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You don’t need to have all the answers

“You don’t need to have all the answers. That’s what experts are for,” says Anne-Marie Martin, founder of diddi dance, a dance class business aimed at toddlers and preschoolers.

Former professional dancer Anne-Marie started diddi dance in 2003 and has since scaled her franchise business to 40 locations in the UK.

We spoke to Anne-Marie about the amazing growth of her company, the lessons she’s learnt, and the advice she’d give to others thinking about building a franchise business.

How it started

Anne-Marie had a passion for teaching dance and wanted to ensure children had a positive first impression. Seeing a demand for fun and engaging classes for toddlers, she decided to start running her own. Before she knew it, her friends had booked a venue for her to teach at. “They told me to turn up – that first class was a little bit daunting!” says Anne-Marie.

Things quickly snowballed from there. “I went from one class a week to seven and thought ‘wow’, all this from just one venue in North London. The demand is huge!”

As popularity grew, Anne-Marie started to explore the idea of expanding the business.

Piloting the franchise

Anne-Marie had loosely heard of the term ‘franchising’ and thought maybe this was a good option for her business.

“I went to a franchise consultant and we did a feasibility study on how I was operating and all the figures involved. Then we did what’s called a pilot franchise with a couple of friends of mine who were stopping performing and looking to teach. We looked at areas outside of London and tested it, in return for a free franchise.”

Building the business

In 2007, family took priority for Anne-Marie as she fell pregnant with her first child. But by 2010, Anne-Marie felt ready to build on the seven pilot franchises that had been performing well. She had a clear objective: to ensure that every child had the same energetic and enjoyable diddi dance experience no matter where the class took place in the UK.

As with every business journey, there were setbacks. One learning curve in particular was around trademarking.

“The classes were originally called ‘funky feet’,” explains Anne-Marie. She’d checked the trademark register and bought the trademark, but when it came to franchising under that name, her franchise consultant raised a red flag. While she owned the trademark, the fact that other people were already running classes under that name meant Anne-Marie had no say in them stopping doing so. “That was devastating,” Anne-Marie admins, but ultimately it paved the way for the birth of ‘diddi dance’.

Working with experts

Anne-Marie is a firm believer in playing to your strengths and then seeking support from others when it comes to your weaknesses.

“Anything you’re not strong in, bring in somebody who has that skill.”

The franchise consultant is not the only expert Anne-Marie leans on to develop her business. From bringing in social media professionals to PR consultants, Anne-Marie does all she can to supercharge her franchisees’ growth.

By outsourcing work, Anne-Marie can focus on her key mission: maintaining the quality of diddi dance. Her team does this by arming franchisees with comprehensive lesson plans and training, as well as ongoing support and a strong sense of togetherness and community.

Franchisees are part of the diddi dance network and are never on their own. “Every franchisee gets a personal visit after the first term. And it continues to be a two-way street – making sure you are listening to them because they are on the front line, but also being hands-on so the standards are maintained.”

Expanding from one location to 40 is no mean feat, so we asked Anne-Marie how a franchise can scale. “That’s the million-dollar question! There is no one hard, fast rule. There are various different channels: franchise portals, social media, it will very much differ from where you’re at. I think it’s about analysing who your ideal franchisee is. You look at your current network, and where your ideal franchisee might be located.”

Removing the admin headache

diddi dance’s franchise model operates on an initial upfront fee, no matter the size of the franchise. They then take a percentage of the turnover each month. “The percentage-based model helps them grow gradually to fit around their lifestyle,” explains Anne-Marie. This split happens at source when payments go through their admin system, something Anne-Marie is a firm believer in having in place.

Asked about the importance of implementing a class management solution like LoveAdmin, Anne-Marie says: “What you guys do is absolutely invaluable. I don’t think you can run a really successful business, especially a franchise network, unless you have software systems in place. You have to have a certain level of automation that takes out the headache for you.”

What’s next for diddi dance?

Anne-Marie would love to grow to 50 franchises. But her ambitions don’t stop there. “We had new uniforms made last summer, which was a big development. And now we’re trying to build diddi dance as a preschool brand. So, the three characters from our logo, we’ve started animating them. There are plans to develop them into merchandise. We have big plans!”

A big thank you to Anne-Marie for speaking with us. If you have big plans too, here are some handy links to get you started:

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