babyballet’s Managing Director Claire O’Connor spotted a gap in the market within the dance industry and has created an award-winning concept and franchise business whilst being a dedicated mum to her 4 children, Harry(14), Charlie (6), Claudia (4) and Kitty (2). All Claire started with was an idea and a whole lot of determination so it’s incredible that babyballet is now the UK’s leading pre-school dance concept loved by over 8,000 children (and their grown ups) every week in 27 franchised areas!
And Claire just keeps on picking up awards for babyballet – she was picked as ITVs Mumpreneur in 2008, won Best Interactive Business Award at the Mumpreneur Conference & Awards 2010, and walked away with both Best Franchise and Business Parent of the Year 2010 awards at the mumandworking award ceremony last month.
What inspired you to start your own business?
The initial inspiration for babyballet came from my own personal experiences and a desire to provide dance classes for children that were different from all the rest. I realised that there was a need for non-competitive dance classes for children. I grew up surrounded by dance as my mum had a traditional dance school, which didn’t really suit my personality.
When I went to dance school I wasn’t the best, I wasn’t the right shape and it seemed that only the best were accepted, which left me with a lack of self confidence and self esteem, and a very poor body image. I left at 14, fed up with not quite getting the best grades or lead parts in shows.
Unfortunately I suffered post natal depression & I was a single parent following the birth of my first child. I went to work for my mum helping run her dance school because I couldn’t find a job which fitted in with my circumstances.
It was through this time that I recognised that dance classes hadn’t changed since I was younger and I was adamant that I wanted to change things.
I felt that children were still being zapped of their confidence at dance classes rather than being proud to reach their own potential and taking the positive aspects of the art into their later life. I wanted to change these attitudes so designed the non-competitive classes so that children are pumped full of confidence from an early age so they can grow being proud of who they are rather than comparing themselves to the varying shapes and sizes of others.
Due to the initial success of the first classes and spotting a niche in the market, I decided to expand the business by franchising as well as develop a range of uniform and merchandise.
I am so proud now to see so many children enjoying the classes across the UK and so many women (lots are mummies) running their own successful babyballet franchises.
What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge to date has been managing the growth in the business. I started with an idea and a whole lot of enthusiasm but as the business was such an immediate success, the reality of growing a business soon became a challenge.
At the beginning I was involved in every day to day task up to the point where I simply couldn’t manage the workload anymore. I was adamant that I wouldn’t jepoardise family life so I employed staff to take on duties so that I could concentrate on building the business and developing the brand without it having a negative impact on the family.
What have you learnt about yourself since you became self employed?
A lot! It makes me realise how hard I have worked and how much I absolutely love babyballet. It’s true what they say, ‘when you find a job you love, you never work another day in your life’.
What has been the best thing about being your own boss?
The biggest advantage for me is having the flexibility to work around my family.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring ‘mumpreneur’ what would it be?
If you’ve got an idea, go for it! Reach for the stars, be positive and don’t feel guilty about pursuing your own dreams.
To find out mor about babyballet classes and franchise opportunities please visit www.babyballet.co.uk
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