Our award winning entry can be seen below:
As family businesses go, you can’t get much better credentials than children’s music classes, Musical Minis!
Musical Minis was started by the family, because of the family, has benefitted thousands of families and is still run by the family today!
25 years ago, child psychologist and Play Specialist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, Karen Sherr couldn’t find a fun music group to take her baby son Matthew to, finding everything already on offer either too serious or too musical, so, with just a few friends and their children as her first clients, she set up Musical Minis, gathering together once a week to sing traditional children’s nursery rhymes with their children.
As with any good idea, news of Musical Minis spread fast (yes, before Mum’s Net, Facebook and the mobile phone!)…forcing Karen to start up ever increasing numbers of classes, to cope with the amount of people asking to be allowed to come along and enjoy the fun.
At the same time the dreaded return to work after maternity leave was looming and Karen felt she couldn’t leave her own child to return to work, looking after other people’s children in hospital, so she chose the only route open to her and, after some serious talks with her husband Rob, left her job at Great Ormond Street Hospital and started running Musical Minis as a proper, full time business from home.
In the early years Karen built the business, running more and more classes, learning as she went, but always with the firm support of Rob at her side. To this day he is still a partner in the business, responsible for all the finances and legal aspects of the business. After a long day in the city of London where he works as Head of Credit in a bank, he returns to the family home to what he calls his ‘Evening and Weekend Job’, Musical Minis.
Karen’s day is long too; most of her franchisees are mums with young children, so she usually talks to them in the evenings once they have put their children to bed. It isn’t unusual for the couple to still be working and taking phone calls at 8-9pm at night. Karen picks up the phone to franchisees while Rob settles down at the computer to check on the businesses’ finances, paying outstanding invoices, dealing with trademark disputes, analysing trends etc.
Eventually, in 1994 the couple realised that with now 3 young children, their ‘business baby’ was getting too big and that if they wanted to keep expanding, they’d have to find a different way to grow. They received a number of requests from mums who wanted to attend classes in other parts of the UK and obviously Karen couldn’t run these classes herself, so the only plausible solution was to franchise the business.
In 1996 with their in depth knowledge of how to run the business behind them, they began the franchising process; writing Operating and Training Manuals, seeking legal advice on preparing franchise agreements and clearing music rights, taking expert advice where necessary and putting in long and hard hours to get the new business launched.
As with all businesses, in the beginning Rob and Karen encountered a few small hiccups, including people infringing their trademark on the Musical Minis name, which resulted in successful but lengthy and expensive legal proceedings. They lived and they learned, making improvements where necessary and pushed forwards, recruiting 6 franchisees in their first five years.
Building the business was hard work but enjoyable and quickly became an integral part of family life. The children had been attending classes with Karen since they were born, literally, progressing from sitting next to her on the floor in their pram or car seat while she took a class, to becoming mummy’s ‘helpers’, handing out and gathering up instruments at the appropriate time, guiding new children in the actions for the songs and generally being a much needed spare pair of hands for Karen.
Karen says for her, the biggest benefit of having Musical Minis was that she never had to be a conventional ‘working mum’. She still got the fulfilment and ‘buzz’ from running her own business but equally, she was able to adapt her day to fit the business around her children. She could still take them to school in the morning, attend an assembly and even take them to after school activities; the financial input of the business helped support the family but, crucially, it never took her away from it. To this day, the flexibility Musical Minis offers remains one of the main ‘selling points’ to new franchisees; that rare ability to be able to run a business around a family.
Karen currently has one franchisee who manages to run 18 classes a week, all whilst looking after three children under 4! Karen freely admits that in the early days her children probably ate more fish finger suppers than was strictly good for them; not for her the luxury of making time-consuming, home-made teas every night, but she felt, and still feels, that it was a small price to pay for them having Mum with them all the time, driving them to and from school, listening to them talk about their days and generally being there to support and encourage them.
To this day, when a new franchisee joins Musical Minis it’s all hands on deck. A new starter ‘pack’ has to be assembled from the stocks that are kept in every conceivable corner of the Sherr family home. Each franchisee receives a box containing t-shirts, music and a selection of over a hundred colourful instruments that are used in every class (and washed between each one too!) and it is the Sherr children’s job to count them out of stock and into the order. Once they had eight, Government backed Children’s Centres starting all at the same time; eight sets of whistles, eight sets of drums into eight different boxes…the children worked hard that week!
