A franchising case study

What it's really like

My Water Babies journey began while on maternity leave with my son Jack in 2006. I had, with all the best intentions, taken him swimming to my local pool when he was 6 weeks old assuming that I would be able to pass on the confidence that I have. My dad used to be a swimming teacher and had taught me from a very early age, in fact I can't ever remember not being able to swim!



I was shocked and upset when I found myself gripping Jack's arms for dear life and wondering what on earth I was supposed to do with him. So I decided that I needed some help and looked around for local baby-swimming classes. Finding absolutely nothing I put the idea to the back of my mind and it eventually got lost amongst all the other things going on (nappies, feeding and the likes!). At around the same time I was starting to think about returning to work to my job in healthcare sales, although I wasn't relishing the prospect of working a conventional 8 - 6 job with a small baby as well!

Then, a few months later, when I read an article in Mother and Baby magazine about three ladies who had bought Water Babies franchises I was so excited. I instinctively knew this was just the right opportunity for me: a chance to run my own business with all the support and advice that comes with being part of an established and well thought of franchise network. Having previously spent almost 10 years in sales it sounded too good to be true!

Paul and the Head Office team were fantastic and very enthusiastic from the start. Nothing was hidden from us, in fact at times I thought they were deliberately trying to put us off with the information they were giving! At no point did we have to give any commitment personally or financially, even though they spent a vast amount of time talking through everything, providing information on all aspects of the business, from marketing to a very in-depth business plan. This attitude definitely changed my view of how a business should be run. Having come from a very corporate background, where it is normally 'every man for himself', it was both refreshing and intriguing to see a different, relaxed and dare I say enjoyable way of business. It is extremely important to fully trust, and more importantly respect, the people you work with and these foundations were laid down from the very first phone call I made.

It is obviously a massive life change to quit your job, re-train and start again completely from scratch. You need to have the complete and unwavering support of your friends and family as the training you need will become ever so slightly all-consuming for the time it takes to complete. (Basic and full swimming teacher's certificates; life saving certificate of at least pool side helper or equivalent; baby and pre-school specialist qualifications and the very demanding Water Babies training course.) Then there's also all your other training in administration, marketing and photo shoots! By the end of mine I was utterly exhausted but elated at my love of what I was doing.

When we launched our first classes in May 2007, nine months after our initial enquiry to HO, I knew I was as well-equipped and qualified as I possibly could be and that gave me, and still does give me, the confidence to provide the best possible classes for our clients. When we attained our STA Mark distinction only 12 months after launching, I was so proud to be named the leading provider of baby swimming classes in the Cheshire and Staffordshire areas. This I know is in large part to one hell of a lot of hard work on the part of myself and my fantastic team; but also the support I've received from HO and the fact that I was able to immediately tap into incredibly well-run and proven systems.

I enjoy every single aspect of what I do on a daily basis. It can be exhausting but is ALWAYS incredibly rewarding. Seeing the confidence both parents and babies gain from taking part in our classes fills me with a fabulous sense of satisfaction that I have never had from a job before. And another thing I've done that makes me really proud? When I set up my desk back in May 2007, I pinned an estate agent's photo of my dream house up on my notice board. Well, in August 2008 I was handed the keys to that very same home, having managed to save up enough to buy it, just 15 months later. Now that's job satisfaction for you!

Anna Woodhart, Staffordshire