Unemployed? Invest in your future with a franchise

Unemployment, through redundancy or otherwise, is a daunting prospect – especially if you have a mortgage to pay and a family to feed. Louise Bruce talks to three entrepreneurs who took the initiative and invested in a franchise to successfully buy their way out of unemployment

Buying into a franchise can yield rich rewards. As unemployment in the UK reaches levels not seen since the early 1990’s, more and more people are looking into becoming their own bosses using a tried and tested business model.

The Banker

Tim Shutler, 53, has run his Merry Maids domestic cleaning franchise since 2008, when he was made redundant after 30 years in banking.

He says: “Although I was offered another job in the finance industry, I felt it was time for a change. It was my brother Kevin, who owns Merry Maids North Wiltshire, who suggested I think about buying the available Southampton West franchise.

“Before I made any decisions, I spent two days ‘shadowing’ Kevin to see what he did on a day-to-day basis and understand what it would take to run my own Merry Maids business. In that short time, I realised what a great business model it was and saw first-hand the support he received from the franchisor operationally and in the way of sales, marketing, PR, IT and much more.”

Tim excelled in bringing his own set of business skills to the table, including organisation and discipline. He adds: “Anything I didn’t know was amply covered in the two week training course I attended at the head office in Leicestershire. On the course, we undertook both classroom and on the job training, learning methods in recruiting, managing and training staff, pricing, payroll and other systems and the procedures necessary to run a successful Merry Maids business – I found it exceptionally useful.

“My business has continued to grow year on year; the ability to make key business decisions and drive the business forward is far more satisfying than working in a salaried position.” Tim believes that buying into a franchise is the right move for the right person. Now, five years on from investing in Merry Maids, Tim provides jobs for eight staff members and is looking to expand.

The HR Advisor

Five years ago, Amanda Perkins, 30, was a human resources advisor for the Meat and Livestock Commission and had just completed her master’s degree when she fell pregnant with her first child Niamh. Now, she is the owner of a successful Musical Minis franchise, which provides groups for toddlers to have fun with music. She comments: “At the time, the Government restructured the Commission and I found myself doing a 100 mile round trip to a new role, in a new office in Warwickshire.

“Shortly after Niamh was born, I began to contemplate my return to work and quickly realised that putting her in day care for up to 10 hours a day, three days a week, wasn’t what I wanted, so I applied for voluntary redundancy from my role.” Amanda started looking for more HR work closer to home, but was unsuccessful in her search and was reluctant to start at a job lower down the ladder.

Amanda continues: “I wasn’t actively looking to buy a franchised business but I’d been taking Niamh to a local Musical Minis class with some of my friends every week and we all absolutely loved it. Being a new mum, it was the one thing I really looked forward to each week and the classes became so popular we had to book early each week to be sure of getting a place. “One day I approached the owner to ask if I could help out at any of her classes; she told me the franchise was for sale as her own child was unwell and she was finding it hard to cope. I started training in January, in April 2010 I bought the business. When Amanda took over her business, it was running just four classes per week. Now, three years on, she operates 19 classes per week and two parties a month – Amanda even won the EWIF Young Franchisee of the Year award in 2010 in recognition of her success.

For Amanda, one of the main benefits was the support she received throughout. She adds: “For me, the benefits of buying a franchise were that I didn’t feel ‘alone’ in those early days. Being unemployed then buying a business are both scary things to go through, but with a franchise business I knew I had support from day one. “Not only did I receive full training on running the classes and the admin of the business, but my franchisor Karen Sherr, who has been running Musical Minis for 24 years, provided me with invaluable support in those early days and continues to do so today.”

Amanda, now a mother of three, believes that stepping out of your comfort zone is good for personal development and that utilising social media is key to running a successful franchise like Musical Minis.

She concludes: “I would definitely recommend buying a Musical Minis business to a friend; at times I have been earning as much as if I had been working in a part-time in an HR department. However, if I had one piece of advice for someone thinking of starting a franchised business like mine, I’d say remember it is a job not a hobby. You absolutely have to put in the hard work to build your business yourself; your franchisor will support you but they aren’t going to grow your business for you, that’s 100 per cent down to you.”

The Policeman

Before investing in a Wilkins Chimney Sweep franchise, John Parker had spent more than quarter-of-a-century in law enforcement. He took voluntary redundancy from his position as a Trading Standards Officer in 2011 and has never looked back.

John says: “I took voluntary redundancy because I was fed up with my life constantly being affected by cuts and pay freezes, and buying a franchise meant I was in control of my own life and knowing that my success or failure was down to me, not outside forces beyond my control.

“I was also aware that, although I had 26 years of law enforcement experience under my belt, I’d need to re-train immediately if I was to start a new career. I quickly realised that buying a franchise I’d be fully trained by experienced professionals, which was a big bonus.”

John, 49, had no experience of running a business and was acutely aware that he would need to learn all the skills necessary to develop his franchise into a success. He adds: “My redundancy package was too important to lose through inexperience; it was vital I hit the ground running and started earning as soon as possible. The training and support were two of the major attractions to me in choosing to buy a franchise business over starting my own from nothing.” John, who has two children, Michelle, 16, and Sam, 13, believes that investing in a franchise will only benefit those who are willing to take advice from their franchisor. He continues: “I was very conscious that Peter and Louise had spent a lot of time building up the Wilkins Chimney Sweep brand and that it was important I didn’ t try to change it; after all, why would you be attracted to a product only to try to change it? Luckily I have a really good relationship with them.

“I’d also caution prospective franchisees to talk to as many existing franchise owners as possible before making any decisions; anyone speaking to a Wilkins Chimney Sweep franchisee would quickly be told what first class support we receive from our franchisor. Do your homework and find franchisors as good as Peter and Louise Harris, or better still, become a Wilkins Chimney Sweep too!”