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Michelle Collins was facing redundancy from her job as Head of HR in the Probation Service working for Cheshire and Manchester areas when she came across Pink Spaghetti, an award-winning franchise specialising in PA support to businesses.
She was working long hours and had also been leading a big fundraising campaign for a child with neuroblastoma. That meant spending three to four hours a night on social media.
A mum she had met had sent her a link to the Pink Spaghetti website. Michelle looked at the site and thought “this is me”. “As I clicked through every part, I thought I could do that,” she says. She is very organised, she had organised staff conferences and a number of things for the fundraising campaign and she knows how to use social media. “I ticked every box,” she says.
She rang one of the franchisors, Caroline Gowing, and put in an application form for the franchise in Chester and North Wales. She did some training in September 2014, but her redundancy was delayed and then her father developed a terminal illness. Michelle was working from home and flexing her work to look after her dad.
The date she had scheduled to launch her business came and went. The Pink Spaghetti franchisors were very supportive. “My training was getting further and further in the past, but they said they were not going anywhere. It was such a relief at the time,” says Michelle.
When her dad later went into a hospice, she would go there with her iPad and research opportunities. She told her dad about her plans. When her first jobs came in he insisted she do them. Her dad died in January 2015. It was not until February that Michelle could really get going on her business in earnest.
Since then she has added a lot of clients and increased the range of services she offers, from helping with social media and writing marketing plans to setting up databases.
She has also had a lot of help from Pink Spaghetti, which won the Workingmums.co.uk Supportive Franchisor Award, to prepare her for networking, including a session with a public speaking expert. “Everything you need for networking is thought through – business cards, professional head shots, role playing situations and so on. When I did get out there for the first time I realised I was more organised than most other people there,” says Michelle.
She adds that she can get asked to do almost anything, but that Pink Spaghetti offers a lot of support. Franchisees are on a closed Facebook group and can ask any other franchisee or head office if they have tackled a similar request. Michelle described Caroline as a “Ninja” because she can help with almost anything. “It feels like she is someone who can answer everything. She just breaks it down for you and head office keeps up to date with the fast changes in technology. At our conference this year, for instance, we had a session on how to create professional-looking videos on a budget for use on social media,” says Michelle.
Franchisees have Zoom video calls with head office every two months and more often when they are just starting. Head office provides suggested tweets and posts on Facebook which they can choose to use or not. They also work with franchisees on their business plans so they can move on to the next stage of their development.
Michelle works from home and has two other mums working for her a few hours a week. She works flexibly, doing the school run and working in the evenings. Her children, aged five and eight, go to after school clubs two days a week. Michelle says it is important to have a clear home/work divide so she has an office in her home. “It doesn’t feel like homeworking and as I’ve been doing it for longer I now class myself as working at the office,” she says.
She adds that her previous earnings were in the higher tax bracket category and that last month, if previous childcare costs and other expenses were taken into account, she took home almost the same as she did in her probation job.
“Someone offered me a full-time HR job recently,” she says. “They said ‘you’ve had your time out’. But I would never go back to employment now.”