How I left my career and started a successful franchise business

Find out how mum Rachel Ray left a successful career to start a multi-million pound franchise business, and read three tips to help you realise your own business dreams.

In 2007, mum Rachel Ray left her successful career in accountancy to start a franchise cleaning business. Since then, Bright & Beautiful has gone from strength to strength. Today the business has more than 50 franchises nationwide, employs over 400 people and has a £3.5m turnover.

Rachel shares her story with us, explaining why she made the tough decision to leave a successful career behind and start her own business, and shares her tips for fellow aspiring entrepreneurs. (She also confesses how she really feels about cleaning!)

Why being a mum is the perfect time to start a business

Going from being employed to owning your own business is one of the biggest and scariest steps you can take in your life. But of all the people I know who have done it, not one has said they regretted it!

People set up their own businesses at all ages and at all stages of their lives and an increasing number of women that I know, both socially and professionally, say that for them the light went on when they had their children.

Like me, a lot of women go back to work after having their children and enjoy it and progress well, but just have that constant feeling that there must be a better way of doing it. A better way of being a mum, a professional, a wife, a daughter and a friend that didn’t mean they felt a) guilty b) stressed and c) knackered all the time!

I didn’t want to keep climbing the corporate ladder

By the time I had my two daughters I had got to a point in my career where I had the big job and the big salary to go with it. But as much as I loved my accountancy career I knew that I simply didn’t want to keep climbing the corporate ladder or to commit to the late nights, early starts and time away from home and family that would mean.

They always say that if you love what you do then you’ll never work a day in your life. Funnily enough, my business Bright & Beautiful, a domestic housekeeping franchise business, was inspired because I absolutely hate doing the cleaning and ironing!

When I was at home on maternity leave the running of the house fell to me (although I have to say my brilliant husband Rob did do more than his fair share). I hated it and even more so when I was using harsh chemicals and cleaning products that were making me ill when I was pregnant.

I had a Eureka! moment

That was when I started looking round for a cleaning company that I could employ who used natural products. But there was nothing. That’s when I had my Eureka! moment and I started to research the potential for a cleaning business that was ethical, family friendly and used non-toxic products.

By the time I was due to return to work I knew that there was a real market for this business and I was determined to make it work. My husband Rob was then working in property management and coincidentally was asked if he could provide cleaning services. I went in to quote, won the job and Bright & Beautiful was officially born, delivering professional eco-friendly cleaning, tidying, laundry and ironing.

It was hard to walk away from a secure income

It all sounds nice and simple now, but at the time we had two young children and a new house and here was I contemplating cutting our income in half to launch the business officially and make it my full time job.

That decision to walk away from a very comfortable salary was probably the scariest moment I have had in business and, while I had the utmost confidence that I could make Bright & Beautiful work, it was at the height of the recession and nothing was certain in the world of business.

But I threw myself into my business dream with every fibre of my being. Starting with one team of professional housekeepers, I developed the business into a franchise model and quickly grew in size, first in our home region of the North West and then across the country.

I did everything myself first – from the website design to the marketing – because I had to. And as soon as I could afford to get people in to help me – on my accounts, HR etc – I did, because I wanted to focus my energies on growing the business, not on doing the paperwork (another thing I hate!).

You need hunger and passion to succeed in business

When you do decide to set up your own business I feel really strongly that it has to be with 100% of your heart and soul, or don’t do it. You don’t have to want to take over the world and employ hundreds of people – indeed many highly successful and very women I know work on their own and will always do so – but you have to want to succeed.

Without that hunger in your belly to be your own boss and to do it the very best way you can I think people struggle to be their own boss.

I also think you have to see what makes your business better than what else is out there and to do your research. If you have an amazing business idea but someone else has got there first and you can’t see how you can better their offer, then maybe rethink your ideas.

I love that you never stop learning in business

One of the most exciting things about going from being employed to having your own business is that you never stop learning. If I had stayed in an accountancy career I would have known all there was to know about accounting but I wouldn’t be designing marketing campaigns, hosting training sessions for hundreds of women or getting to grips with the wonders of social media.

I knew from the word go that I wanted to grow my business into a national company and we used the franchise model to do that. Now, eight years after our very first cleaning job we employ over 400 professional housekeepers and have 50 franchises across the country.

And the best thing is that the women who come to us wanting to set up their own Bright & Beautiful business are often just like me. Ambitious women who want a great career but who aren’t prepared to not see their children grow up or to spend the rest of their lives thinking ‘what if…’.

My three tips for starting your own business

If you want to start your own business, here are my three top pieces of advice:

  • Be passionate – you have to really love your business idea and be 100% committed to and about it. If you love what you’re doing you will enjoy every day you go to work.
  • Take advice – listen to other people you meet you have their own businesses and learn from their mistakes and successes. One reason why our franchises work so well is that we share the knowledge of our journey and those of our franchisees with all the new people looking to start up their own business. We’ve made the mistakes so they don’t have to!
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses – I know that my weakest area is paperwork, so as soon as I could afford to bring in someone to work with me and organise the office I did. For others it may be getting an accountant or someone to help with marketing or social media. As a business owner you need to focus on building and growing the business and earning the money to enable you to pay someone to do the bits you’re not so good at!

Rachel Ray is the founder of national domestic housekeeping franchise business Bright & Beautiful.