Pivoting with purpose and intent
That’s certainly what I’m advocating for and what I’m taking away from my Women Pivoting Interview Series (in case you missed it, Part 1 is here). The most successful shifts in your business model and the way you serve your customers or clients comes first from empathising with their needs then adapting or building capability to continue to serve them.
The show must go on
In Part 2, I talk to Lisa Ramsey from Baby Sensory and Toddler Sense Queensland.
Adapting an education program designed to nurture children through their first five years of life to something that could be delivered in a remote format was no easy feat. But in just three weeks, Lisa was able to start Term 2 of her program as planned.
Lisa and her team recognised the benefits their programs could offer caregivers and their children whilst in isolation. They quickly saw how their service could play a role in easing some of the anxiety and pressure, providing not only continuity for the children in an important time for their early development, but connection and routine at home.
Watch the full interview here, or read on below.
Lisa, thanks so much for joining me. I really appreciate your time and especially as there’s been so many changes with your business happening in the background.
Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your business.
My business is Baby Sensory and Toddler Sense. I first came across Baby Sensory and Toddler Sense when I was living in the UK, back in 2011. Having done my Bachelor in Early Childhood and worked in the industry here in Australia, I knew that there was nothing for zero to 13 month olds, particularly when I came across Baby Sensory over there in the UK.
Obviously knowing the importance of the first five years of life, it was something that immediately got my attention and I wanted to explore it further, so that’s what I did. I started Baby Sensory on the Gold Coast, in Queensland, in October 2013 and I started Toddler Sense Queensland a few years later in 2017. It kind of came later on once we had established Baby Sensory throughout the state.
Baby Sensory is for babies up to 13 months and Toddler Sense is for 13 month to 4 year olds. What happens is parents or caregivers bring their baby or toddler to class for one hour a week and participate in the class with them. Our aim with the classes is to empower and educate parents or caregivers to interact and engage with their children in a meaningful way and just have fun really, but also with the educational benefit behind it.
Awesome. I can definitely attest to the quality of the programs having had my daughter go through Baby Sensory and currently through Toddler Sense, so I know it’s a fantastic and really awesome program but obviously, very face to face and physical.
Obviously we’ve got COVID happening, a major pandemic, and you’re communicating with parents as things happen and staying abreast of what the regulations are, but tell us about what was going through your mind as you started to realise that this was getting real and alternatives needed to be found. What were you thinking at that time?
There was lots going on and I was probably a little bit in denial at first. I mean, I always like to be one step ahead of what’s going on so I was still trying to be open minded but at the same time I didn’t want to do anything too drastic too quickly.
Gosh it seems so long ago – three weeks before term one was due to end and there was a whole week there that I was thinking what we should do. I was wondering whether we should suspend, this was before the government had put in their restrictions and whether we should stop or try and keep going? I thought about what we could put into place to abide by the government restrictions so that parents could continue to come to classes, but in a safe way.
In the end, we saw a drastic drop in numbers that week while I was still trying to decide what we should do. That made up my mind that at that point in time it wasn’t a service that was needed, so we had to make a decision to suspend the classes so that when parents were ready to come back, they could do it in a safe way. I then communicated with parents that we had decided to suspend term one initially and the communication was that we’d start back in term 2 which was scheduled for 20th of April. I think that actually helped because by the end of that week, the government pretty much closed down recreational activities, but I think because that email had gone out the week before, there was not that panic as parents had already had communication from us. They knew that we would keep updating them and we gave them some options around the term one fees, which was another big thing going through our head. Everyone pays for a term upfront so what were we going to do with all these fees, it wasn’t just a week, it was three week’s worth. So initially, because we were suspending them to term 2, we communicated with the parents that we would then just carry over all those classes and everyone would be honoured those classes.
It’s always a little bit nerve-wracking communicating with your clients to ensure that you can keep everyone happy but, like I said, doing it before the restrictions came into place did help ease that because we didn’t have families at home wondering what was going to happen with their class. It also stopped us being bombarded with emails as we were already ahead of it.