From helpful toddlers to school and university aged young people, Karen and Rob’s children took on more legitimate roles within the company, handling general administrative tasks to help their parents as the business grew. Matthew and Alex were particularly good at sorting out any computer-related issues, whilst Emily took on the task of assisting with classes and parties, as well as keeping membership records and databases up to date.
In a move that will see Musical Minis remain a family business forever, Emily, now 21, is starting a teacher training programme through Teach First, where she’ll become an Early Years teacher and fully intends on taking over Musical Minis when her parents retire (which won’t be for a long time, says Karen!) The boys, now 26 and 24 are less involved but still pitch in when needed, particularly if they attend an exhibition when EVERYONE takes turns on the stand, in a true show of family unity!
One of Karen and Rob’s biggest success stories is owner of Musical Minis Oxfordshire, Leena Thakker; Leena used to take her daughter Anya to her local Musical Minis class so, when the franchise came up for sale, she didn’t hesitate in buying it; she paid back her franchise purchase fee in the first 12 months and now runs 15 classes in 7 locations across Oxfordshire. Furthermore, she has created employment for 3 local people, taking on helpers so she can run more classes. Leena is the absolute epitome of a successful franchisee and Rob and Karen are rightfully very proud of her and her achievements.
Throughout all this Karen and Rob have been careful not to grow the business too quickly. They are adamant that they will remain in a position to help each and every one of their franchisees, so that they too can enjoy a balanced work and family life.
Today, to market her business Karen is a passionate advocate of social media, using Facebook and Twitter every day to communicate with her followers and she encourages her franchisees to have their own social media pages too. Anyone who has ever left a message on the company’s Facebook page will know they get a thorough, personal reply from Karen every time, no ‘off the cuff’ responses from her!
She also writes a blog, posting regularly on a variety of subjects surrounding children, music and learning. Her degree in Child Psychology is never far from her writing, ensuring her posts are informative and interesting.
Aside from her work with Musical Minis, Karen is also a great advocate of the EWIF, Encouraging Women Into Franchising, a not-for-profit group set up to encourage more women to buy a franchise, to franchise their existing business or to encourage more women to join their existing franchise network. She regularly attends the London group’s meetings which are held 1/4ly in the Houses of Parliament. She and Rob sponsored their New Franchisee of The Year award in 2013.
Karen says that running Musical Minis has been nothing but positive for her family, embodying that phrase ‘the family who works together, stays together’ (or did we just make that up?)…and that all three children have benefitted hugely from the skills they have learned. Not many children could negotiate their way around an excel spreadsheet as well as Emily when she was a teenager!
The proof of the pudding must surely be that all three children come home often and still choose to regularly holiday with their parents. Karen notes that each summer Rob calls it ‘our last family holiday’ yet somehow, they all end up joining their parents again 12 months later. Most recently they enjoyed a trip to New York; working together so closely has made them a close family unit, something that is becoming rarer in today’s fast-paced society and something that they treasure.
Karen, Rob, Matthew, Alex, and Emily truly believe they are worthy winners of the ihubbub ‘Best Home-Based Business Award’ because, although largely unchanged, Musical Minis is still enjoyed, week in, week out, by generation after generation of children across the United Kingdom. How many other home-based businesses can say they have directly helped improve the development of children in our country? Have given Mums and Dads, Grannies and Grandpas, Nannies and Carers a chance to put down their mobile phones, turn off their iPads and simply enjoy singing traditional nursery rhymes with their sons and daughters, grandchildren and charges every week? Not many. This family business, run by a family who are passionate about running a professional business, for the benefit of other families is a true winner and they very much hope you will help them make that official soon!
Karen’s Top Tips for other families starting up a home-based business!
1 Make it part of the family – get everyone involved so they all feel they have a part to play
2 Set aside some time each day, or each week, when you DON’T talk about the business. Maybe a trip to the park, or the cinema. Get out of the house, which after all is also your office and enjoy some quality family time. Your kids deserve it!
3 Try to set aside a room or even just an area that is your ‘office’. That way you can stop it from spreading to all four corners of the house and hopefully ‘close the door’ on it too.
4 Try to set aside an evening a week to go out with your partner. It is important to have time together away from both the business and the children.
5 Don’t be afraid or too proud to ask for help from family and friends.
6 Use the internet….it is free and all it takes is time; get tweeting and posting!
To read more about the Musical Minis franchise opportunity click here.