Taking the plunge into a more flexible way of working

Claire Murray talks to Workingmums.co.uk about how she is building up a business teaching children and babies to swim alongside her work as a senior housing manager.

Baby Swimming and smiling


Many people these days are building up their own businesses while doing another job on the side. Claire Murray is one of them. She works for a housing association, but has just become a licensee for Turtle Tots, a company which teaches babies and toddlers to swim.

A senior housing manager, she has worked for the London-based association since 2004 and went back full time after her first daughter was born five years ago before negotiating a compressed four-day week. The arrangement worked while she had just the one child, but in 2011 she had another and, although she was able to work nearer home most days rather than commuting to London, she wanted something that allowed her to see her children more than for bath and bedtime for most of the week. “With compressed hours I often have to leave before they are up and I only get home when they are going to bed,” she says.

While she was on maternity leave she began browsing the web, looking for ideas. She was quite keen to start her own business, but she didn’t know what kind of business to set up. “I had worked in housing for most of my life, working my way up from the bottom and getting professional qualifications. Trying to find a senior job in housing which allows for family life was difficult,” she says.

She looked at the franchises section of the Workingmums.co.uk site. She had always loved being with children and had considered primary school teaching before she got into housing. She knew that she wanted to have a passion for whatever she did.

Swimming had been a hobby since she was little and she had been swimming with her baby daughter while on maternity leave. She had also been struggling to find a good quality lesson at a warm pool in her area. She looked at the swimming franchises and could see a gap in the market.

Family ethos

Claire liked Turtle Tots as it was not as prescriptive about how the licence should be run as some of the others and was set up in 2011 by two mums, Caroline Sparks and Gaby Lixton. “From the first phone call with Caroline I felt instantly relaxed. I liked the whole ethos around Turtle Tots. It is very family-oriented whereas other franchises are more corporate,” says Claire, who is based in South Hampshire. She visited other licensees and spoke to Caroline and Gaby in some depth about the pros and cons of taking up a licence. “It was a big jump for me to go from the financial security that I had. It was very scary and I was worried whether it would work or not, but on the other hand it would give me more time with my daughters,” says Claire. “Caroline and Gaby are very supportive, open and not at all  pushy as it took me over a year to make the decision.”

During that year she watched classes and gathered information on things like the pros and cons of a franchisee versus licensee arrangement. Once she had signed up and paid the £9,950 license fee, she was given a territory and went on to buy another in her area after another licensee relinquished it. She currently covers Petersfield and Chichester. Claire says many licensees get a loan from the bank and if it really doesn’t work out they can sell their license to someone else.

She did her intensive Turtle Tots swimming and business training and completed her swimming teaching qualification over the year. Turtle Tots teachers must be fully trained and have a full safeguarding qualification.

Claire then started leafletting preschools, nurseries and GP surgeries. She also uses social media to spread the word, but says word of mouth has been the most effective way of getting more clients. The existing licence already had established clients and pool bookings, but she has had to approach other pools to book further lessons.

She says it helps that Turtle Tots offers a range of different classes aimed not just at children, but also at their parents, for instance, pre- and post-natal workouts. Classes are always held in warm pools. “We build up water confidence. Many parents are afraid of the water. We talk to them about this. One lady was petrified of the water and has just finished her first term. She is coming on in leaps and bounds and her baby loves it,” says Claire.

Claire has been able to run the business alongside her job rather than going in cold turkey. She doesn’t work at the housing association on Mondays so does her administrative work then and in the evenings while she gives her classes at the weekends, usually for no more than three hours a day. “It’s really rewarding and fits with childcare and it’s not a big interruption to the weekend ” says Claire.

She adds that the recession does not seem to have affected her number of clients, possibly because swimming is considered such a life-saving skill.

She hopes eventually to work full time on Turtle Tots and says her customer base is building quickly. “It doesn’t feel like work at all,” she says.

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