Don’t let becoming a parent put you off being a franchisee, Tracey Alexander of We Love Pets says
Finding out that you’re going to be a parent is an exciting time, but if you own a franchise, you may find yourself wondering how you’re going to juggle everything once your bundle of joy arrives.
Tracey Alexander has been the Reading East franchisee of We Love Pets since August 2014, when she left a corporate role to seek a better life balance.
The business itself provides award winning pet care, including dog walking, boarding and day care services, puppy, cat and pet sitting services, along with small animal, reptile, lizard and horse and pony care.
Saw the benefit
Tracey says: “I left the pressures of a busy corporate environment behind to do some freelance PA work and then started doing some dog walking for our Reading West franchise.
“I immediately saw the benefit of running a We Love Pets franchise and approached founder and franchise director Jo White about the potential for me to take on the Reading East franchise. She has two young children, so is very supportive of families and the business is very child friendly.”
Tracey’s business turns over approximately £5,000 a month - other We Love Pets franchises achieve between £15,000-£17,000. It’s also provided a successful work-life balance, which was of particular benefit to Tracey when both her mother and grandmother were seriously ill.
She explains: “I was a little nervous when we found out William was on the way, but the beauty of running a franchise, rather than being out on your own, is that you can rely on support from head office and other franchisees when you need it.”
Tracey welcomed her baby son in 2017 and since then has successfully combined motherhood with the life of a franchisee. For her, an anxious time proved to work out well and her two lives complement each other.
She offers up some tips to help parents-to-be through the first few months of combining work and a new baby:
- If you’re wanting to start a family, choose a larger franchise that has several branches with a similar demographic of franchisees who will have a wealth of experience and have been through the same thing.
- Let your franchisor know when you’re pregnant as soon as you’re comfortable - the earlier the better. It can put you in touch with other franchisees or provide much needed support from head office.
- Explore different childcare options way before you need it (some nurseries are booked a year in advance) and have a plan in place. Whether it’s a grandparent, childminder, nanny or nursery, make sure you and your child are both happy so you can relax when they’re being taken care of and you can focus on running the business.
- Don’t forget to take advantage of the government’s tax free childcare scheme.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice from your colleagues and fellow franchisees. “Before having William, I walked lots of the dogs myself,” Tracey says. “I still do that, but also work with a wonderful team of walkers, who now also cover the walks I used to do. “We’re very lucky at We Love Pets to have supportive fellow franchisees, so my lovely colleague Amy, who owns the neighbouring Reading West, covered my management role for a short while so I could recover, find my feet and get back into the swing of things. “I return the favour when she wants to go on holiday, which works well for both of us.”
- Have a contingency plan in place. If you’ve had a rough night with the baby, make sure there’s a member of your team, neighbouring franchise or virtual assistant ready to help share the load by helping out with tasks like answering the phone and making bookings.
- Have set work times and set baby times so you don’t feel like you’re spinning plates. Give 100 per cent attention to whichever area of your life you are working on at that moment, whether it’s work or family
- Look after yourself; sleep when you can.
- Don’t try to grow too quickly. Growth has to be sustainable, so focus on your existing customers and then only bring new ones on board when you’re ready and it feels right. Tracey says: “Now we’re in the swing of things at home, I’m looking to grow the business again. I was able to hold off growth a bit while I got used to running a franchise with a new baby, but it’s very much ‘business as usual’ again.”
- Prioritise the essential tasks that are involved with the day to day running of the business, for example, the team’s schedules, customer enquiries, accounts and invoicing, and then catch up on the weekly and monthly tasks when it fits best.
- Baby brain is a very real thing - pregnant women and new mothers really do experience forgetfulness and absent mindedness. It does come back though. Don’t worry about asking people to double check things and proofread for you. Tracey says: “Having a few pairs of eyes among the team was a really good thing, particularly in the early months when William arrived.”
- Don’t be too proud to take up any offers of help around the house, such as cleaning and washing, if you’re lucky enough to have it offered to you.
- Speak to your franchise director about the feasibility of involving your youngsters in the running of your business.
Tracey says: “Taking William on pet visits with the customer’s permission has been brilliant fun - he loves all the noises the animals make and he often giggles away at guinea pig squeaks or rabbits hopping around.
“No doubt he’ll soon be too big and active to pop in a baby carrier for any length of time, but I’m sure there’ll be another way to get him involved in pet related things. We also like keeping in touch with my team by joining them on dog walks when we can.”
Returning to work
Tracey says running her franchise and being the mother of a young child has been much more straightforward than she thought it would be and probably easier when compared with returning to full-time employment.
She adds: “The other great thing about working with animals is that we are outside a lot of the time and that helps reduce the stress.
“Our clients are lovely and were very supportive during pregnancy and running the business with a young baby, so my final piece of advice would be to make sure you enjoy these precious moments of being a parent.