This Spring we are delighted to bring you a series of interviews from mums running a variety of businesses, we hope these interviews will inspire you as well as answer some questions you may have about what it’s like to be a mum in business.
We are delighted to publish the second interview in our series, this interview is with Karen Sherr, founder of Musical Minis. A wonderful insight into running a well established business and offering franchise opportunities.
Tell us a little bit about you and your business.
Hi, my name is Karen Sherr and I started Musical Minis in 1989. Having obtained a degree in Psychology specialising in child development, I worked as a Play Specialist on the cardiac ward at Great Ormond Street Hospital. My job was to explain, through the use of play including dolls, role play, tubes and bandages etc with the children, what would be happening to them during their time in hospital and supporting them, and their families, emotionally during their stay. It was an incredibly rewarding job, and one that I loved, but it also reconfirmed to me the importance of the parent-child relationship, so much so that when it was time to return to work having had my first child, Matthew, I found I couldn’t do it. I needed to be there for him, so I knew any future career would have to fit in around him.
Like all good businesses, Musical Minis was born out of a real need rather than just a desire to make money. I had been taking Matthew to a local exercise class and he made it very apparent that his favourite part of the session was singing the nursery rhymes at the end rather than climbing a ladder. He just liked singing and listening to the music so, when I couldn’t find any music classes that were not teaching about rhythm and beat , I realised I’d have to run one myself. Initially it was just me and a few friends but quickly word spread and within 7 years we had franchised the business to be able to cope with the demand for Musical Minis classes across the country.
How did you feel when you had just launched your business?
Excited! I really enjoyed designing the programme, obviously drawing on my degree and experience of working with children. As we know, music and singing can really help with a child’s physical, social and cognitive development and of course with my background, it was important to me that although the sessions were fun they were also beneficial to the children. On a practical level I bought some equipment (simple instruments, drums etc) hired a hall, took out the necessary insurance and then it snowballed. Initially I just loved the fact that Matthew and I could get together with friends and share happy times once a week but quickly I realised that wasn’t going to be enough for the mums and babies who were clamouring to join our group as well! We quickly went from one class to six to fifteen and eventually franchised in 1997.
What were the main challenges or most important things to learn when you first started?
My husband Rob, who is Head of Credit Risk in a bank, is also a partner in the business and has been my rock and main supporter since day one. He was 100% behind me starting up Musical Minis but, in the early days, when we were financing the entire thing through our savings and me not taking any salary, I think we both wondered if we’d taken on too much. The interest was such that I could have taken on numerous new franchisees in the first few years but it has always been important to me to support my franchisees personally and individually and, to be able to carry on being a mum to my growing family (Alex and Emily joined Matthew as Musical Minis babies!) I learnt early on that it was important to recognise my own limitations (accounting is not my favourite subject!) and to seek help where I needed it.
Did you get lots of support from family and friends?
Absolutely, and still do today! Rob, Matthew, Alex and Emily are still all fully involved in Musical Minis when they come home from work and university. Rob continues to look after the legal and financial side of the business and the kids help out at shows and exhibitions when they can. It was my friends who supported me by coming to the classes in the very beginning and then brought back their subsequent children and all their friends, so I truly owe them a lot for their support.
Once you had started how long did it take for you to feel that it was an established business?
Locally the business took off very quickly; the number of children attending grew rapidly and within a year I had opened extra classes in the same venue as well as starting up classes in locations nearby. I think by the end of the first year we realised there was no going back; we had loyal customers and a constant stream of enquiries to start up new classes in other areas so yes, by the end of that year we knew we had a proper business on our hands.
When did you begin offering franchise opportunities? And how did you feel when the first franchisee got up and running?
Our first franchise, Musical Minis Derby, opened in September 1997; seven years after I ran that first class for Matthew and our friends. It would have happened sooner but starting a franchise is a very complicated business. We had to register our trademark; cue legal dispute that we won, but that cost us a lot of money and delayed our opening.
We had to have our music recorded and protected; cue hiring recording studios and singers and to this day bills for royalties every time we sell another franchise. We had to make sure our franchise agreement was legal and binding; cue trips to franchise solicitors. We had to write operating and training manuals; cue many hours of writing to make sure franchisees could read and easily follow them. We decided to become bfa (British Franchise Association) accredited; cue another long process to test our franchise model to make sure it was ethical and workable; we passed!
I liken Musical Minis to being my fourth child so the day someone started up their own business with my ‘child’ was quite emotional for me but, having spent so many years preparing for that moment there was also a fantastic sense of achievement. It was as if we’d built a boat for the franchisee and we finally saw her set sail, an amazing feeling, and here we are, nearly 17 years later and we’re still doing it so we must be doing something right.
What are the best things about running your own business?
Undoubtedly the flexibility it gave me to fit my work around my family. During the entire 25 years there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t been able to take the kids to school and pick them up. I’m still doing it today but now it’s trips to university and picking them up from stations! I also get a great thrill out of seeing my franchisees’ businesses thrive; to know that they and their families, and the children that attend their classes, are benefitting from an idea I had all those years ago makes me feel really good.
What are the worst?
I never switch off! I still work from home and most of my franchisees call me in the evening when their own children have gone to bed to talk over any issues, so I can still be working at 9-10pm in the evening. I’m getting better at it though and make sure I find time to sit and have supper with Rob every evening, even if we do end up talking Musical Minis all night!
For any mums who would like to start their own business but don’t feel quite ready to start from scratch, what benefits are there to being a franchisee?
