Ellie Baker, who is a teacher by trade, has always enjoyed working with children. Formerly a student of French and Spanish at university, she is also fascinated by languages.
In 2012, when her daughter was born, Ellie realised she needed a change in her career to fit her new lifestyle, and BilinguaSing was founded.
We spoke to Ellie about her business journey, her inspiration, and how she managed to scale her franchise empire.
A gap in the market
As a new mother, Ellie attended many baby classes such as music, swimming, and yoga. The demand for kids’ classes has exploded in recent years, but Ellie began to explore the world of infant development classes just as they were gaining in popularity.
Ellie knew and understood what a lifeline baby classes could be for new parents, especially first-time mums like her. Through these classes, Ellie was able to connect with other parents and form friendship groups to provide support and advice to each other.
And being intrigued by entrepreneurship, Ellie also saw this as the perfect opportunity to set up her own business. She explains: “The seed of the idea was planted. Through that phase of my life, I saw a gap in the market for languages for babies. And that is where it began.”
Language learning in the UK is often misunderstood. However, parents are becoming more and more interested in raising their children bilingually.
“Many people thought it was crazy at first,” Ellie says. “Why should a baby be introduced to a new language when they can’t even speak? But I was fascinated by it. I wanted my children to be bilingual. So I read up on this a lot, and I found out that research showed that babies between the ages of 0 and 6 months can benefit from being exposed to a new language during that window of learning. It develops new grey matter and connects all these neurons. I am not a scientist, but I loved diving into this research.”
With that lovely blend of passion and natural curiosity, BilinguaSing was born. Ellie created a safe and welcoming haven for parents and babies to explore the world of languages. And the name BilinguaSing came about because it’s a truly bilingual class.
Stepping outside the comfort zone
Having trialled BilinguaSing first in her local area, Ellie saw how well it was received and knew that was when she was onto something.
The BilinguaSing business plan and growth were very intentional. Unlike some businesses that stumble upon the idea of franchising, this was a deliberate move for Ellie.
“I always knew that if I was going to do this, I had to make it big. Mainly because I was investing a lot into it. We had written a lot of the songs we use, aside from traditional nursery rhymes.”
As with most things, this didn’t come without cost. Ellie enlisted the help of talented bilingual singers who could sing both versions of the song.
“Everything I was earning at the time I was ploughing back into the business. When you’re doing that, it has to work. I knew it was franchisable.”
Although Ellie was switched on when it came to business, franchising was a new venture for her. It wasn’t until she attended specialist franchising classes that she started to see them in action and learnt how to take BilinguaSing to the next level.
From that moment, everything Ellie did was very intentional and carefully considered to ensure it was scalable.
Ellie’s eureka moment came when she decided to mix English and the other language. It became BilinguaSing’s USP.
Piloting the franchise
Unlike some other franchises, Ellie decided to not use consultants to help start her journey. Instead, she knew what she wanted to do and opted to find advice from sources she could find online.
“I even went to a few seminars and I was told categorically that I couldn’t franchise my business until it had been going for at least two years. I was like, well watch me then.”
After about a year of being in business, Ellie decided it was time to open the doors to potential franchisees. She decided to pop up a page on her homemade website and put together a pilot franchise plan.
Incredibly, four ladies interested in becoming franchisees of BilinguaSing came forward. Ellie began by building a relationship with them whilst they did their due diligence on the brand. After both parties were happy, Ellie had a simple contract drawn up.
“We had a straightforward contract drawn up as we didn’t have the funds to go to a big franchise lawyer that you often see at franchise shows.”
To this day, three out of the four original pilot franchises are still with BilinguaSing and are now in their seventh year of business.
“They’ll be going into their eighth year soon and we’re proud of that. That says a lot about how we relate to our franchisees. We treat them like family.”
The secret to the success of BilinguaSing franchises? Deliberate and strategic growth.
“I could have had a hundred franchises, but there is a reason why there has been slow organic growth. I’ve had another two children during that time. You could go to town and grow your business much more quickly than I have. But I did it at a pace that I was happy with and with the right people.”
Great people, make great things happen
BilinguaSing is a family affair. Ellie’s sister is heavily involved with the business and is her right-hand person. Working together, they have been able to put all of the infrastructure needed in place and enjoy the exciting journey they are on.
“We’ve also been part of the kickstart scheme, so we’ve had 13 young people do six-month placements with us. It’s been a way of helping the community and young people who would otherwise be unemployed due to the pandemic. It’s been rewarding for us and has also been incredibly helpful for BilinguaSing.”
Despite being hit during the pandemic, BilinguaSing has just under 20 franchisees at the moment, all working hard to achieve their goals. Ellie is focusing her time on helping support her franchisees, ensuring that the infrastructure can support growth and to further strengthen the brand.
A final piece of advice from Ellie
“Don’t be afraid to outsource. Otherwise, you’re not focusing on what matters, such as business growth – you’re just constantly thinking about what is the most pressing thing that needs to be done. Whether it’s financial or accounts, those things take up so much time. Yet if you are leading a franchise network, you shouldn’t be doing those things.”
A big thank you to Ellie for speaking with us. If you have big business plans too, here are some handy links to help you get started.
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