Flexible careers for new mums – Debbie
Meet multiple franchise owner with Razzamataz Theatre Schools Debbie Mitchell, who is the Principal of Razzamataz Carlisle and Razzamataz Dumfries.
Prior to the pandemic, we ran performing arts classes on a Tuesday evening and all day Saturday. We have students ranging in age from two to 18 and as well as the high level of training they receive in dance, drama and singing, we also offer lots of different opportunities, which are unique to Razzamataz. These include guest workshops and masterclasses with industry experts, opportunities to perform on a West End musical theatre stage and lots of really fun social events such as balls and countless opportunities to perform to their local communities. My office days were Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from roughly the hours of 10am-4pm where I would split my time between lesson planning, supporting teachers, advertising and marketing, speaking with parents and students and project planning. We also get a lot of different opportunities that come via our Head Office so organising the diary with exciting opportunities for the students is a huge part of the business.
Becoming a new mum in the pandemic
2020 presented very different challenges for my business and for me personally. I had my baby boy Alfie in June so that was another reason for me to really think about how efficiently I was working and what I could do to improve it. When we went into the first lockdown, I used it as an opportunity to reflect on the ways we were working and adapt to do things differently. We very quickly pivoted our model to take the classes online but it wasn’t just the Zoom classes, we had a number of additional activities that would keep families engaged. During the last 12 months, I’ve definitely realised that there are smarter ways of working by utilising technology and being better at time management and delegating more where I need to. By taking the business online, it has allowed me to really look at what traditionally has been working and what needs improvement for when we do return to face to face teaching. I’ve got a lot of fresh ideas about driving the business forwards and how we can grow stronger than ever before.
The benefits of being part of a franchise
Obviously everyone has taken a financial hit during the pandemic but in terms of comradery, support and people coming together, it has never been better. The lockdowns and the challenges that they caused have shown us the strength in the franchise network and how our Head Office really stepped up and supported us from day one. Although this was an overhaul that none of us expected, I believe that many in our franchise network will come out of it in a better position than before because of the new and innovative ways that we have been shown to work.
How to adapt to changing needs
We were in a fortunate position in that we were able to take our classes online but we also looked at other ways that we could utilise technology. Many of these processes have been much more efficient for us and our customers. We’ve been able to communicate with customers in a more efficient manner and streamline our recruitment and enrolment process by going almost entirely paperless. All enrolment is via the website and once children become our students we can share online resources via dropbox, which has eliminated the need for paper handouts. On a personal level, by hiring an assistant Principal, I’ve been able to continue to manage the business and be a new mum. In fact, I’m about to take over another territory at Dumfries, which is not something I could have done without this support.
What support should you expect from your franchisor?
There was a lot in terms of training, online sessions with coaches and experts and one to one support but the most valuable was the way they kept on top of the regulations and all the government guidelines. When these changed all the time and when the legislation was a little hazy in terms of what we could and could not do, it was very reassuring to know that they were supporting us to not fall into any of the gaps. This in turn made us confident that we were operating in a Covid-secure way and we could communicate that message positively to our customers.
A network of like-minded individuals
Over the last six months, our MD Denise launched the Mastermind Group for those in the network committed to moving their business forwards. We look at new initiatives that we can use for the entire network and how they can benefit individual franchisees and the franchise business as a whole. Being in this group has allowed me to communicate and liaise regularly with top performers and like-minded people in the network who want to innovate and progress at the same rate. It is lovely to speak to other franchisees, learn from them and just bounce ideas around. We keep pushing each other out of our comfort zones and explore ways to take Razzamataz to the next level providing even more great opportunities for Principals, staff and students.
The home/life work juggle
It’s always been a juggle running your own business and trying to keep work and home life separated but now pretty much everyone understands because most people are working from home. Now more than ever before, my partner sees now how much I’m trying to juggle as he’s also working from home. He fully supports me in pushing the business forward, which has enabled me to take over my second franchise territory.
The importance of time management
The last 12 months have made it very clear how important time management and structuring your working week is. Before having my baby and the challenges that have come from the pandemic, I could pick and choose what I wanted to focus on in my business and work however many hours I wanted to. I now set my hours and max out the time I have by working on the most important tasks first and then delegating where I need to.
