Now that we’re over one-third of the way through the year, I’m pleased to report that I’ve actually managed to do good job of sticking to the New Year’s resolution I made to spend more time visiting our branches. Since the start of the year, I’ve embarked on an unofficial trip to visit all our franchisees, which was over and above the usual network audits we do. The majority of them warmly welcomed my visit and the experience has taught me a lot.
The idea came about because I’d become too stuck in the office, bogged down in paperwork and everyday problems. My priority has always been providing singing and drama lessons of distinction, while making sure everyone within the organisation feels confident and supported. I knew that I needed to be face-to-face with our franchisees to see their full operation with my own eyes and meet their tutors, parents and pupils for myself. Before setting off, I’d hoped it would inspire me to improve even more in 2017 and help me understand and nurture our talent.
I started in south Wales in January and I’ve slowly but surely dropped in on two-thirds of our network, taking in Newcastle, Peterborough, Chester, Hertfordshire, Surrey, London and everywhere in between. At first, franchisees weren’t quite sure what to expect from my impromptu visits but they quickly realised that there was no hidden agenda: I genuinely wanted to understand and help them. As the person who founded the company in the first place, I know the pitfalls, opportunities and challenges of being a business owner. The things I don’t have as much understanding of are the different regional communities and how what’s happening on the ground can effect our system as a whole.
By getting out there in my car and doing some serious mileage, I could get a much better reading of what was happening on a more local level. The conversations I’ve had over coffees, lunches and dinners have been invaluable and if you want to improve the way you communicate with your network, I can’t recommend this method enough.
In this relaxed setting, I’ve learned so much and have been able to give specific help to individual franchisees. By hearing direct from them about what they really need, speaking to customers and seeing the regional variations for myself, I have a better understanding of the end user’s perception of our brand and what I can do to grow the network.
For example, just one small encounter had a profound effect on me and made all the hard work worthwhile. A parent was discussing an issue with a franchisee while I happened to be walking past. They didn’t know who I was or what I was doing there, as I try to be incognito and just sit in on lessons. At the end of the evening, the same parent came up to me and said: “Oh gosh, I only just realised who you are and I’m so sorry if you overheard me chatting about my little issue with one of the lessons. I want you to know that what Little Voices has done for our daughter is incredible. She never used to talk very much and was painfully shy but now she’s able to stand up and perform with confidence.” How superb is that? As you can imagine, I left for my five-hour journey home with a real spring in my step.
My franchisees have also appreciated having face-to-face time with me and telling me about their individual challenges and successes. They say you need to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to really understand how it is for them and that’s so true. That extends to all the individuals who make Little Voices a success nationally, including our drama and singing tutors. Franchisees have said how thrilled their staff have been to see the founder take a genuine interest in their hard work.
I’ve also been able to combine meeting current franchisees with visiting prospective ones in the vicinity and this has been a fabulous way to improve our recruitment strategy. I’ve met them in the areas close to where they might want to set up their franchise and seen them in a much more relaxed environment than if they’d visited head office. The knock-on effect on our franchise sales has been quite incredible.
I’m by no means done yet though. I’ve already seen so many tangible, positive outcomes and I want to keep helping our franchisees feel supported, motivated and inspired. As long as you put systems in place to make sure things in the office run smoothly while you’re away, you won’t regret it. It’s so easy to get caught up in paperwork and spend all your time bound to your desk. But there’s only so much you can do from an ivory tower, so my advice is to get out there and hit the road.