Remarkable women...remarkable ideas

FDS-Northern has extensive experience bringing family-friendly business concepts to market. Here, consultant Tony Urwin evaluates the franchise opportunities available to women seeking a flexible business opportunity

Few of us would step away from a flourishing career, yet that is exactly what many professional women must do to found a family. Having worked alongside a great number of talented and successful women, I have seen the anxiety that often accompanies the decision to have a child. Often long-deferred, the choice involves leaving what was often hard-won. No matter how short the break, the hesitation is natural. And this is just one half of the dilemma.

When a child reaches nursery age, returning mothers are faced with the challenge of finding a comfortable work/life balance. A lucky few have some control over their hours, yet most do not. Perhaps it is not surprising to discover that a growing number of working mothers are seeking (and building) family-friendly opportunities for themselves through franchising.

FDS-Northern has extensive experience bringing family-friendly business concepts to market. These are always rewarding projects, as it means helping company founders realise the full potential of their ideas, and helping many, many more simply realise their full potential.

In early 2006, I was approached by Jo Stone and Tracy Townend, the founders of Puddle Ducks ( The company offered highly innovative swimming programmes for babies and young children, and was spreading like wildfire across Cheshire. The pair were ready to take on the whole of the British Isles, and FDS-Northern was ready to help them.

Jo and Tracy met while on leave from corporate careers, just as both were trying to decide whether to return to an old job or to start a new business. They shared a desire to succeed, but also a fear of losing themselves in their jobs. Their joint solution was Puddle Ducks, an exciting business venture that was structured in such a way as to leave its operators ample family time.

The advantage of the young company's business model was not lost on its customers. Jo and Tracy found themselves besieged by mothers looking to become qualified instructors. Deciding to meet the demand, Puddle Ducks established a teacher-training course, and began placing qualified instructors throughout the county. Courses, attendance and, naturally, revenues increased exponentially. Jo and Tracy realised that they were sitting on a goldmine. Puddle Ducks had both a unique service offering and a family-friendly business model - the company was a natural for franchising.

Britain is teeming with both potential customers and potential franchisees for the company - often in the same person. We worked with Puddle Ducks to systematise the business and help it become the organised, sustainable and rapidly-expanding franchise network it is today. By sharing the opportunity they created with other professional women in their situation, Jo and Tracy today enjoy tremendous professional success - while still preserving their valued family time. Franchising makes it possible.

After the birth of her children, Julie Ryder found a comfortable work/life balance by volunteering for a charity that worked for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. As her children grew, however, so did her enthusiasm for her work. Julie launched an innovative programme of baby signing courses called TalkFirst ( to bring the benefits of signing to hearing babies and parents. Signing allows babies to communicate with their parents at a very early age with the added advantage of accelerating the advent of speech. One can imagine the enormous latent demand for such a service.

TalkFirst approached me in the fall of 2005 to explore the possibility of franchising. With a unique service offering and a family-friendly business model, there was no doubt that TalkFirst was a natural. We helped Julie develop the documentation and training that she needed to impart her business systems to others, and outlined the support needed to make the system work. With two successful locations up and running and national coverage in the works, TalkFirst is poised to bring about a revolution in the lives of millions of babies and their parents.

There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of highly qualified professional women across Great Britain who have taken a break from their careers to start a family, or take care of their children. How many would love to continue working if only it were possible to work around their commitments? If the success of both Puddle Ducks and TalkFirst is any gauge, it appears to be many. I would suspect that such businesses could be praised for opening an untapped national resource, without exaggeration.

Jo, Tracy and Julie have a lot to teach us all. These innovators show us that a business need not consume our lives. It is possible to create or buy a business that fits with an already full life. They also teach us to realise the value of our ideas. They approached FDS-Northern because they realised that what worked for them could work for others.

The founders of Puddle Ducks and TalkFirst, and all of us at FDS-Northern have an important message for women looking for a better work/life balance: There are opportunities available for you! And if you've built just such an opportunity and haven't franchised it yet, what are you waiting for?