Tamsin has been running a swim school since 2004

Running a Swim School: Water Babies

Tamsin has been running a swim school since 2004. A bad early experience with swimming inspired her and she has grown Water Babies through franchising.

Tell us your name and a bit about your family?

My name is Tamsin Brewis, I’m 55 and I live in Banbury with my husband Michael and our two children. Michael is a management trainer and my two children are now both at university.

When did you become a Mum and to whom?

I first became a mum in 1995. I have two wonderful children; Thomas who is now 21 and Sydonie who is now 19. They’re both at university and we couldn’t be more proud of them.

What’s your business called?

My business is called Water Babies.

Can you describe it in one sentence?

Water Babies is a baby swimming school offering lessons from birth to 4 years of age which are progressive, fun and safety driven.

When did you starT running a swim school and what inspired you?

I started Water Babies in November 2004. Before Water Babies, I worked for a field marketing company and I was forever commuting and away from home. I had two young children and I felt we were all missing out. Like so many other mums, I wanted to spend more time with them. I made what was, at the time, a pretty risky decision and changed career paths.

I’d had a bad experience as a child learning to swim and I swore my kids wouldn’t be afraid of water. At the time, I looked around for children’s swimming classes but was disappointed with what I found. Eventually, I found classes in London and I used to go all the way to London once a week for 40 weeks from Buckingham! The owner of that particular swim school asked if I would like to be a teacher so I qualified and became a swimming teacher. I started teaching locally and I was in the pool one day and a lovely little baby was sick on me – and that was my lightbulb moment! I thought, I need to be doing something for myself…

How did you fund your start up?

I used my life savings! I did speak to the banks about getting a loan but in the end I chose to put my own savings in rather than taking out a loan. It was a risk at the time. People thought I was totally mad. In fact, lots of people tried to talk me out of it.

I set off with a target for my first year and I not only reached this within nine months but over achieved; I’d always said to myself that if I hit that target for year one then we would go to New York for the weekend – so we did!

How do you manage running The swim school around your children?

When I first started out and for years afterwards, running the business alongside having a family and spending quality time with them was a great balancing act. I would work during the day whilst the children were at school and then again in the evenings when they were in bed. You have both the opportunity and the need to work around your children instead of having fixed hours.

Both of my children have very much grown up as part of the business with me. They’ve been with me to shows and fairs, they’ve helped with leafleting, visited pools with me. At first it was out of necessity and over time it became something we all enjoyed and in actual fact, something that has benefitted them socially and academically.

My family have helped immensely along the way – I wouldn’t have been able to do it without their support. When people say running your own business is easy – I say you’ve got to be joking!

Can you describe a typical day, what tasks do you have to get done, how do you manage your time?

What I first started the business I think it’s safe to say things were pretty hectic! I would be up at 7am to get the children to school then I would go straight into teaching swim classes for a couple of hours. After that I would be back to the office for admin work, then maybe out and about putting up leaflets or dropping flyers door-to-door before picking children up from school. Then of course it was family time so feeding everyone, doing homework and spending some time together before putting them to bed. Once the children were in bed I’d often catch up with missed phone calls and emails.

Now that the business has grown and I have a fabulous team of staff, I spend more time on business development than the day-to-day tasks. I still teach some classes because I love it and it’s important for me to be close to the children and parents that we work with. But otherwise I spend time on business planning, marketing, staff management, training and developing the Water Babies offering.

Do I do the same things every day – no! I didn’t when I started and I had two small children to work around and I don’t now that we’ve been established for over 10 years and they’re all grown up! I think that’s just the life of an entrepreneur!

What challenges have you faced in your business and how have you overcome them?

I would say the recession in 2008 was the biggest challenge we’ve faced as a business. It was tough but we managed to overcome it by working hard and being sensible. Everyone went above and beyond on a personal level and internally, we looked at the structure of the business, what pools we were using etc. and how to be as efficient as possible whilst still providing the very best service.

I think growing the business has been an ongoing challenge – it tends to grow in stages and I’m sure most businesses are the same so people will be able to relate! You have to grow a certain number of clients before you can take on new staff so you always reach a certain pressure or pain point just before you can afford to take on extra resource. We’ve had to learn as we go.

I also think the market changes, not in terms of what we’re offering but in terms of what our clients need and want. So it’s about listening to your customers and responding appropriately; they are the same challenges for most businesses really.

What’s the best thing about being Mumpreneur?

By far the best thing for me is the independence that comes with being your own boss and being in control of your own destiny. As a mumpreneur, I get the opportunity to try new things, learn from my mistakes and grow in personal strength and professional skill as a result. I love meeting new people and listening to them and learning from them.

I always said the reason I started the business was to spend more time with my family and I’ve definitely achieved that. My son, Thomas, is Dyslexic and Dyspraxic so needs extra support with education and learning. In the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted the business to be able to help with private school fees that would enable him to have the support that he needs. I’ve been able to achieve that and so much more, for my whole family. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve done as a business and as a family.

Giving back to the community and helping others is something I’m passionate about. I started a company initiative to fundraise for Tommy’s. As a charity they fund research into the causes of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. And they also provide information for parents-to-be to help them have a healthy pregnancy and baby. I’m so proud that my business can help towards this cause.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to continue to grow the business of course but it is more important to me to support my staff and make an impact in the community and in the lives of as many people as possible.

In future, I would like to do some charity work and work with teenagers suffering with mental health, depression etc. because as a mother, when you see young people suffering you want to give something back and help. So that’s the next big challenge I’d like to tackle I think.

What advice would you give for someone just starting out in business?

Identify your strengths and weaknesses and then play to your strengths. Get help where you need it and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s no such thing as a silly question. Learn from your mistakes and just have a go!