Adapting with technology
There are quite a few elements of this new way of working that we will retain because it saves both us and the customer time. We will keep all the video tours online rather than spending time on a Saturday walking people around the school, which takes me away from other important jobs. We have also decided to keep one of our classes going online, which makes sense financially and practically for all involved. We shall also keep having our parent meetings via Zoom rather than trying to bring everyone together, which in the past has been difficult to organise. I’m also finding that the communication between our staff members is so much better. It is much easier to jump onto a Zoom call rather than sending dozens of emails so this is something that we shall be continuing in the future.
Why join Razzamataz Theatre Schools
I believe that with everything that happened in the last year, if I’d not been part of the Razzamataz franchise network, my business wouldn’t have survived. Having a baby and with all the changes and uncertainty, I think I would have been forced to look for another career because it would have been too overwhelming for me to have coped with it on my own. Having the franchisor and the other franchisees living and breathing the same thing as you day in and day out has been invaluable.
How a franchise supports young entrepreneurs
Meet multiple franchise owner with Razzamataz Theatre Schools Zoe McKibbin, age 27 from Glasgow. Zoe took over the Edinburgh school in 2016 and Glasgow South in 2018.
What’s your background?
I studied acting and performance and acting for stage and screen at college and university. My ambition was never to be a professional performer although I was in shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. My dream was that I wanted to work with children and the arts because I know how much it benefited me. I was an incredibly shy and anxious child and it was through performing arts that I found my confidence. My experience showed me how the arts could help with communication skills and general self-esteem and it was this knowledge that I wanted to pass on to children to make a real difference in their lives.
How did you hear about Razzamataz?
I had a friend who attended classes as a child so I had heard about Razzamataz but didn’t know very much about them. But through this friend, I was given some work experience which then led me to get a position as a drama teacher at Razzamataz Edinburgh.
What business experience did you have?
Absolutely none! I took over as the Principal of Edinburgh when I was just 24 and really didn’t see myself as being a business owner. However, I had taken on manager positions and I really enjoyed it so I felt that with the right training and support, this was something I could do.
What attracted you to the franchise sector?
From the very beginning at the training week, it was very clear to me that I would not be in business alone. The Head Office team were there every step of the way and I found that it was such a supportive environment and I was encouraged to feel that I could ask anything. Everyone was so kind and there was a really strong sense that we were all working towards the same goal. Being so new to business, I did worry that I would ask a silly question or just get a little confused but I quickly found that we were encouraged to ask anything and the support from the team and other franchisees was very reassuring.
How has Razzamataz helped during the COVID pandemic?
I truly believe that without the support of Head Office, when COVID-19 hit, I would have closed down because I would have just been overwhelmed with everything that we had to do. I have friends who run their own independent theatre or dance schoolS and they felt really lost during COVID. The benefits of being part of the Razzamataz franchise has really shone through during the last six months. They give you information in really simple, digestible formats and they never overwhelm you.
What are the most rewarding aspects of being a Razzamataz Principal?
I truly love the community that I have built in my schools. It’s not just a club, it is really so much more than that because of the wonderful relationships I have built with the parents and families. There is a huge commitment and dedication from everyone involved and that’s what makes it feel like a family. I also love seeing the children every week and watching their confidence grow; I get so emotional during our shows that I cry at every one of them.
What are your challenges?
Running out of time! I’m passionate about what I do and there’s always so many things you can be doing to grow your business but I’ve learned that it is just as important to have a good work/life balance too. It’s also not always easy to be a boss and sometimes that means making tough decisions but it’s something that I’m getting better at.
What advice can you offer anyone considering a franchise?
Know what you are going in to and do your research. Growing a business takes time so you need to be patient and think about how you are going to support yourself while giving your business enough time and energy. Make sure you understand the financial side of it too and also be prepared for ups and downs.
What are the benefits of being part of a franchise?
It has to be the wonderful support that we get and the way we are encouraged to step out of our comfort zone. We have had lots of training and webinars on business growth and recently we were all encouraged to be more present on social media and get involved with Live stories. This was definitely scary for me but because the whole network was doing it, it gave me the confidence to get involved. It is also really lovely that all of our achievements are celebrated. When you are having a down day, it is so helpful to speak to your support mentor who reminds you how far you have come.
What’s a typical day like?
During one of our regional meetings, we were encouraged to start the day with our least favourite task. That’s something that I have stuck to so I can get on with the other more enjoyable elements without feeling guilty. For me, that’s checking my emails so I do that first thing and then look at different aspects of the business; anything from the marketing through to checking on the finances. Every day is a little different but to keep on top of everything, I make sure that I write detailed To Do lists. One of the most important aspects is answering any questions from customers and there’s always lots to do on social media.
What have your learnt about yourself in business?
