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Journey to Franchising with the Outdoors Project // Lucy - Lincoln

NAME: LUCY KILBY


FRANCHISE: THE OUTDOORS PROJECT


TERRITORY: LINCOLN & SURROUNDING AREA


START DATE: JUNE 2021


 

WHAT WAS YOUR JOURNEY TO FRANCHISING?

Before opening The Outdoors Project Lincoln, I was a primary school teacher for nearly a decade. I loved teaching and the six hours a day I spent with my classes. I had been promised it got easier and the workload lessened but I was still working an additional ten hours per day completing paperwork, planning, assessing, and reporting. Even within the years I had spent teaching, I had found that the trust and confidence in teachers to complete their jobs to the best of their abilities had decreased, leaving myself (and many other teachers I know) feeling unfulfilled, managed, and overworked. When the pandemic hit, I really felt the change of pace and the impact on my mental health and realised that I had become so focused on my job that I had very little time for my family, friends, and passions. I was always an outdoorsy person: enjoying hiking, camping and other outdoor pursuits; all of which I had lost touch with. I realised my ideal job would be one where I could still work with children, increase my time outdoors and gain more control of my work/life balance. 

HOW DID YOU COME TO MAKE A FINAL DECISION?

I first got in touch with Sam and Joel (the owners of The Outdoors Project) in March. I spoke with Sam about how the business works, what the clubs and activities are like, how it can work around family life and how the business can grow over time. I was so excited by the idea; I could see how popular the clubs would be and how I could make it work. My fiancé and I made a list our remaining questions and worries, and I went back again to speak with Sam who answered them all. We also spoke to a family friend who had taken a similar journey into franchising with a children’s theatre group. Speaking to someone already in the industry was really helpful as I got a sense of what a great opportunity this was and it elevated all of our remaining concerns. 

I then arranged to attend a discovery day in Brighton to see the clubs in action. It was great to walk around each of their sites and see how the clubs could work in any outdoor space - from school grounds to their farmland basecamp. I had many other questions throughout the day, but all were answered on the spot. I saw their passion and commitment and it was really infectious. I knew we were on to something that couldn’t fail, so I told Sam and Joel I was in and wanted to open for the summer. 

HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU’D FOUND THE RIGHT FRANCHISE?

I knew the moment I saw the advert and the website. It was so clear that the company were enormously passionate about the benefits of outdoor experiences for children and adults alike. They promoted outdoor learning opportunities and an appreciation of the natural world. I immediately began visualising how different my life could be and how much more rewarding I would find this. 

I knew we had the same ethos and value the same things: the experience for children at The Outdoors Project felt like the perfect middle ground to forest schools and residential sites. Neither of which had felt like the right fit for me when I had been considering how to move into outdoor education. It was the best of both worlds: creative, child focused, nurtured risk-taking, learning and development but most of all fun! 

I remember finding the advert, feeling all those emotions but being held back by self-belief: I couldn’t start a business, I couldn’t get this going by the summer. So I left it, applied for more ‘sensible’ jobs for which I felt nothing but I kept being drawn back to the advert before eventually taking the leap and emailing my interest. 

HOW DID YOU SECURE FINANCE FOR YOUR FRANCHISE?

I applied for a business start-up loan, the process was really easy and guided by The Outdoors Project who have partnered with one of the start-up loan gateway schemes, providing easy to use templates of business plans and forecasts, which meant that I was ready to apply in less than two weeks. My mentor then helped me to add a couple of details to improve my application and within an hour of submitting I was approved. I had the money in my account within a week, ready to start my business. That was a great day, everything suddenly felt very real!

From what I was told, the business plan and model I had submitted was really strong which was why it was handled so quickly. If you can put together a strong business plan, with help and guidance from the franchisors, they are very willing to support children’s franchise businesses. Being a franchise is lower risk and I think they appreciate how many children’s services are needed in this country right now. 

