Thursday, 14 January 2021
Mum of six, Kate Ball set up Mini First Aid in 2014, offering quality baby and child first aid classes to parents and carers. The business now has over 60 franchisees across the UK. She talked to us about the importance of boundaries, the power of a ‘winning mindset’ — and how family and work balance is always her priority.
What in your routine is essential for success?
Having proper childcare in place is crucial, so that when I'm working, I’m working, and when I'm with the children, I'm with the children. What I’ve found is that when I try and mix the two, it doesn't work for anybody. My husband Matt and I both run Mini First Aid and to maintain balance we try not to work at the weekend. We operate an informal way of communicating with our franchisees — many of who have been with us since the beginning and are friends — and that can lead to them thinking they can pick up the phone to us anytime, so setting boundaries has been important, but also tough at times. I'm a huge advocate for flexible working, but flexible has got to be fair and not to the detriment of family life — because if that crashes around your ears there's not much left really.
How do you manage your digital balance?
I blog about my family life, so I'm always thinking about and looking at opportunities for that and then I'm also online for the business, responding to emails. I’m constantly accused
of being on my phone, but I do try to maintain boundaries — phones stay downstairs at home, we have a company mobile phone which we don’t answer at weekends, and we don't give out my personal telephone number. I’m my own worst enemy though. I find the reliance on digital nowadays adds a layer of pressure to everything, from the activities the children do to work-based stuff, and somewhere in there we are trying to keep our family balance. The one important thing I know though is that if you want children to put down their tablets or phones, you have to do it first.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow as an entrepreneur?
I spend a lot of time following other entrepreneurs on social media and I also network with everywoman. That helps me to find people like me — those who are managing and balancing work with family. For me, it's about looking at women and thinking, ‘How are they doing what they do? How are they being efficient?’ and learning from that, because I don't want to spend all my time at work thinking, ‘I could do more if I didn't have my kids around.’ I'm interested in somebody who will talk about leadership in one post, and then the next picture shows they've been at their kid’s Nativity play. For me that’s someone who is putting equal priority on important things.
Is there a winning formula for being a successful entrepreneur and what's yours?
When I was younger I thought it was a given that everybody had entrepreneurial spirit in them but the more I chat to friends, the more I realise that the thought of being self-employed or starting a business fills many of them with horror. They want to work for an organisation where their performance is measured, and they have minimal risk and responsibility. I think entrepreneurs need to have a little bit of the risk taker in them, but I think it's more about having a can-do attitude and being a problem solver. A winning formula for an entrepreneur is accepting that you're going to get knocked down and you're going to have to climb back up again. But ultimately, success is less a winning formula than a winning mindset, I think. You get chucked all sorts of curveballs in life, and you have to be open to things; for example, our business has developed into areas we had no idea we were going to work in such an infection control this year. If someone had asked me, ‘Do you want to sell health and safety courses?’ when I was at school, I'd have rolled my eyes.
What is your tip for staying on top of finances practically, emotionally or strategically?
The numbers have got to add up — and that's where Matt and I work as a great team. He will ask what ideas I have come up with and we'll number crunch to see how we can actually make them work. I also think it’s about forming a solid brand before you start adding lots more in. When we've rushed and done things very quickly, we've not done them very well. From a practical perspective, it’s important to stop looking over your shoulder and thinking about how the competition are doing it and worrying you’ve got to do it now too, and instead give yourself time to do it properly. Making sure your team members all see the figures is important too. We include everyone from admin and commercial marketing to finance in our meetings, so they can all see the whole picture and how we're doing. Having those different perspectives and inputs is something that has really helped us stay on top of our finances.
What changes have you have made in response to the challenges of the pandemic in your business?
We were lucky to already be working with a great digital partner who’d actually been pushing us to take our standard parents’ course online for a while. But when Covid-19 hit we had to accelerate that plan because we had hundreds and hundreds of customers signed up for classes and to refund them would have taken all the cash out of business. Some customers said they wanted to wait and come back in person, but the majority moved online with us. It’s been a different kind of demand, and the biggest challenge for us was our franchisees, because we felt responsible for 70 people and their livelihoods. During the pandemic, we were also approached by the children's activity association to create an infection control course for their members, which we linked to updates in guidance so that people could understand how infection is transferred, why people have to sanitise their hands and why Covid-19 is different to the common cold. And once we launched that we were then asked to create other courses, including one for the general workplace.
What makes you feel out of your comfort zone and how do you handle that?
I can talk with passion about the courses that we run and our vision as a business because I'm naturally salesy. But I'm out of my comfort zone when somebody puts me on the spot about finances. To handle that I just have to learn the numbers — I've been on the train to meetings where Matt has been coaching me through it on the phone. I don't want to look blank when someone asks me a question about finances, but that's not my idea of a comfortable day. My comfort zone is talking about the learning outcomes in a course or the parents who’ve managed to save their kids’ lives by doing CPR from one of our courses. Then I come alive.