Extra help franchisee Natalie Cooper says the company’s caring values match her own. Trevor Johnson reports
Natalie Cooper had a successful career in the teaching and caring professions, but had always dreamed of running her own business.
“When I came across the Extra Help home help and cleaning services franchise, I immediately knew it was the one,” says Natalie, who took on the company’s Stevenage, Hertfordshire franchise in August 2015.
“At that time my father had been diagnosed with cancer and the family had to look after him. When I came across Extra Help, the timing was just right for me, as it would give me more opportunity to look after my dad and provide the help he needed.”
Gap in the market
Started by entrepreneur Claire Robinson in 2010 and franchised a year later, Extra Help provides home help and cleaning services to anyone from the elderly to new and working parents.
Claire remembers: “I set up Extra Help with a friend who had previously run a domestic cleaning franchise and several of her elderly clients were asking for additional services like meal preparation and help with shopping, which she was unable to offer. So we quickly realised there was a gap in the market.
“Although we started off concentrating on services for elderly people who were living independently, we soon realised there were lots of other people who could do with an extra pair of hands from time to time.”
Natalie says when she found the franchise online, she knew it was exactly what she wanted: “I could see it would give me everything I was looking for - the flexibility to use my existing skills and provide the services I wanted to offer, but I would still be my own boss.
“As I had always worked in caring and support-type roles, I felt the home help and domestic service industry was the right one for me. Also, with my father being ill and elderly, I had the right personal experience to be well placed to help vulnerable and elderly people who needed assistance with their day-to-day lives.
“I shared the idea with family and friends and they agreed there was a great need for reliable, affordable home help - some of them needed it themselves. They also thought Extra Help would be perfect for me.”
In full swing
And so it proved. “My first client came in via the website while I was still at the training course,” Natalie says. “And within two days of coming back I received my second inquiry, so I was already in full swing.”
She enjoys the variety of her job - Extra Help services include cleaning, help for mothers, the elderly, busy professionals and parents and range from gardening to shopping and meal preparation.
“Whatever customers want in the home, we can usually do,” Natalie says. “And they only need one point of contact for all their domestic requirements.”
She knows all about multitasking: “I’m married with three growing daughters, so I know all too well what it’s like to be pulled in many different directions.
My previous career choices have given me a sense of fulfilment and purpose - one of my most fulfilling jobs was working with vulnerable young people with disabilities in a residential care home.
“As a support worker my role varied, including helping young people to gain independent life skills. However, the shift work started to impact on my children, so I decided to move into education and trained to become a teaching assistant.
“I loved the variety this job gave me and it fitted in with my family. Both roles have been incredibly rewarding and I’ve gained valuable experience along the way.”
Natalie’s father’s illness meant another career change: “I always knew that one day when the kids were older and needed me a little less, I would run my own business. When I came across the Extra Help franchise, I knew instantly this was something I wanted to become involved with and that the caring values of the company matched my own.”
Simplicity is key
Claire Robinson and a friend set up the Plymouthbased Extra Help business in 2010. However, Claire now runs Extra Help as its sole director.
She says the key to Extra Help’s success is its simplicity. Clients are charged an average fee of £10 an hour for all services and home helpers are selfemployed, so there’s no payroll or PAYE to manage.
An Extra Help franchise currently costs £12,000, which, says the company, can be recouped within the first two years of trading, as a typical franchisee’s projected gross profit after two years is over £24,000.
Extra Help says it looks to create long-term positive client relationships with a straightforward business model, providing franchisees with maximum support. It’s a recession resilient franchise with low overheads and proven business systems, ensuring both top quality service to clients and a profitable business format. The company says management experience is useful, but not essential, as full training is provided.
Back in Stevenage, Natalie found her thorough training was soon paying dividends: “I was able to start small, get to grips with what I was doing and gradually grow my business at my pace, so I felt totally in control.
“It’s my business, but I have the benefit of the ready-made proven business model and back-up support whenever I need it. For me, the main challenge is having enough home helpers in the right areas to serve clients, as I have to cover quite a wide territory.
“I love the flexibility of being able to work from home. I work hard and full-time, but I still manage to fit it round my personal life and the things I need to do. Sometimes I work into the evening and at weekends, but it’s my own business, so I know that by doing so I’ll reap the rewards.
“I want to grow my business to its maximum potential, so I’m prepared to put in as many hours as are required to achieve this and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
“There’s no typical day with Extra Help - they’re always different. It’s not one of those businesses where you can plan your week in advance, because the client comes first. I sometimes do cleans and home helping myself, because I think it’s important to have that experience.
“I often supervise home helpers and cleaners, particularly when it’s a first visit, to make sure they know what’s expected of them and the client is happy with their work.”
What are Natalie’s plans for the future? “The cleaning side of the business is thriving, but I don’t have as many elderly clients requiring home assistance, so I’ve decided to contact social services to try and promote my service,” she says.
“My aim is to establish a reliable, efficient and friendly team of home helpers offering a wide range of services, including cleaning, companionship, transport, gardening, dog walking, shopping and much more.”
Natalie makes no secret of the fact her career change has been a great success. “My friends and family have to put up with me talking about work all the time,” she smiles.
“I love sharing my passion, particularly to prospective franchisees, and hopefully my enthusiasm is contagious.”