I can get quite stressed sometimes so it is important that I can call on my support mentor regularly as well as being able to lean on my team. What has surprised me is how much work I can actually handle. I also work part time in a primary school but by being organised, it is possible to get through everything. I delegate tasks when I need to and also I have learnt that if you need help, you should ask as people are always willing to lend a hand.
How do you stay motivated?
I try and set myself a goal every day and then I can celebrate the small wins, which I think is really important to keep motivation up. During training, we were told that there would be down times but to stick with it and you will get through it. Of course, how you feel can fluctuate, there will be highs and lows but I try and breath through it and remember that tomorrow is another day. Recently, I have been having issues finding a venue after lockdown but what got me through it were all the messages of support from parents.
My reasons for running a theatre school have never changed and now I can see just how much it means to the children. I want to continue to increase student numbers in both schools and continue to offer the fun Razzamataz experience, where children can grow in confidence and have a wonderful time in a lovely family environment.
Flexible and work from home career options in franchising – Chloe
Meet Chloe Lee, franchisee of Razzamataz Chester. Chloe is currently on maternity leave and is looking forward to returning to her business that she can work flexible around her family
What inspired you to set your business up?
I completed my professional dance and musical theatre training at the Merseyside Dance and Drama Centre, Liverpool and then worked for Razzamataz Overseas and as a teacher for three years at the Chester school.
I loved teaching but wanted a bigger challenge so when the opportunity came to take over the Chester school, I jumped at it.
Razzamataz has given me the balance of work and home life that I wanted. It’s given me financial security, I was profitable within the first month, and the chance to really make a positive impact on the lives of the young people in our area.
What would you say is unique about your business?
- As well as offering excellent training in the performing arts, we are a real community school.
- We make sure that we are fully inclusive and can give equal opportunities to all. Many other local theatre schools audition students to be in the show but we believe that every child should have the chance to shine.
- We make a huge effort to know our students and families at a personal level, which has been lovely over lockdown. I’m now pregnant and so many of our families are checking in with me to see how I’m doing.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
- We managed to pivot the business to teaching online very quickly and successfully.
- However, it did have its challenges. One of our students really struggled with the dance online and found the co-ordination difficult and began to lose confidence and wanted to quit. I gave her virtual one to one sessions to support her and over time her self-belief grew. Her mum recently sent me a video of her nailing the dance and doing full online routines. The whole experience was very powerful in demonstrating resilience.
- Over lockdown, we did many fundraisers, including for Chester Zoo, which found itself really struggling due to the pandemic. The students dressed up for the day on zoom in animal costumes, many of which they had made themselves. It was lovely to see their creativity and we ended up with enough money raised that we could adopt an animal. Chester Zoo is a real pillar of our community so now we can say that we played a part in ensuring its survival.
- We stayed connected with our families that didn’t take part in the online classes by posting lots of dance challenges on social media, the T-shirt challenge and lots of free fun activities.
- Before lockdown, our greatest achievement was being part of the cast at the Razzamataz gala West End performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre. It was such a huge deal for our families and inspiring to be part of.
Do you have any plans for your business for the next 5 years?
- We loved making a difference to Chester Zoo so we will be looking at getting involved in more charities when we are able to.
- We have the venue that will allow us to continue to grow and we already have plans to expand our Minis and Junior classes.
- We know children have found lockdown very challenging so we are really excited to be able to offer the Life Skills Programme. Participation in the performing arts can improve a child’s prospects for whatever they want to do and we will be working on all of these important life skills in the next few months.
How to deal with challenges
- Personally, this year has been challenging for me. I’ve had to cancel my wedding twice and being pregnant in lockdown comes with a number of additional worries.
- Throughout this year, I have learnt that you have to take every day as it comes; you can have a down day but the next day you must pick yourself up and look at ways to drive your business forwards.
- I was very young when I took on the business and although I’ve learnt so much, it is important to never stop learning.
- Having a brand such as Razzamataz behind me has given me the confidence and opportunities to keep learning, keep providing wonderful opportunities for my students and keep the faith when challenges come my way.
Join our network
We are currently looking to launch more theatre schools across the UK and overseas. If you would like to find out more about our ambitious growth plans and be part of multi-award-winning Razzamataz Theatre Schools network, drop Charlotte a line from our friendly Head Office team to book on to one of our virtual Discovery Dens.
Current resale opportunity: High Wycombe, Berkshire
Telephone: +44 7821 122242
LinkedIn: Razzamataz Theatre Schools