Buying into a franchise is a great option for a woman who has the passion and determination to work hard and run her own business but who feels she maybe doesn’t have the necessary knowledge or skills to do it entirely herself. A franchise offers you in-depth training and on-going support to help you build a profitable, sustainable business. Your franchisor should be seen as part mentor, part business partner, there to share the highs and the lows and to lean on in the early days and to go to for advice as you find your feet later on. The phrase often used about franchising is ‘in business for yourself but not by yourself’ and this is absolutely true. Many mums returning to work face the same issues, they feel under confident, worry their skills have slipped whilst they’ve been away and, like me, they worry if they’ll be able to leave their child for 8 hours plus a day when they return to work. Franchising can offer the training, support and flexibility to address all these issues. When looking for a franchise make sure you do your research thoroughly. Talk to existing franchisees, ask them about the reality of running the business and make sure you find a franchisor who is really going to support you as you build up your business.
How do you become a franchisee with Musical Minis? And what experience would you need?
Firstly visit our website, www.musicalminis.co.uk/franchise where you can read case studies from existing franchisees and hear what they think about their businesses, rather than just hear about it from me! You can watch a short video of a class to get a feel for what Musical Minis is all about and you can apply for an information pack.
You don’t need any experience to run a Musical Minis business, no singing or musical experience necessary! Our most successful franchisees are outgoing, lively people with good organisational skills who really want to run their own business. We don’t set targets, it is up to you how many classes a week you run and therefore how much money you earn. If you just ran a few sessions a week you might make a profit of £10,000 a year however someone running more sessions could be looking at up to £30,000 a year. It’s up to you. You will receive exactly the same level of support no matter how many classes your run.
Our franchise currently costs £8,000 + VAT and for that you will receive:
- An exclusive, large territory
- A 5 year, renewable license
- Full training on delivering a Musical Minis class
- Full training on running a Musical Minis business (advertising, marketing, PR, social media, accounting , booking venues, etc)
- The benefits of national marketing and PR campaigns
- On-going support from me, the franchisor
- Initial advertising spend
- Our fully licensed music to use during your classes
- Over 100 musical instruments. Puppets, stories and prepared lesson plans
- Operating and training manuals
- Bespoke insurance for your business
What happens in a typical session at Musical Minis and what age groups is it aimed at?
Musical Minis is a music programme for pre-school children aged from birth to 5 years. Each structured session encourages cognitive, physical and emotional development through the use of music, instruments and stories in a relaxed group atmosphere. It concentrates on rhythm, song, sound and movement to encourage early communication, promoting confident, sociable and creative children. Each 45 minute session places a firm emphasis on fun.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
As the children are now all young adults I don’t need to be around for them so much. In recent years I have got the travel bug and been to Australia, India and Thailand and as long as I have internet access I can keep up with the business from wherever I am in the world.
What advice would you give to other mums thinking about starting up their own business?
I’d say research the market place and competition. Start small, let the business grow as and when you can cope with expansion. Have a clear idea what you want out of the business; if you need the money to support your family how much do you need?
Try to separate work from home. If your business is based at home (as all the Musical Minis administration is) have a 2nd phone line fitted. If you’re bathing the children for example, the answer machine will pick up the call. If a child is having a tantrum you don’t have to talk about business and get more stressed, simply phone them back once the children are settled.
Have a backup plan. If your child is ill what will happen to your business? For example if you were running a Musical Minis class, would you have to send away the children or could you phone someone else to run the class for you?
Know your limitations; if you have problems with accounts get someone to help you.
Set time aside to still be a Mum; play with your child after school and help with homework etc. On the 25 minute journey to and from school every day I had time to hear about their day and my time was just focused on the children; no phone calls, no email and no household tasks wanting my attention. Work out the balance between work and home that you want. If there are not enough hours in the day to do everything, do the bits you like (with both work and home life) and get help with the bits you don’t. E.g. get a cleaner, shop online.
If the business grows too big for you to manage both roles then work, home and you, will all suffer. Set time aside to deal with administration, household tasks etc. If you keep putting it off the task will become huge (e.g. hours of paperwork, loads of ironing). Regular manageable chunks of mundane but important tasks will help things flow smoothly. Set time aside for yourself. Running a business and having a family gives you no free time at all, there’s always something you should/could be doing. It is important, whenever possible, to give yourself time to relax, meet a friend for lunch, go shopping for yourself.
What plans do you have for your business in the future?
Despite wanting to keep the business small enough to manage, my optimum number of franchisees would be about 30 so I’m still actively recruiting. I know there are other children’s franchises with far higher numbers of franchisees but that doesn’t worry me; I’d like to think my very ‘hands on’ approach with my franchisees gives people confidence in the business. I’m passionate about Musical Minis and hope that my enthusiasm is passed onto my franchisees and in turn to their local members. I know each and every one of my franchisees, together with their strengths and weaknesses. I know their families and they know mine. Knowing them so well, I feel I can offer pertinent advice and in particular, how to fit Musical Minis in with the work/ life balance they are seeking. As Musical Minis has stood the test of time, survived economic booms and downturns, I feel I must be doing something right and, despite the growth, I still haven’t given up my aim to run the business largely by myself!
For more details contact Karen Sherr
020 8868 0001
Or Visit www.musicalminis.co.uk
You can also find Karen and Musical Minis on Facebook: www.facebook.com/musicalminis
and Twitter: www.twitter.com/karensherr
Click to see more Interviews on morethanmummies.com
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