Abigail Curtis has a double life. Three days a week she is a process engineer at 3M and the rest of the time she runs her own languages business from home as a franchisee of Lingotot.
She has done both jobs since just after her second child was born five years ago and she went down from full-time working to three days a week at 3M. She has built the Lingotot business over the intervening years and is looking to expand. Her business acumen has seen her win this year’s Workingmums.co.uk Franchisee of the Year Award. The Award was voted on by members of the public and drew 4,500 votes.
Abigail started her business while she was on maternity leave with her second child. She wanted her children, now aged five and eight, to learn a second language. Her grandfather was French, but no-one spoke French to her when she was growing up. She did a GCSE in French, but never took it further, which is something she regrets. “I was keen for my children to start to learn a language from a young age so they could get used to hearing and speaking it,” she says.
She took the kids to Lingotot classes in Durham, 30 minutes drive from her home. “I was totally amazed at how quickly they picked up the language. Even my one year old could follow things in French like instructions to touch their head,” she says.
Starting a business
Just before she was due back from maternity leave Lingotot advertised for a franchisee covering Teesside. Abigail went along and signed up. She does admit that she had not anticipated the volume of work starting a business would entail alongside her other job and looking after two small children, but it has levelled off a bit now because her children are both at school and she has more time during the day. “I used to work every evening before because I didn’t want to give up my time during the day with my son since the whole point of going part time was to work round family life,” she says.
Abigail has never taught herself so hiring the right tutors has been crucial. She now employs four tutors teaching French and Spanish while she takes care of all the administration, marketing and development of the business. She says it means she never sees the pleasure the kids get out of learning, but she does get feedback from the tutors. A lot of her role involves going out to schools and nurseries as well as community groups and spreading the word about Lingotot. She says word of mouth is the best way of getting new recruits, given it can be hard to get past school receptionists to promote the advantages of language classes. She offers to cover teachers’ preparation time so they get both cover from PPA and the children get to learn a language. “I always ask any school we are teaching in if they would be happy to recommend us as word of mouth is the best form of marketing,” says Abigail. She also offers free assemblies and markets the business at local head teachers meetings and on Facebook.
She had good initial support from Lingotot Head Office, including weekly discussions and they are always on hand if there is an emergency.
Abigail says there are crossovers between her two jobs. She runs projects at 3M and so is aware of how a business is run. The financial training she has received at 3M has helped with Lingotot and she is also used to making presentations in her 3M role. On the other hand, running Lingotot has got better at making decisions and trusting them. “It has helped me develop my confidence,” she says. Another advantage of doing an employed and self employed job is that she has the security of the employed job to fall back on alongside the freedom of the self employed one.
For the future she is looking to expand in the Middlesborough area and to hire another tutor. “I think children need to develop a love of languages early when they are more open to it. Leaving it till 11 or 12 makes it harder. Every other country seems to speak English. We are very lazy,” she says.
For the Franchisee of the Year Awards she went on a marketing drive, asking all her Lingotot parents and 3M colleagues to vote for her and posting it on Facebook. She is very excited that all her hard work has been recognised.