Given her grandfather hailed from Blighty’s neighbour in the south, you’d think Abigail Curtis would’ve been perfectly placed to speak French. “But he died before I was born and although my dad spoke French he never did so at home,” she says. So despite her heritage, Curtis’ grasp of her grandfather’s tongue was minuscule. Having always felt that she’d missed out, Curtis wanted her two little sons to have the chance to learn a foreign language, which is why she signed them up for lessons with Lingotot, the language-tutoring franchise for kids. “I was totally amazed about how quickly the children picked up languages,” Curtis says. “My three-year old could say all sorts of things and my baby couldn’t speak but if you asked him to touch his head or blow a kiss, he’d do it. He understood it.” Little did she know joining these classes would set her upon the path to become one of Lingotot’s most successful franchisees.”
However, at the time she wasn’t looking to start a business of her own. “I had been on maternity leave for about 11 months and was due to go back for three days a week to my job as a process engineer,” Curtis says. Nevertheless, in the summer of 2012 she had reason to change her mind when the founder of Lingotot Angela Sterling announced she was looking for franchisees to join the franchise. “And I thought ‘I can do this,'” Curtis says.
Having had a few initial chats with Sterling, she bought the franchise, signed up for an intense training weekend and it was then that the panic set in. “I got a severe case of the wobbles and wondered what on Earth I’d got myself into,” Curtis says. The trepidations intensified when the franchisor began talking about how to do sales and how to talk to school boards to find customers. “It made me feel sick to my stomach and at one point I cried,” Curtis says. “But Angela was very supportive, talked me through everything and said: ‘give it a go. If it’s not for you then it’s not for you but you may as well give it a go.'” Luckily, the budding franchisee took her advice to heart.”
With the intense training done and dusted she set out to spread the word about her business, which was a challenge as she was still working three days a week at her old job. “I spent a lot of nights working and basically didn’t do anything else,” Curtis says. But despite only having Mondays and Tuesday to get the job done, she made sure she got the most out of it. Not only did she launch a lot of Facebook ads but also reached out to local newspapers, leafleted and spoke to her friends to raise awareness about the company. While it certainly meant she found loads of customers, it also helped her find her first tutor to come and teach for her. “I recruited her through speaking with one of my friends about the business and she said: ‘I’ve got just the tutor for you,'” Curtis recalls.
Finding tutors to do the actual teaching while she herself did all the admin wasn’t the only benefit of her extensive marketing efforts. By reaching out to her local MP she also found her first big customers. “I emailed him during the week and luckily for me he was going to a dinner on Friday night and he ended up sitting next to the head of education services for Hartlepool council,” Curtis says. During the dinner, the latter lamented the decline of the number of kids who took foreign languages classes. Remembering Curtis’ email, the MP said he knew someone who could help, which led to the franchisee getting a chance to speak in front of all head teachers in the area. “It was a pretty daunting,” she says. But it was worth it: six months after she opened Lingotot Teeside she had signed up three schools as clients.”
In the years since she’s been named the franchise’s most successful franchisee four years in the row. No wonder then that’s she’s paid a pivotal role in growing Lingotot’s network. “Because I’ve been doing it for so long and been really successful I’m mentoring the new franchisees who join us,” she says. And the franchise isn’t the only ones to have paid attention to her success. She’s also been nominated for numerous awards and even won Workingmums.co.uk’s Franchisee of the Year Award 2017. “I was very proud to receive that,” she says. “There were about 20 franchisees who were shortlisted and then the public voted and I’m very proud to have so many people voting for me.”
While the recognition for her hard work is certainly welcome, for Curtis the biggest benefit is how much the experience has enriched her family. “We were just a normal working family but because the business has gone so well my children have experienced a lot of thing that other kids their age haven’t,” she says. From trips to Australia and Disneyland Paris to after-school sports and continuous language lessons, it’s safe to say Curtis’ boys have had a great start in life, making all the stress worth it. “I’ve had horrible times thinking ‘what on Earth am I doing, this is crazy,'” she concludes. “But the benefits far outweigh those doubts from the early days.””