Each week we catch up with a different entrepreneur to discover what makes them tick, their top tips and more. This week we spend five minutes with Vicki Prout, co-Director of Sherpa Kids.
Hi Vicki! So, what is Sherpa Kids and what does it aim to achieve?
Sherpa Kids runs out-of-hours school and holiday clubs for primary school-aged children in the UK, and across the globe. It runs its services in schools and other community facilities. The organisation, which has some 100 franchises worldwide, looks after around 5,400 primary school-aged children every day, and has been expanding in the UK this year. Its varied and fun programme of activities, which can be tailored to the needs of individual schools, provides a valuable service for families who need childcare outside the usual 9am-3pm school day in order to balance work and childcare needs.
What time does your day usually start and end?
My day starts at 7am with a quick look at emails on my phone and ends around 8pm with follow-up calls to prospective franchisees and other contacts in different countries.
What do you like and dislike most about your job?
The best part of the job is what I call ‘human agriculture’ – this means helping and guiding our people to strive for their goals and be successful.
My least favourite part is putting on my franchisor compliance hat to ensure that our network of franchises is fully compliant and thereby protected at all times and that we offer a top quality service 100% of the time.
What inspired you to start your business?
Prior to launching my business career, I was in the Royal Australian Navy for 12 years, which is, of course, a very regimented environment. When I left, I thought I could offer more to the wider community, although I wasn’t sure exactly what I could do. I sort of fell into franchising, as I didn’t exactly know what franchising was back then.
I could see that the childcare industry was ripe with opportunity for entrepreneurs, since many working parents in the UK and other parts of the world are desperate for good quality childcare outside school hours. I also believed the childcare industry would lend itself well to the franchising model. I therefore jumped at the chance to join forces with Dawn Engelbrecht, now Co-Director, Sherpa Kids International, to launch the business in my home country of Australia and beyond.
What has been the biggest challenge for your business?
Trying not to launch too many new ideas at once! You get caught up in the excitement but just because you might love change that does not mean that everyone else does and you have to manage all stakeholder expectations.
Have you made any mistakes along the way?
Growing too fast and taking people on face value are big mistakes I made years ago – and it taught me a salutary lesson that, unfortunately, a handshake means nothing. As a young business, we still make mistakes at Sherpa Kids, but we view this as an important element of our growth. We don’t mind making mistakes; we are open and honest if a mistake is made. We whiteboard what happened, fix it, note it so it doesn’t happen again, and move on. We treat our staff with the same attitude to mistakes – we are all human end of the day.
Any advice for anyone else looking to start their own business?
The most important thing to do before setting up a business is to research your market thoroughly. Start with a soft market research analysis, which can largely be done online, and then do tactical research. For example, find out if the service you want to provide already exists in your area and, if so, in what form and how could it be improved? How much does it cost? Is there a waiting list? What do people want? If you believe there is a market for your service, then pilot it in your area so that people can sample it.