I remember when I first started Diddi Dance as a serious business, and to be fair, I sort of fell into it.
I did my degree in dance a long time ago (we don’t need to mention dates here) and went on to perform all over the world with various companies and artists. It was a great time, but eventually, the time comes to think of a more “stable and secure” living. I’d always been self-employed, so I was well used to hustling for contracts and work. I did teaching studies in my final year of uni and wrote my dissertation on it, so searched for dance teaching jobs. I travelled all over London from one class to another in all postcodes, filling any time gaps I could. I loved teaching dance to all ages but most of the work was in the evenings and at weekends. I then found a play leader role in north London during the day, Monday to Friday, working with under 5s and I LOVED it.
Through this job I had parents, nannies and childminders asking me about preschool dance classes. They knew I’d been a dancer and thought I was great with the children and told me I should start something. I was unsure what I could teach to toddlers, but they didn’t care and booked me a venue and told me to turn up! I devised a very loose 45-minute structure and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was completely different to any other dance classes I’d taught for older children but my experience over the years working with under 5s in the play sessions kept me relaxed, and I knew to just lead the session and let them join in on their own agenda and pace (you can’t force a toddler to do anything, right!)
I knew this was my WHY, this is where my passion lay. I loved seeing their firsts. Their first glimmer of confidence, the first time they held another’s hand, the first time they galloped with me or the first time they engaged with an element they hadn’t done for weeks and weeks. It also made me realise the responsibility that also now lay with me, for this first impression and experience of a dance class, that was placed on me.
The adults were telling me they had been to a local dance school and the formality of it had put them off and they didn’t want to try dance again. Hearing that broke my heart, so I set my goal that through repetition and fun that children as young as 18 months could learn to dance informally in an environment that they enjoyed and that made them want to dance again and again and maybe even continue it into later life. First impressions count and in the early years, habits are formed. A large % of a child’s brain is formed by the age of 5, so all their early experiences count.
I was loving the sessions and it appeared the children and their grown-ups were too and what started as a single class, soon grew and grew. I decided to explore other areas. Again, they took off and it was then I thought this could be a business idea. I could actually turn my passion into my future career!
I had no background in running this, no business qualifications, no marketing experience, no financial knowledge. I knew I would have to learn from scratch. But the passion drove me through, I googled anything and everything, this was the days before social media or fancy design apps so I produced basic word document flyers and just pounded the streets talking to parents and childcare professionals. I wasn’t a mum myself then so I wasn’t involved in any mummy networks but somehow my passion seemed to shine through and the people that came to try seemed to enjoy what I was doing and my mission and ethos around the classes.
After three years I decided to explore franchising and this is where the workload would overwhelm me. I’d not long met my now husband and I would spend early dates with him either in tears or zoned out panicking about the money I was spending and all the work I had to do to get it off the ground. His support was amazing and that paired with my drive and passion got it off the ground. I launched my first three pilot franchises (all areas still run to this day, one with the same person, Danielle, who is still an inspiration to me today)
A year later I then fell pregnant with my first child, a happy accident but not something that had been in my business plan (not that I’d written one, but don’t tell any business coaches that!) I worked so hard whilst pregnant, not only teaching loads of classes but trying to give support and guidance to the pilot franchisees. I kept honest with them the whole time and they carried on building their classes on the basic lesson plans I’d provided and low-level knowledge I had from my experience.
My son was born the following year and I didn’t have enough plans in place. I was being let down by my teachers, and I remember ending up travelling to parties and classes when my son was just weeks old. Although I didn’t acknowledge it at the time, I got PND. I won’t go into the details here, that’s maybe for another post, but I wasn’t ready for the juggle or the double guilt. I’d try to catch up on the business work but then feel overwhelming guilt about not devoting myself to my baby and then the opposite when switching on to work and not being there for the now seven franchisees I’d agreed to take on.
Through this time, my now husband and my passion kept me going. I knew it was worth fighting for and after opening up to help from friends and family for support I got through those early months and found a semi-decent balance. I remember my NCT friends all relaxed on maternity leave not having to think about work at all whilst I’d be there on my phone checking emails and answering customers etc. However, when the discussions then turned to them returning to work, requesting going back part-time, finding childcare for long hours I knew I was in a fairly good position here; working my hours around my life and not having to worry about a daily commute or overloading boss or long hours away from my child and partner.
The Diddi Dance network is now at 43 franchisees all over the UK, from Glasgow to Plymouth. I try, to this day, to instill in them, the passion that is needed to run a business, even a franchise. Yes, you may not have devised the business from scratch, but it’s still yours, you still “own” it. You still have to figure out your WHY, what made you take it on. Franchising means local people can run their own local businesses, they are the face in their local communities and make their own revenue that pays for their lifestyle. My passion is now not only for getting children moving and setting healthy habits early in life but also for other people to find their WHY, find the work-life balance and I can’t see myself ever giving up on any of those.
Find something you’re passionate about and that will see you through the downtimes, so you can appreciate the uptimes.
Top 5 tips for scaling your business:
- Do your market research and check other areas before investing in expansion
- Check if this is a business based on you or if others can deliver at the same enthusiasm and passion
- Get the experts in, whatever option you decide whether franchising or licensing or taking on more staff get your legals in place so you can take on the right people and have the correct control of your brand and communication to those you take on
- When recruiting for either staff or franchisees/licensees don’t rush, take on the right people, don’t be flattered or overexcited they want to be part of your business, consider if they have the same expectations, vision, and goals as you.
- Check your trademarks and IP, if you haven’t already protected them then now is the time to do so as if the name has already been used or taken then nationwide expansion is impossible in that name.
This blog post was written by Anne-Marie Martin she is the creator and founder of Diddi Dance, a nationwide pre-school dance franchise, with specially designed classes for children aged 18 months to 5 years.