Award winning Monkey Music franchisee Katherine Watmough explains her motivations for buying a franchise and why more women should follow in her footsteps
Not many people get to live their professional dream, but as a lead concert violinist, I did. However, the demands of the job were incompatible with how I wanted to raise my two boys and three years ago I turned my world upside down by calling curtains on that career and buying a franchise.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but I’m surprised and delighted to have found a second career that I’m equally passionate about and which suits me better at this time in my life.
The music, the travel, the glamour
I started the violin at aged two and by the age of four, I dreamed of becoming a professional violinist - the music, the travel, the glamour. I worked hard to be the best I could and enjoyed an incredible career playing in West End musicals, accompanying some of my idols and travelling the world with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Behind the glamour was, of course, a lot of hard work, including endless hours of practice, time in airports, relentless networking and unusual, often anti-social hours. It was hard on my children, my (pre- COVID) support bubble and me. While it was just about manageable, I felt I’d plateaued as a musician - it was exhausting me and cracks were certainly appearing.
Time for a change
I felt trapped. Sadly, the live music industry has few family-friendly - ie, flexible and stable - career opportunities. While I wanted a change, I needed to work and had a very specific skill set.
As I had no business experience, the idea of running my own business had never so much as crossed my mind until one day I was chatting with Jayne, a friend and former colleague. She had bought a Monkey Music franchise - the UK’s trusted programme of pre-school music classes - and asked if I’d considered doing the same.
I was sceptical, but talking with someone whose background was similar to mine and who had been there and done it was fantastic. I’d recommend it to any potential franchise owner because these people can give you a frank assessment not only of what it takes to be successful but also of the pros and cons relative to your current lifestyle.
Realising my dream
Once Jayne had opened my eyes to the possibility, I researched franchise options further - reading articles like this one, talking to franchisees and investigating different franchisors and Monkey Music on my own terms.
Despite Jayne’s example and encouragement, my lack of business experience made me nervous. I hadn’t the first clue what was involved, apart from the challenging prospect of keeping business accounts.
Jayne put me in touch with Angie Coates, the founder of Monkey Music, who told me: “While ultimately your franchise’s success depends on you, we don’t expect any new franchisees to be Deborah Meaden or Yo-Yo Ma.
“If you believe in the value of an early music education and work hard, ask the right questions and listen to advice, we can provide the support, encouragement, tools and training to help you succeed and realise your dream for your business.”
She was right. So much of what had made me a successful musician transferred to running a franchise.
Professional musicians set their own standards, hold themselves accountable for their performances and are constantly striving to improve. They are self-starters, self-disciplined and resilient. Those attributes provided the foundation for my franchise, while Monkey Music provided me with the training and support I needed to develop the skills to run the franchise.
Commitment and ambition
I won’t claim for a minute it was, or is, easy. It requires just as much commitment and ambition as my music career ever did, but I have been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed it.
At a professional level, the learning curve has been incredibly steep, which is satisfying, and it’s hugely rewarding to see the franchise growing strongly as a result. I had been worried that after a couple of years I might get bored, but I’m constantly learning and the job is so multifaceted that there is always something I can do better.
Furthermore, as my business grows I can see new opportunities, both with the current franchise and through buying additional franchises and growing my team. I won’t claim there aren’t bad days or even, occasionally, weeks. However, they are the minority and there were at least as many when I was touring and playing.
Flexing around my needs
The great thing is that as the business owner I’m in control of my life. Running a Monkey Music franchise is a full-time job - I suspect that’s true of any business – if you want to do it well - but it can flex around my needs and those of my family.
The company’s strapline, ‘Sharing precious time together’, applies equally to my family life as to creating the right atmosphere for the families we deliver music classes for. I often work evenings and a bit at the weekends, but it means I’m there for my boys when I want or need to be.
However, if the lifestyle were the sole benefit that being a franchisee afforded me, I don’t think I would have achieved the business growth I have.
I’ve found a franchise whose ethos and purpose fit with my passions. I still get to play my violin when teaching classes, I get to help other parents enjoy time with their youngsters and every week I see the wonder and excitement I felt for music when I was a child in hundreds of young eyes.
Best of all, my previous customers will often send me pictures of their children learning to play instruments and when I see the little ones holding violins I can’t help feel I may be inspiring them to follow in my footsteps.
I’ve found a second dream career that three years ago I hadn’t even imagined existed - I hope you find the same.