How to make working from home a permanent feature of your professional life with house-based franchises
For many people, the pandemic transformed homeworking from a dream to a reality. Some people can’t wait to get back to the office, but for others, a taste of working from home (WFH) has been enough to convince them that they never want to go back into the office again.
However, many employers won’t let you work from home all the time. The solution? Start a home-based business – but if you are on your own, that can be tough and lonely. The good news is that a franchise can solve the problem – and nearly 40 per cent of franchises can be run from home.
WFH: Pros and cons
Normally I ask experts to comment on issues like this but having worked from home for 20-plus years, I think I am an expert myself! Think carefully before you decide that running a business from home is for you.
• No commute: saves time and money.
• Family-friendly: you can do the school runs and may not need to pay for after-school childcare.
• Flexibility: You can often set your own working hours and build in time to attend school/ social events or just ‘me-time’.
• No employer hassling you at all hours.
• Running a business from home can attract tax breaks that could reduce your household bills.
• Increased utility bills, especially in winter. You may need to leave the central heating on all day, and your employer will no longer pay for all your phone bills and your coffee habit.
• Isolation. It can get lonely working on your own. Franchises help here as they usually have Facebook groups and Zoom sessions where you can interact with other franchisees and head office.
• Those with children may still need childcare during working hours. Working alongside younger children, in particular, can be difficult.
• Friends, neighbours and family think because you are at home, you’re free to chat.
• It can be tempting to work all hours, neglecting your family and yourself.
• You may need dedicated space for the business – a quiet working area and a store for stock or stationery.
Sarah Cressall, founder and chief executive of The Creation Station, the creative activity franchise run from franchisees’ homes, says: “We normally get about 70 enquiries from prospective franchisees a week, but after Christmas 2021 it soared to 135.”
Vicky Matthews, co-founder of virtual PA services franchise Pink Spaghetti, whose 60 franchisees all WFH, says: “We have seen an increase in applications from prospective franchisees since the lockdowns because people have seen what an attractive option homeworking can be.”
Experienced franchisors dispel the myths around WFH
Sarah Cressall has a network of 70 Creation Station franchisees, mostly women who work from home around a family.
Sarah says: “Working from home can look like nirvana, but it’s not as easy as it looks. That’s why we provide such an extensive range of support, and tailored training to suit different personal circumstances. Our franchisees need at least 20 hours a week in which to deliver creativity sessions and four to do admin and business development. You can take your children with you to the creative sessions, but often franchisees have childcare for the admin and marketing day.”
Vicky says: “There are misconceptions about working from home, but more often on the part of the prospective franchisee’s family. The prospective franchisees are more realistic, especially now. Before COVID people thought working from home was an easy option and downgraded it, but now they understand that it’s not just doing a bit of work here and there between stacking the dishwasher.”
How to make it work for you
Experience of working from home helps but running a business from home is not the same as home working as an employee. Freddie St George, managing director of Raring2go! magazines and websites franchise, says: “It’s different because even with a franchise, you have to cover many tasks – selling advertising, liaising with designers, invoicing and admin as well as producing the local Raring2go! magazine.
“All our franchisees work from home, and most have never done it before, so we make it clear that it involves a combination of self-discipline and firm parameters,” he says.
“When it’s your own business you tend to work harder for longer than even the best employees,” says Vicky. “It’s harder to switch off because there’s no big divide between home and business, which is why we train our franchisees in careful time management.”
At The Creation Station franchisees are advised to schedule work around childcare, to make lists and plan their week – and not just when to work. “For instance, we recommend that when the children come home from school, franchisees allocate that to family time, and stop everything else. If you don’t, you risk losing family support, which is essential for business success,” says Sarah.
Vicky estimates that about 90 per cent of her franchisees have children. “I suggest childcare because they need at least two or three clear days a week to run the business.”
Your own workspace
It helps to have your own workspace. Vicky says: “Find a place at home – may be a spare room - that is devoted solely to your business, if possible. It helps you focus on business.” You may also need storage space. Franchisees with The Creation Station need space for the supplies they use for practical crafting sessions and parties, for instance.
You may even need specific technology. Franchisees with First Vehicle Finance work from home supplying finance deals for vehicles. “They must have a dedicated private workspace because they are discussing customers’ finances,” says Pam Gordon, the franchise consultant who is recruiting the franchisees.
Working at home alone can be lonely – but this is where starting a business with a franchise beats setting up on your own. As a franchisee, you are part of a network of others, and franchisors usually encourage franchisees to talk to each other. Freddie says: “The franchisees work collaboratively, and we have a WhatsApp group and local Facebook groups, plus there’s a lot of peer-to-peer support, as well as interaction with head office.”