Of course, you want to be on top of that and manage that for sure. Especially as they panic about everything, it’s not just that one particular thing that’s going on in their mind. So having personally experienced it, you managed it very well.
Oh, wonderful thank you. Once we decided we couldn’t allow the program to continue because we couldn’t provide it safely for parents, things became pretty clear that next week, the first week we were shut, that there was probably not going to be a term 2 either. So then we had to think about what to do, as we’d told all these parents that we were suspending the term one classes and would be back in term two.
It then became even clearer that this was going to go on for a couple of months so we needed to think about what we could do to ensure that we could still provide a service to our families, and stay connected with them. We felt more than ever during isolation, that it was really important to provide something to the families and for us to stay connected to our clients, but also to help parents and caregivers during this time of isolation where all the parks have been shut and everything’s been shut down. We wanted to provide something to help the well being of families essentially, and to ensure that the children had some sort of consistency amongst this because it’s hard for them to understand and comprehend what’s going on. We felt if they could continue on with a little bit of routine or something familiar, then that would be a win to us. That was we knew that we had to go down the route of online classes, like many other businesses similar to ours.
So then the race started! And we were very lucky because we are part of a franchise system. Our head office was amazing and there was a lot of communication and discussion amongst each of the state managers and head office as to what platforms could be used to deliver our online classes first of all.. Initially, we thought that we would go with Zoom, and because that seemed to be the one that was hot.
It’s so hot right now, everyone’s using Zoom!
We actually did go quite deep into getting on the Zoom path but then we just realised that it wasn’t the platform for us. It seemed to be more of a meeting type platform and wasn’t going to be able to give us everything we wanted to provide the classes online.
That brought us back to square one because there had been a bit of time involved in that to try and move the process forward. Head Office was absolutely amazing, they researched it, they learnt it, they wrote a really in-depth manual for everyone across the business to be able to get up and running and made it user friendly as quick as possible. So we were really lucky in that area, and the platform we ended up going for was called Demio, which I hadn’t heard of before.
I haven’t heard of it either.
It’s been wonderful for what we’re doing. We’ve had some good feedback from parents attending as well, which has been great, because it’s always a bit of an uneasy thing but we were lucky on that front that we had a head office supporting us.
As we were managing all the work on the ground, like managing all the clients as well as trying to figure how we were going to do it all online, it was just one element that relieved a bit of pressure, which was really great.
I can imagine having to deal with the research around those platforms was a really complex issue and tech is not everyone’s forte either. So it sounds like head office alleviated a big burden, which must have been a great support.
They wrote what was probably a 40 page manual, specifically for our business, outlining how to set everything up and what to do, so that was wonderful. I guess the other side of that was, we had to think about what lessons we were going to deliver online that were going to be suitable for online because anyone who has attended our classes knows we cannot replicate them at home. Also, there were particularly some activities that needed group participation or props and you just can’t deliver that online and get the same result.
The other thing was that we were trying to create an interactive class. It wasn’t for babies or toddlers to sit and watch TV, we wanted it to have screen time but as an interactive experience with the caregiver and their child to help build on the bonding and engagement and all that sort of thing.
I think from a parent’s perspective, with a no screen policy, this isolation has certainly made me reassess that. So I imagine a lot of parents are having to kind of wrestle with that in their minds about putting their kids in front of screens. However, with an interactive sense and with that educational foundation, it makes it an easier decision to make. It’s also an easier transition to make knowing that they know you, they trust you, they know the program and they know that you’ve got that educational base and background to guide the activity, which I think is really important too.
Yes, and I think that was a little bit more challenging to get across with our toddlers, I guess, as we needed to keep things moving at a faster pace for the slightly older age group. They started to be exposed a little bit more to all that sort of thing, but you’re relying on the caregivers to be there to support and help them to carry out the activities that the class tutor is instructing on the screen.
With the babies it seemed to be a little bit easier to do, because the way we delivered the class was basically the class leader interacting with her doll, her baby, and, giving parents the tips and tools so they could do that same activity with their baby. So, very different for the two programs, but we’ve managed to make it work for each of them which was great.
