THE KOBOLD Magazine

Starting a business: Entrepreneur Claire O'Connor shares her story

Vorwerk business influencer Claire O'Connor started her company, babyballet, 19 years ago. Here's her advice for budding business owners
Living
Like many people in the UK (29%), Vorwerk business influencer and mum of four, Claire O'Connor, wanted to change career and start her own business for a better work-life balance. She now owns pre-school dance school babyballet which has franchises across the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Here is her story and her top tips for starting a business.

Claire's story

After being born into the world of dance and working at her mum’s ballet school, Claire O’Connor noticed a gap in the market for pre-school classes. This gave the working mum the idea to create her own business focusing on pre-school dance with the aim of giving children a fun, exciting and happy experience of learning to dance in their early years. 

Claire’s idea of babyballet sparked in 1999. She developed her ideas over a six-year period, when she eventually took the plunge to start her own business in 2005.

Worried that she didn’t have the knowledge or confidence to go it alone at the start, Claire faced her fears by researching about business and networked to learn from others in the industry.  

babyballet now has franchises across the UK, Australia and New Zealand. There are 74 babyballet franchise businesses running across the UK, with each franchisee having exclusive rights to run classes in their chosen area. Claire plans to expand the brand even further across Europe this year. 

Turning a hobby into a career

“Ballet was always something I did as a hobby when I was younger but, at the time, I never wanted to have a ballet career like my mum did. I went on to do my GCSEs, A-Levels and went to university, but I scraped through my exams because I wasn’t very academic.

“I fell pregnant with my son in my second year of university so I left and found jobs that would work around my circumstances, such as retail and working at an estate agent, but I never found a career I was really passionate about.

“I started to work for my mum at her ballet school and it was during that time that I came up with the idea of babyballet. We did some pre-school classes at my mum’s ballet school, which were really successful. It was a really happy atmosphere for young children to learn to dance, and this gave me the idea to create my own business focusing purely on pre-school dance.

“I developed the idea between 1999 and 2005 whilst I was still working for my mum. As she knew I was so passionate about what I wanted to do, she asked if I would like to set up my own business with the four pre-school classes we had at that time. This is when I took the plunge and worked for myself.

Freedom and flexibility

“The main reason why I started my own business was because I was so driven by the idea and I wanted to have the freedom and flexibility to move it forward. It was really frightening at first because I was being paid monthly in my previous role and it was now up to me to get out there and find the work. However, I was so excited by what I wanted to do that I didn’t let anything stand in my way.

“As well as financial worries, self-belief and knowledge were barriers I faced when I first started out as I had no idea about how to franchise and I didn’t have any business experience. Thankfully, the internet proved a great resource so I found out as much as I could and I networked a lot because I was so driven by wanting to make this work.”

Our research shows that 61% of people in the UK want to run their own business, however financial concerns such as mortgage repayments and bills are preventing over half of the population (56%) from taking the plunge.

“It’s interesting to see the majority of the UK wants to work for themselves according to Vorwerk’s research. I think that more people are becoming more interested in running their own business now because it gives you a certain amount of flexibility and it allows you to drive your own work culture. Being your own boss comes with a lot of responsibility and it’s unfortunate Vorwerk found that 56% of the UK’s workers feel they can’t fulfil their dreams. I know how they feel as it is a daunting prospect, and there are different aspects you might not have considered, but the main drive for me was the passion in the idea and there was no one else doing what I wanted to do,” Claire said.

Achieving work-life balance

Our research reveals that one of the top motivators for switching careers was for a better work-life balance (29%). Claire has four children so having the flexibility to dictate her own working hours is important.

“Work-life balance is so important so I can agree with the 29% from Vorwerk’s study. I love working for myself and seeing my ideas progress and develop into the real thing. When you work for yourself you get to put your own stamp on everything,” said Claire.

“At babyballet, we have developed classes, merchandise, shows, characters and parties, and I’ve had the freedom to develop that with the team. The culture I have developed with the business is very much around what I would want for myself as well. Being my own boss has given me the flexibility to work around the children and family and it’s given me the opportunity to work the hours I want to work. I always want my team to have the flexibility to attend special events in their families lives, as I like to do.”

With ambitions to expand across Europe this year, Claire also wants to develop her team and continue having a “happy and healthy family.”

Claire's top tips for people wanting to run their own business

1. Be ambitious

Make sure you fully understand the impact of working for yourself. You have to drive yourself, be ambitious, determined and focused. You have to go out and find the work, and make sure you’re getting out there and networking so you learn as much about your chosen industry as possible. 

2. Be confident

If you’re the sort of person who wants to be your own boss but are put off because of your worries or fears, evaluate the pros and cons as much as you possibly can and make your decision from there.

3. Make sure you have the support you need to make the big transition

Make sure you have the support you need to make the big transition. Talk to family, friends and also to people who have taken the plunge to set up their own business . You will find that many people who have set up their own business are more than happy to talk to you as they have been in your shoes before so it’s beneficial to chat through the ups and downs to help your decision-making.

4. Learning curve

Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t expect everything to fall into place on day one. There’s going to be a lot to learn and you will undoubtedly have concerns, but just take every day as it comes. Try to achieve one thing each day and don’t just look at the big picture. Break everything down into manageable chunks so you feel like you’re achieving something rather than just looking at the end goal.

5. Challenge yourself

Never stop learning. I didn’t have any business experience when I first started my company. I just had a vision and a dream, and I made it my mission to learn as much as I possibly could and I will continue to do that so I can get better every day.

Looking for more flexible and fun working and to be your own boss? Vorwerk is currently on the search for business-minded people wanting to progress in their careers. Find out more at: www.kobold.vorwerk.co.uk/career/