The homeworking boom
• The proportion of working adults who did any work from home in 2020 increased to 37 per cent on average from 27 per cent in 2019.
• Working adults stated work-life balance was the greatest positive, while challenges of collaboration were the greatest negative. Another positive was “a reduction in the time taken to complete work”.
• Of businesses not permanently stopped trading, 24 per cent stated that they intended to use increased homeworking going forward.
• Of working adults currently homeworking, 85 per cent wanted to use a “hybrid” approach of both home and office working in future.
Source: Business and individual attitudes towards the future of homeworking, UK: April to May 2021, ONS
“Timetabling: my WFH secret”
“I’ve found that strict timetabling, so that I get my work done, have time for myself and for my family, has been the secret to working from home,” says Hayley Gerrish, The Creation Station franchisee in Witney and Kidlington, Oxfordshire.
Hayley, who has three school-age boys, started her Creation Station franchise in 2019. She works four days a week, running classes Tuesdays to Thursdays and doing office/admin on a Friday. “I run a total of six Little Explorer and Baby Discover sessions each week at local venues and an after-school Create Club in a local school.” She also runs birthday parties at weekends and offers monthly Tiny Treasures sessions for babies.
“I block out time in my week for running the business, but also for the family and for myself. “It’s also important to know what you want from your business so that you can calculate how much work you need to do and build that into your weekly plan.”
But she adds: “Scheduling in downtime for yourself is also important. It allows your brain to rest and refresh itself which makes you more creative and efficient,” says Hayley.
“My timetable is quite specific. As well as the practical sessions, I might schedule admin for 9-10 am, marketing activities for 10-11 am and then time for myself from 11 to noon. Build in time for the family too.
“Timetabling makes things easier and means you are less likely to feel guilty about not giving enough time to the business, or alternatively, to the family.”
Hayley also devoted one room to her business and the necessary stock of crafting materials. “Being able to shut the door on it makes it easier to stay focussed,” says Hayley.
“Be prepared for surprise”
Yasmin McGlashan worked in publishing, but after 16 years, wanted to leave the corporate world for self-employment. Now she’s a franchisee with the virtual personal assistant franchise Pink Spaghetti, working from home in Weston-Super-Mare.
“As an employee, I worked from home once a week so I knew the pleasure of ditching my usual 30-minute commute, and I wanted to be able to do the school run and see more of my two children every day, so I liked Pink Spaghetti’s working from home franchise model,” says Yasmin.
But there were some surprises once she started working from home full time. “Perhaps naively, I assumed that I’d have more time, maybe to go to the gym or shopping – but I didn’t have as much free time as I expected. Then again, I love the peace of mind that comes from being closer to the children’s school, so if they are taken ill, it’s only a 10-minute journey to pick them up.”
Yasmin advises: “Set boundaries for your working hours or you could find yourself working all the time, and have a space dedicated to work because it puts you into work mode. It helps to dress for work too, rather than working in your night clothes.”
She adds: “Consider the pros and cons before opting to work from home, so you go into it with your eyes open.”
She finds that the franchise model helps combat the potential loneliness of home working. “Pink Spaghetti has a Facebook network for us franchisees and we have network-wide Zoom calls, so that helps to keep up morale and maintain mental health,” she says.
“A better lifestyle”
Gemma Campbell worked in publishing in London. Now she works from home as editor of the Guildford & Surrey Heath Raring2go magazine and website for parents.
“I was leaving home at 6.30 am and getting back at 8 pm, so when I got pregnant I decided that would not work with children, so I launched my Raring2go franchise,” says Gemma. “I started when my baby Izzy was six weeks old, and soon learnt that the idea that I could work while she was asleep was wrong! I used to hand her over to my husband when he got in from work and start work on my business in the evenings.”
Later Gemma’s mum looked after Izzy one day a week, and now Izzy is three and at nursery, things are easier. “Even if you work at home, you still need childcare,” says Gemma.
She advises others considering homeworking: “Even with the backing of a franchisor there’s so many things to do, and at first I tried to do everything myself, including producing the magazine, contacting advertisers, social media posts and maintaining my website. Now I prioritise tasks based on my strongest skills and best revenue earners, so I pay someone else to design the magazine.”
Gemma adds: “I make about half what I earned as an employee but I’m happy with this, and even when Izzy is at school I don’t want to go back. I’m looking forward to going to her Christmas plays and Harvest Festivals, and with this lifestyle, I can.”
Linda Whitney writes about franchising for the Daily Mail, What Franchise and many other publications.