Holiday nanny

Nicky Grant set up Holiday Nanny after her family needed to get away from it all, but take a babysitter with them. Travel companies and travellers have been quick to show an interest and now she is expanding the business.

Nicky Grant’s family needed a holiday. Her second son was only three months only and her husband had just finished a long period of hard work. They figured that going on holiday would not be as much of a rest as they needed with two small children.

“The only way we figured we could have a real break was if we took someone with us who could babysit,” says Nicky. They didn’t want to rely on the babysitters abroad as they were not sure of how well they had been vetted so they looked into the possibility of taking someone with them.

They applied on a general nannying website and had to wade through hundreds of cvs and had to check them all out themselves. It took ages, but in the end they got someone good. “It was a huge process and I thought what if there was an agency which could do the work for you and send you 10 suitable candidates and do all the checks,” says Nicky. Nearly four years later she is heading her own Holiday Nanny business and has already won awards for her work.

Nicky had worked as a lawyer at Goldman Sachs for around 12 years before having children, but had decided not to return to the banking industry because of the long hours. However, she felt ready to take on another challenge.

She started researching her business proposal and was keen to get the proper insurance and ensure that she could offer a well considered product.

She had a friend who was a graphic designer who helped her set up a website and worked with a law firm to put all the paperwork together. She was clear that she was not setting up a general nanny agency so standard paperwork did not apply. Most of her assignments would be done abroad.

She sent out emails to friends with children asking for their feedback and what they would look for in a bespoke holiday nanny service. She got useful comments, particularly about what different families look for. Some parents had children with medical needs, for instance, so it was clear her nannies would all need first aid training.

She put together a group of nannies by advertising in childcare publications and she ran checks on them. “I based who I chose on whether I would want to take them on holiday with me. I knew what had worked for me and that personality was a big thing since you have to live with that person for a few weeks. It was not just about their qualifications. What I was looking for was very specific – they had to be reliable, flexible and mature enough to know when to step back and give the family space. Flexibility is vital as when you go on holiday you don’t know what to expect. You might be in a country you have never been to before. You don’t want someone who is too rigid in what they will do,” says Nicky.

She decided on a fee which she thought was competitive and which she would be happy paying. The current fee is £465 a week or £875 for a fortnight, which includes 45 hours of childcare a week plus 14 hours of babysitting spread over four nights. Families pay additionally for flights, food and accommodation for their nanny. Holiday Nanny does not charge a registration or ‘finding’ fee, but covers travel insurance.

The business was started in May 2007 and by August it was operational. Nicky took her first bookings in September, just past the peak summer booking time. She says this gave her several months to get ready for the following summer and sort out how many nannies she might need and other issues.

She sent out a press release and almost immediately luxury travel companies got in touch to ask if she could be their childcare supplier and could have reciprocal links with them. This bumped her up the Internet search engines and within six months her company was the first to come up on a search for holiday childcare. “Having those links was great as it gave us credibility,” she says. “I had targeted the higher end childcare press, but had not thought that the travel industry itself would be interested. However, other nanny companies offered temporary nannies, but none specialised in holiday nannies. We filled a niche.”

Most of the holidays she covers are in villas or chalets. This is because they are the most cost effective to have a nanny on, she says, since you don’t need to book another hotel room.

Since 2007, she has sent nannies all over the world and some families have moved abroad in this time and spread the word about her service – she sees international work as a route for expansion in the future and is looking at where to pitch advertising. She has also recently taken on an assistant who works part time in her home-based office in Buckinghamshire. This allows her to go on holiday herself. As the holidays, particularly the summer, are her busiest time, she has to work carefully around her own children, now aged six and nearly four. This can mean getting up early and doing a lot of evening work. “It does lend itself to being flexible, though, which was the one of the main attractions of the business,” she says, adding that she has a good support network of other mums.

In 2008 her early success was confirmed when Holiday Nanny won BT’s Essence of Entrepreneur Award, with judges including Peter Jones from BBC’s Dragons Den.

New markets are opening up besides the international one. Recently, for instance, she has found that a growing number of divorced families are using the service as they are going on holiday with the children on their own for the first time. She has also targeted charity auctions for Holiday Nanny vouchers and is now offering Mother’s Day gift vouchers using Paypal. “For a new mum, it’s the perfect Mother’s Day present,” she says. “One mum told me that it was the first time in eight years she had had a lie-in.”

She says she was worried about the impact of the recession, but it has not had too much of an impact. “People may be cutting down the number of weeks they go away, but when they do go away they are more keen than ever to have a total break, which means having childcare in place,” she says. “I think really that if we can grow the business in the current economic climate then that stands us in good stead for the future.”

The whole business has been a steep learning curve, she adds. “I do miss the camaraderie of working in a team as there is no-one to ask for their advice when you work on your own, but I don’t miss the hours and what goes with it,” she says. “Plus there’s quite a buzz working for yourself thinking I have done this myself and seeing it all grow.”

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