You’ll need a strong support network

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To be successful in business, you’ll need a really strong network of kind, caring and thoughtful people to help you on your way. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty much all about you, and whilst the people around you aren’t necessarily going to directly help you reach your goals, by being there and by taking supportive steps and actions, they can certainly make it easier. In this article I’ll be sharing how my personal and professional support networks have helped keep me on track.

I own and operate a children’s football coaching franchise company, with my business partner Jonny Martin. We’re called the ‘Football Fun Factory’ and our aim is simple; to make football fun for everyone. Our audacious goal is to become the world’s leading children’s football coaching organisation. So with such a big ambition, what will we need to get there?

Firstly, we’ll need talent. Fortunately, we have that in abundance throughout our Management Team and network of franchisees. But talent alone isn’t anywhere near enough. To be outrageously successful in business you’ll also need relentless work ethic, steely determination and a smart business plan; tick, tick, tick. So we’re on track, right? Well, not if we don’t have the support network to underpin such a winning formula.

I truly believe that we have experienced our biggest challenge at the very first hurdle, namely – Covid-19. Who could have ever imagined that?! We began our franchise journey in September 2019 and after a flying start with 5 franchisees signing up in a flash, we then hit a brick wall – hard. I distinctly remember one of our franchisees, Kiefer Driscoll, saying to me in a café where we were working that day ‘’My Easter numbers are a bit down on what I would expect and I wonder whether parents are worried about this flu thing?’’. My answer was ‘no’’. Don’t be so silly, it will all blow over and be tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. I guess I got that wrong!

As you know we were told at the outset that the lockdown would last 3 weeks and we thought ‘’What a nightmare’’. Little did we know that the nightmare would turn into a horror story, for so many reasons. At the Football Fun Factory we have a saying that we will turn every challenge into an opportunity and somehow, miraculously, we turned a global pandemic into the biggest springboard a business could ever wish for – if that’s the right phrase. But I’ll save that story for another day. This article is about how we all benefitted from the incredible support of others.

I am now the proud father to two children, Hallie and Noah. Back in March 2020, Hallie was a one-year-old and Noah hadn’t joined us yet. When lockdown hit, our schedule was crazy and for 4 months my wife Shani and I worked 18-hour days and had our daughter at home with us for 4 month solid. Shani suggested a schedule where we had equal working hours, even though she was being paid and I wasn’t. Life was turned upside down and the circumstances necessitated a new routine. Our daily routine was as follows:

–       My wife would work in the morning until 1pm and I would spend the morning with my daughter.

–       After I had given my daughter her lunch, my wife would take over and I would start work.

–       After Hallie was in bed we would then both get our laptops out until 10/11pm at night to complete our working day.

Shani and I agreed this routine and I’ll admit, I felt guilty. My wife is an employee and I’m a Company Director and at this time her income was sustaining the family. Ultimately, she opted to work in the evenings to allow me the opportunity to keep working on the business. The Football Fun Factory operation was completely on pause. All programmes had stopped and all revenues had dried up. I had no income and only enough reserves to pay 1 month’s salary. To make matters worse, there was little to no government support due to the structure of the company. The mortgage was paused, our personal costs were cut and we knuckled down to this new way of living, hoping and praying it would be for the short term. The challenge at this time was that we didn’t know how long it would last for. When would lockdown end and life return to normal? I considered getting a temporary job and Shani and I kept an open dialogue about this, but in the end agreed that I would continue to work on the business to be ready for when the world opened up again. If Shani had said to me ‘’You need to go out and get a job’’ I would have done. One challenge was that at this time it didn’t feel particularly safe to do so, but I was scouring the supermarket websites regularly, in preparation for a temporary career change to retail!

As the weeks went by things gradually started to open up and there seemed to be a realistic possibility of the franchise starting back up again and that’s when it got interesting! We were inundated with enquiries about our franchise opportunity. Passionate football coaches had been sat at home, becoming disengaged with their day jobs, saddened by the world events and dreaming of a brighter future. It was a time where everyone stopped to reflect and realised that there is more to life than working your fingers to the bone or doing something you’re not passionate about. The prospect of doing something that you love was appealing and the pent-up demand of eager parents to get their children out of the house and active was encouraging. The short version of the story is that we went into lockdown with 6 franchisees and came out of it with 12, doubling in size. In March, April, May and June 2020 we laid the foundations of the FFF and the success that we have seen to date is in no small part down to this crucial period of time. We wrote documentation, we refined processes, we made a new website, developed the brand and we built relationships. Without the support of my wife Shani Marie, I would have been working in Tesco. Everything that the FFF has become since then is due to my ability to work on the business, which Shani enabled.

Part of my schedule was to go for a daily walk. I took my daughter Hallie out in her pushchair every day from 09:00am until 10:30am and during that time I would speak to Jonny Martin, every day – for months. In these calls we would ‘think and act long term’ which is one of our core values. Due to the fact that there were no short-term options, we were forced to focus on the future. Jonny and I supported each other in this time in so many ways. We asked about each other’s families, we checked in on each other’s mental health, we inspired each other by talking about our future plans and we kept each other sane. As much as this time gave us the opportunity to lay the foundations of the Football Fun Factory franchise business, it also gave us a platform to build and develop our own personal business relationship. The pandemic forced conversations that ran deeper than ‘’How are you mate?’’.

Jonny and I had already known each other for 10 years by this point. We were good friends and had been work colleagues for a long time. In our time working together previously we had experienced adversity and challenges, but nothing like this before. I am so glad that the pandemic happened when I had others around me rather than when I was ‘one-man-band’ as I’m not sure I could have made it through alone. There may be some people reading this who did face the challenges of the pandemic alone, either in a personal sense or business sense and I really hope that you found the support that you needed from friends and family to make it through.

Another aspect of my support network at that time that I will always be thankful for is the small group of franchisees we had, namely; Luke Chadwick, Kiefer Driscoll, Kiel Waterfield-Jenkins and Jordan Collins. These guys stood by Jonny and I throughout our biggest ever challenge. They had already backed us with their faith in us personally, faith in the business model and their support never waned, despite the huge challenges that lockdown brought us all. I hope that the support we have offered you at that time and since has matched. Guys, if you’re reading this, I will always be thankful.

Right, it’s time to stop talking about the bloody pandemic! The moral of the story is that in times of adversity you find out who the fighters are and you find out who will stand by you. At that time my support network stood up tall and puffed out their collective chests and through their actions showed that they really had my back.

Beyond those directly involved in the business, my wife and children, my family and my friends have been incredible since I incorporated the Football Fun Factory in 2017. I have a team of cheerleaders, willing me on and taking a genuine interest in the journey. Such is everyone’s interest in the latest FFF news I often feel a sense of guilt when talking to friends and family about the business. I sometimes feel that we’re always talking about me and not them, my life and not theirs. I guess I should take it as a real compliment that people are so interested and I am truly grateful for the support that I have received to date from my parents, sisters and from my wife’s family too, along with a number of brilliant friends.

The final group that I would like to highlight is the local community. I believe that every business, no matter what products or services you sell, should focus on building and developing a community. With the FFF being such a pillar of the local community, we have received such incredible support from parents and children throughout the journey so far.

My biggest reflection is that if you have a purpose that goes beyond yourself and making money, a purpose that positively impacts the lives of others within your community, then that community will pay you back ten-fold. The payback can come in many forms from positive word of mouth, referrals, social media shares and even emotional support. If you work hard, have good intentions and your business positively impacts people’s lives, those people will have your back.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to be successful and reach your goals without a strong support network, but having one makes the bumps in the road so much easier to overcome.

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