“It’s one of the best things I’ve done”

Chandra Gardner talks to workingmums.co.uk about what motivated her to become a SmartPA franchisee and why she hasn’t looked back since.


Chandra Gardner lost her job in hotel and event management at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when hospitality was a precarious industry to be in. She was eight months pregnant at the time. It was October 2020. Her son was born in December and she started looking for jobs in 2021. But by the time her maternity leave was ending the kind of jobs she was doing before had not yet come back. She knew, in any event, that a job in a hotel involved long hours and she felt she couldn’t go back as she didn’t have the kind of time to give any more. She needed to reinvent herself work wise.

She thought about her transferable skills and what she liked doing – organising, managing and helping people get on in their businesses. She started looking at Personal and Executive Assistant (PA/EA) roles, which is how she came across the SmartPA franchise.

Chandra, from Bedford, had never thought about franchises before that, although she had considered setting up her own business. She had discounted that idea, however, because she didn’t think she had the right support network around her to earn her a guaranteed income. What SmartPA offered was the freedom and flexibility of self employment coupled with the support of head office and a tried and tested business model.

Taking the plunge

Chandra researched the franchise thoroughly and says SmartPA gave her access to other franchisees to find out more about what running the business was like first hand. She worked hard on the structure of her business with head office and on her business plan and got advice from other franchisees through their networking groups. SmartPA franchises start at £15K. Chandra had savings and redundancy money to plough into the business to ensure she had a contingency fund for at least three months while she built her clients and business. “Businesses are built on relationships and trust,” she says, “and that takes time. People buy people.” She also took out a loan which she has just paid off.

Within a week of setting up Chandra started supporting a Head Office Client. SmartPA Head Office also gives a franchisee’s client, worth up to £6,000 per year. The franchise fee also covers support and a eight-week accredited training programme and lifetime business support. Within the first month Chandra had 90 hours of contracted work. She put her son in nursery three mornings a week at first in order to focus on slowly building the business, but from new year 2022 she increased those hours to allow her to go to networking events.

One bonus in terms of work is that SmartPA franchisees can make referrals to others in the network of over 300 franchisees worldwide if, for example, they know that another franchisee has expertise in a particular area.

Benefits of the franchise route

Chandra has been running her SmartPA business for two years and now works 45 hours a week, but she is based at home so she has waved goodbye to her four-hour-a-day commute to London and back in her previous job. Working from home also means she can work around her family responsibilities, for instance, if her son is ill. In addition, she can work in the evenings when her son is asleep so she can spend more time with him during the day. “The flexibility has been amazing,” she says, adding that it more than makes up for the downsides of self employment, such as a lack of sick leave and paid holidays. That freedom means she and the family can take a long weekend in their caravan every six weeks. “If I was employed I would not be able to do that,” she says. “I can make up the hours later on. I feel I am more in control of my life and happier as a result.”

There have been some challenges along the way, for instance, clients who don’t pay their bills on time, something every business faces, and she does occasionally miss the commute into town and earns less than before, but Chandra says she saves on commuting. “It’s all relative,” she states philosophically.  She thinks the cost of living crisis will mean more businesses will outsource their PA/admin work at least in the short term as there are fewer overheads for a company than employing someone. She adds: “I would 100% recommend it. It’s one of the best things I’ve done. There are highs and lows as with any business, but overall I am very pleased I set it up.”

*SmartPA led a webinar on what they have to offer at Return to Work Week. Recording below. For more information on other franchise sessions on Holiday Fixer, Stagecoach and more videos, click here.

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