Then there were lots of discussions with head office around what classes we would use online. We have 80 different lesson plans for toddlers and 40 lesson plans in Baby Sensory, which goes for one year or two. We were lucky in that sense that we had lots of different lesson plans that we could draw from. We could pull out bits and pieces, leave some out and use others that we found suitable for online delivery.
We have quite a good reputation for our in person classes and we wanted to ensure going online that we could still deliver that high quality service given the circumstances and so far, I think it’s been pretty successful.
Well certainly from my perspective, it looks like it’s been absolutely seamless, like you didn’t skip a beat.
With this sort of decision making process, you said you were communicating with head office, were you also talking with the other franchisees in the other states? Is it kind of a collaborative effort?
Yes, those discussions with head office were also undertaken with the other state managers and then we’re feeding that down to our team in our states. We have classes on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, North Lakes, and in Bayside as well, so we’re feeding that down to our teams and supporting them to get up and running.
Once we got up and running and started to learn about the platform and came across various things, we were able to share them amongst the team and give them tips on how best to use the program and get the most out of it, which has been great.
We also have lots of online private groups that we can share amongst the team that provide lots of support.
That’s really great and I’m sure in a lot of other businesses that communication has gone into overdrive. It’s been even more important to communicate very clearly and concisely so it’s great that you were able to pull together as a team and come up with those solutions.
Did you do any testing beforehand or was that down to head office to test the result and then roll it out from there.?
We tested it. That was one of the reasons we didn’t end up going with Zoom, because once we started to think about how we were going to do this on the ground, we decided that we needed a different platform. So it was tested by everyone, because everyone’s on different terms. Victoria was a few weeks ahead of Queensland school term, and so forth, so we did have those few people starting to test a little bit earlier, but they are testing it on their own level. I guess we wanted to know that we knew how to use it and we tested it amongst family and friends first to get the quality and all that sort of thing because we were in isolation.
You’re in isolation too! Yeah.
That was another thing, you know, to test based on where you live and dealing with neighbors and different things. That was something that had to be tested and because you’re working in a different space than you would normally with your sound and so forth, we tested it with my family and friends. For Baby Sensory, we actually offered a free Easter class because we have quite a nice Easter special that we normally run for our babies and we didn’t want those parents who were experiencing their child’s first Easter to miss out. We offered that as an additional extra to parents, which also allowed us to test the program broadly, before having people sign up and pay, which gave us confidence. Once we’d run that successfully on Easter Sunday, I had a lot more confidence.
The whole time you do it, you think you’re going to be churning through it, going through the paces, but you don’t know until you actually deliver it, so it was great to get that first one off the ground.
In terms of bringing people across from term one to term two and signing up for term two with the understanding that you would be moving online, what was your transition like to get those people across? Did you see some drop-offs or were most people on board with the idea?
It varied and, to be honest, it’s been interesting. We had 450 across Baby Sensory and Toddler Sense within my business in Brisbane and it’s been varied. We’ve had some automatically take up the online class as we gave them the option to either convert to online, or we offered them a gift voucher option too that they could use in the future when classes returned. Alternatively, they could pass the vouchers on to a member of their family or friends when the time comes as we don’t know how long this was going to be put on hold for. People’s circumstances are going to change too by the time we come back to classes, so we thought that giving gift vouchers was a good option for parents as well. Those are the two main options and because we also had parents that had already signed up for term two, we had to manage their fees. I would say we’ve seen about 50% come over, and then some chose to either keep credits for when classes start back or opted for gift vouchers or so forth. We’ve actually had quite a few new customers as well, which is great.
It’s worked well too for parents who can only get to class on a Saturday or Sunday because they have been able to experience the classes in that way.
That’s so fantastic.
Moving forward into the future in a post-pandemic world and when everything gets back to normal, do you think there are opportunities for online classes in your business or is it just an emergency only situation? Has it given you ideas as to how you could incorporate an online element in your business?
Well there were lots of challenges and, as with anything when you are working to get it up and running, the stress levels are going to be high, especially because of this unexpected situation which we hadn’t planned for. I think that, although the rollout has been quite seamless, I do think there are still opportunities for this to be something in the future, but we’d need to work through some teething issues to get it to the standard that we would like it to be at if we’re going to offer it permanently.