The loan amount, whilst not large for a business start-up, enabled me to make my career move when I wanted- not after years of saving whilst working in a job I had fallen out of love with. The repayments are very manageable, as the interest is small, and the term is the same length as my initial franchise contract. 

WHAT ARE YOUR TOP TIPS FOR NAVIGATING THE LEGAL SIDE OF THINGS?

My top tip would be to find a solicitor with small business franchise experience. The contract itself was clear and easy to understand, with very little legal jargon that I couldn’t understand. The main benefit I found from speaking with a solicitor with franchise contract experience, was that he was able to spot things that weren’t in the contract that I might want to be there – such as, what would happen in the event of my injury or death. It’s a small and rather bleak detail, but it was something I hadn’t considered. 

I spoke very frankly with the franchisors about my concerns about targets. As I was starting out and taking a big leap, it felt really difficult to put a pin in a turnover for the first year, let alone the third year. Although I was confident in our service, it felt like I had to suddenly put all that confidence in my own ability to market and sell our clubs to customers. I was really worried about the consequences of not meeting the targets, what if people didn’t come? What if I don’t take enough money to make ends meet, let alone the targets?

The important thing to remember is that the franchisors were once where you are now. And they have been here with other franchisees too. They know what is expected for a new territory, how customers will react to a new service or facility and what a new business is capable of taking. They want you to succeed as much as you do, and will do everything they can to support you to meet the requirements set out in the contract. A failed franchise looks bad for them, so they will make sure that you can achieve what you want to achieve. 

I was really lucky to have found two people, running a franchise business that I wanted to join, who are also very understanding, supportive and genuinely good people. Get to know the franchisors and make sure that you feel safe going into business with them and know that they will support you throughout, not just in the first month or so. 

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO ANYONE THINKING ABOUT TAKING ON A FRANCHISE?

I would say that if you can speak to an existing franchise owner first, make the most of it. They can help you to get a feel for what it’s really like to own a franchise and give you impartial advice on if the agreement is fair and manageable. Get to know as much as you can about the successes of the business, the contract but most importantly, the franchisers before making any decisions. I have found that a good working relationship with this team is really important, and I firmly believe that working with people who share the same values has made a real difference to my franchising journey. 

There will always be pros and cons to all routes people take in their preferred industry but it’s important to know what is important to you before making any moves: if you value having continual support and not reinventing the wheel for the sake of paperwork, franchising is a great option. For me, the benefits of franchising far outweigh the benefits of starting on your own. I always know that I have support and a community to work within, all of whom have been through exactly the same process with a wealth of experience and advice to share. Some people may find, or believe, that franchising means a lack of autonomy, but I believe that a good franchise business will help you to feel a part of the team and a part of many decisions, with suggested best practise. We work with readymade procedures, activities, and content but if and how we follow them is up to us. 

The initial training you receive is important, but much like teaching you learn so much on the job. After the discovery day and signing my contract, I spent a week with Sam and Joel, observing how clubs run and being trained on the office side of things. This was really useful as I got to see the best ways of running things and had so many of my questions answered. The distance between Lincoln and Brighton has not been a problem at all, as we are in touch whenever I need to be via phone or email. A lot of the support I received was on business management, which was all new to me. However, I have found that the skills needed as a teacher are really transferable to working as a children’s franchise: managing multiple tasks and job roles at once; understanding and internalising planning, risk assessments and procedures; leading a successful team; communicating with stakeholders and of course, supporting children in their development. 

I have loved the freedom being a franchise owner has given me, I now make decisions about when and how I work. I have a much better work/life balance and I rarely work in the evenings or weekends: as an overworked ex-teacher I have found that ground-breaking! The stress and pressure I felt from being in a profession that is micromanaged has disappeared. I won’t say that being a business owner is stress-free: I still worry about the security of being self-employed and wearing all the different hats I need to but I know that everything I do now has value and that gives me a real sense of job satisfaction. I would definitely recommend it to anyone, especially to someone who, like me, feels like they can’t take control of their own working life because they have always been an employee. If I can move from primary school teacher to business owner in less than 5 months, so can you.