Freedom is celebrating 20 Years in the business this year and whilst sitting down with the communications team, we wanted to know how Fran built the business she has today.
What job did you do before Freedom and what was the catalyst for starting Freedom?
My career actually started in retail. I studied Business and Finance and from there became a Management Trainee for Debenhams. I was lucky enough to train in all departments over the course of three years, including HR, Sales and Cash Office. When I was 21, I became a Deputy Manager for Dorothy Perkins which led me to my first Managers position at River Island in Shrewsbury.
The catalyst for starting Freedom was probably when I fell pregnant with my first child, Lottie in 1998. I became a stay-at-home mummy for two years and absolutely loved it. However, coming from a large family and having moved to the Isle of Wight had made me feel very isolated. I thought if I felt like this then a lot of parents must also feel the same way. I had always dreamed of running my own business and toyed with a few ideas, and Freedom was then born.
Initially, we just started by providing babysitters and nannies to local hotels and from there the business grew organically. Working in retail gave me extensive people management and HR skills, which I applied to a new sector. I vividly remember writing our induction manual after I had put Lottie to bed and spent many hours juggling both parenting and setting up a business. It was a very challenging time, but very rewarding.
What is your fondest memory from your beginnings on the Isle of Wight?
There are so many lovely memories from the Isle of Wight. Both of my children were born and grew up there. We were lucky to have the beaches so close by and access to lots of outdoor areas for play in. We were also nominated and won a business award for excellence and ever since then we’ve gone from strength to strength, developing our services, practices and quality.
In 2004 we also worked together with the NHS on their Work Life Balance Strategy, which involved us supporting NHS employees prior to nannies being able to be registered with Ofsted. This meant Freedom were able to expand to Portsmouth, which led to a partnership agreement with Portsmouth QA Hospital and providing them with creches for their Children Centres.
What are your core values as a person that translate into your business?
I genuinely am a real people person and someone who is very family orientated. These core values as a person really shows in Freedom. I really enjoy helping people it gives me a real sense of purpose; I have personally been a single mum and know how hard it can be. I have a very developed sense of empathy and genuinely care about the families we care for and the people we employ. I guess this emanates out and the team in the office all share these values, which then cascade through our care teams.
It is important to ensure that not only our clients feel supported and cared for but that our care teams are also supported. This has never been so prevalent than now with Covid and the uncertainty and emotional toll it creates for us all. Freedom is dedicated to caring for our teams and understanding their personal situations, this creates the caring culture that our clients see when they use our services, it starts with everything we do and how we behave towards everyone we come into contact with.
The bottom line is we really do care.
What’s the most significant difference between the year you started and today?
My goodness!! I used to complete P35’s manually for all of my staff and myself, which involved an A1 sheet where you had to calculate the tax and NI contributions for each member of staff manually. I have scary memories of me doing these on the floor of my living room in pencil…makes me go cold just thinking about it!! I would say technology is definitely up there!
Technology has evolved so much since the year I started, and has made running a business smoother and more efficient. I used to create a template in Word and Excel for invoicing, now we used Quick Books to invoice clients, pay staff, and all PAYE contributions are automatically calculated and paid to HMRC. We also now use Teams which is a fabulous business tool that means we can create Teams around families or for different purposes, this has been hugely beneficial during Covid because we can all work from home, but still ensure we are connected. We used to also operate a paper time-sheet system and now we use an application called tsheets where staff can record their times and claim expenses via an app on their smartphones.
The operating environment has changed tremendously which has made Freedom more effective and successful, leaving more time for us to focus on what really matters – the people we work with and support.
Do you have one standout story about a child you can recall?
I wouldn’t say there is one standout story, because over the years we have had many families that we have worked with and all the children are joyous and special in one way or another.
We have been lucky with some of the clients we have worked for, for example, we had provided childcare support at an event for a charity called Reach. Each year we would attend and the biggest benefit would be to see the same children growing up and for them to recognise us. It’s always lovely to see them. It’s always great when you feel you have made a difference to any family or child. Some families we have worked with for a number of years and we have lovely working relationships, for example, one of my first ever client’s niece is now a client after they recommended us to her. That is how rewarding working in this business can be.
Who was the first member of staff?
When we started Freedom, we only had a handful of staff working with us including, Stacy, Lucy and Brigitte who is our longest serving carer!
What prompted the move to Lymington?
Sadly, in 2007 saw my first marriage break down. I became a single mum of two children (a two-year-old and a seven-year-old). The first few years were hard on my own, but I had wonderful support from my amazing family and I managed to keep the business running whilst supporting my two children.
This was a very difficult time for me personally and it wasn’t until 2009 that I met my now husband, Stuart after dating across the Solent! With a great leap of faith, I decided to move to Lymington and this wasn’t the easiest of tasks as I wasn’t just moving myself, I was moving my two children, changing their schools, and moving a business. Whilst it was very scary at the time, it was actually one of the best decisions of my life and I would do it all over again!
What advice would you give a young entrepreneur?
You can never ask too many questions! Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be proud! We aren’t supposed to know everything, be humble and always ask again if you’re unsure or do not understand. Knowledge is the key to success.
Write a business plan. Having a business plan gives you a starting point and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy but it helps you to focus on your overall goal. I recently found my business plan that I wrote to get funding from the Princes’ Trust. I also found having a mentor helped me greatly. My mentor was a gentleman called Steve Baker who I met through Business Link. He was brilliant, down to earth, practical, supportive and gave me great advice.
There is so much help out there if you’re looking to start your own business. Be brave, no one said it was going to be easy, remember with every fall there is a rise. You have to really dig deep sometimes and overcome fears and insecurities to make things a success.
How quickly did you go from childcare into children’s social care?
Freedom has been supporting Social Care teams since 2005 in a very low-key way, so about four years after moving the business to Lymington. This developed further when we started to supply Children’s Social Care to Bournemouth Council back in 2014 and now, we supply many local authorities including Southampton, Dorset, Isle of Wight, Southwark, Suffolk to name a few.
The business is growing and expanding in this area still and we finally launched our standalone Children Social Care website in 2020 and this year my goal with the launch of Adult Services means that we can be a support for the whole family from children to parents, and even grandchildren.
What will Freedom look like in to twenty years’ time?
Wow! That would be a business with 40 years under its belt! I would also be 70!!
I imagine the Adult and Social Care teams will be really well established, we would have a larger Head Office team and an even larger Care team. Freedom’s name would have been known to three generations, meaning we would have gained years of trust and respect for what we do.
However large we get; I will ensure that Freedom remains focused on our core values: Care, Empathy, Understanding, Trust and Respect.
Everyone deserves support and care.