Something that’s been really nice to come out of it is that we’ve been able to tap into our rural and regional communities, which is something we’re really passionate about as a business and that’s been wonderful to see. Not only have we had family and friends being able to attend and see their children now enjoy the classes, but we’ve had people coming through from those wider communities, which is great. So it’s definitely something that I think we might look at being able to offer in the future and a way in which we might be able to provide for those communities as well.
How did you communicate with those communities to say, ‘Hey, we’re online, you’ve never been able to access us before, but here we are’?
When I say we’ve got a few coming through, it’s not a big number, because it’s not an area that we’ve been able to market to because of costs and so forth. Probably through word of mouth databases, so people sharing our emails that are going out to databases, people sharing Facebook posts, and so forth. Also on our website, we’ve put up some extra markers across those regional areas, so the people visiting the website from those areas now see Baby Sensory and Toddler Sense pop up in their area, and go to an online class.
That sounds pretty perfect in the short time that you had to make that happen and communicate it and it sounds like you did all the right things. You also didn’t have to launch a massive advertising campaign as all your touch points were in place.
If it was something we’re going to do in the future, we would need to look at how viable that sort of thing is as well..
Fantastic. Lastly, do you have any advice for other women who are in business and are trying to navigate in their own minds how they might be able to adapt to our ever changing environment?
I think one of the big things to consider is not to rush into anything. We saw quite a bit of that happening when everything was getting shut down. Don’t feel like you need to immediately come up with a solution. Be open with your customers or your clients and keep communicating with them and provide them with other resources.
We did some online posts about ways to interact or ideas for play to keep them going through that time while we figured out what we were doing. So I think that’s a big thing, just don’t rush into it, spend the time thinking about what you want to provide and to ensure it’s going to be viable and still be what you are about as a business.
I guess the other thing would be, don’t feel like you have to replicate exactly what your business was. There was no way we could replicate or replace our in-person classes, which was a little bit disheartening because we wanted to continue to provide that as there are lots of added benefits of coming to classes in person. So I think just being open with your clients and your customers, letting them know about the service you’re going to provide and letting them know that it’s going to be different. Then they can decide if it’s something they want to take up or not and, if not, be respectful of that, as not everyone’s going to adapt to the changes easily. Be respectful of people’s opinions and just find a way that you can cater for them when the time comes and your business can return to normal.
That’s really great advice both from a mindset perspective, and also in terms of practicality as being able to deliver what you always want to and also being adaptable to what’s possible.
In a pandemic it’s like you have this urgency and think “everything’s falling underneath me, what am I going to do?”, but sometimes rushing in can result in making the wrong decisions because you’re just trying to provide something. Even in the short span, we took three weeks to change it around, but it felt like a lifetime.
All these weeks are seeming like a lifetime at the moment, but you’re absolutely right when you’re trying to get something up and running, that timeframe can seem like that, so it’s amazing that you were able to do it in just three weeks.
Congratulations on your pivot, I think it’s wonderful and very inspiring for other women in business too. You’ve also given some excellent and very thoughtful advice there so I just want to thank you so much for your time.
I know you’ve got many more class plans to get to and probably some downtime too to have a break and refresh because you do an awesome job bringing that high energy to your classes. So thank you so much, Lisa, for your time. I really appreciate it.
Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.
One key success factor for Lisa’s pivot was also clear communication with her clients throughout the changes. Understanding possible objections clients may have had and taking a proactive approach to communicating helped Lisa ease her clients through to the online format of the program. Having a supportive and proactive head office in the UK was also a key factor in ensuring each franchisee had the right tools and information to adapt their businesses.
I can highly recommend Baby Sensory and Toddler Sense, which is available in multiple locations throughout Australia and the UK. Queensland-based families can follow Baby Sensory on Facebook here and Toddler Sense here.
If you’re stuck on whether your idea for pivoting is right for your brand and business, the 50 Prompts For Pivoting workbook might help.
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