through word of mouth.
She now employs nine self-employed teachers. In fact she says finding reliable teachers who want to be trained in the Seriously Fun way is one of the hardest things about her job.
Her first teacher was in her swimming club and lived nearby. Indeed Claire had babysat for her when she was younger.
She has a strong team now, but says it took a while to build. Claire continues to teach as well as overseeing the other teachers and ensuring children are making progress.
She is also the first port of call for parents. She has introduced more levels for children so they can progress up the ranks. Some of the 360 children her business now teaches have been with her since the beginning, moving from beginners to more competent swimmers. “It’s great to see their development,” says Claire.
Although her first year was about covering her costs, the business now has an annual turnover of around £175,000 with profits of £60,000 and Claire earns more than she did as a part-time teacher.
She admits she works more hours, including at the weekends, but says she enjoys it more as she is doing it for herself. Moreover, she can flex her day and take her children to school every morning and pick them up twice a week.
In the holidays she does short courses [and her children can come with her] and has four weeks off in the summer and a month off at Christmas.
Her next target is to expand. She wants to get 500 children enrolled and take on more pools and teachers.
Claire says she is thoroughly enjoying building the business. It gives her flexibility, independence and means she can keep teaching. “I love going to the pool and interacting with the children there. I cannot see myself stopping teaching,” she says.