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Sarah Ryland didn’t want to miss out on time with her children while they were young, but needed to work so she has found a way around the problem – by becoming a franchisee for a travel company.
She says: “I remember my mum being around when I was young and I wanted the same for my children. I don’t feel guilty that I am not there.”
She had tried her hand at setting up her own business, but found it a struggle so she turned to franchising which offers ready-made businesses and, depending on the franchise, advice and support.
Sarah, from Essex, took maternity leave after her daughter was born six years ago and got pregnant on leave. She thought she couldn’t go back to her full-time job working as a PA for a rail company so she decided to set up her own virtual PA business from home.
She did that for four years and during that time she had her third child, who is nearly two.
However, although she and her husband, who is also self employed, were making enough money to cover bills, the family didn’t want to compromise on the extras like a holiday abroad.
Sarah tried to increase her client base, but didn’t have enough time to spend on things like marketing so she made an attempt to expand by collaborating with a marketing expert. However, she says it was like “flogging a dead horse”.
So she looked around for other homeworking options on Google. She already knew she wanted to be a franchisee. She had realised, running her own business, that she couldn’t do it all and wanted the kind of support and structure a franchise offered. She narrowed her search down to three different travel franchises and attended events hosted by two of them. The Travel Franchise stood out because it offered the most comprehensive support package.
Last year the franchise, which was set up 14 years ago, won the ‘Homeworking Agents of The Year’ award at the Travel2 Awards in Scotland.
It doesn’t require franchisees to have prior experience in the travel industry. Sarah went to Bournemouth for a training course and was given a laptop and her own website. She was taught how to use the booking and other systems and given a list of other training events which were optional. “You can do as much or as little as you want,” she says. “I can’t do everything as it would compromise the reason I signed up – to have a good work life balance.”
Sarah took out a loan to cover the £10K franchise fee and is paying it back bit by bit. She says, around a year since she started, she is on target to get 100% of her money back as she has done so well and hit so many targets.
Sarah says she is bringing in a bigger income than when she had her PA business and she gets discounts on holidays. “In those four years I was doing the virtual PA business, if we were lucky we would have some time off, but we would be stuck in England. This year we are going abroad four times due to the Travel Franchise,” she says.
Her work is very flexible which allows her to take her children to school. Her youngest is at home with her and has a three-hour nap during the day during which Sarah works. All her children go to bed by 6pm [and wake up at 6am] so she starts work again from then.
Her husband and her share the school holidays and her mum takes the children every Monday and her husband’s mum takes them on Fridays, freeing her up to do face to face meetings those days.
She has been impressed by the level of support offered by The Travel Franchise. There is an in-house marketing team and a guidebook on how to succeed. “Essentially you are given a step by step guide on how to make money and if you don’t want to do anything it is still your business so you don’t have to, for instance, networking and standing up in front of other people are not for me,” says Sarah.
A lot of her business comes from word of mouth and referrals. Head office also passes client requests it receives to franchisees and Sarah says the system used is very fair. She has also been impressed by the level of remote support provided. “They say they offer support seven days a week, but I was sceptical. However, I called one Sunday when I was a bit stressed and they must have spent three hours or so on the phone to me so the reality was better than I could have imagined.”
She was initially thinking she would return to employed work full time when her children were older, but now she says she thinks she has a business she can build and get the best of both worlds, plus it is a saleable asset if she wants to retire one day.
“I don’t think I’d go back now,” she says.