Exclusive interview with Liz Hutchings, Total Guide to
Franchisors name: Liz Hutchings
Name of franchise: Total Guide to Ltd
Tell us a bit about yourself
I left full time education after completing A Levels in Politics, English, Communication Studies as from a young age was hungry to learn on the job. I started working for a local internet start-up at 19 and was made partner after just 2 years. At the age of 26 I left to create Total Guide to Ltd.
I was born in Kent and grew up in Shrivenham, Oxfordshire close to where the TGt Head Office is in Swindon. I met my husband when I lived in Bristol, and then moved to the Cotswolds where we started our family. We are now settled in Poole, Dorset where we also manage the newest TGt location – Total Guide to Poole.
When not enjoying quality time with my family, I like to keep fit and active and run most days (albeit with Florence in the running buggy), cycle and the move to Poole means that myself and my husband Ross are able to satisfy our passion for surfing (and get Florence and baby in to it from a young age!)
When was Total Guide to established? And what were the factors for deciding to go down the franchise route?
The first TGt site was launch in March 2012 and six months later, the second TGt site, Total Guide to Bath was launched (managed in-house). The original plan was to roll out across the UK but manage internally, it became apparent though that the key to success was having individuals that know and love each town and city running each location. I also wanted to give others the opportunity to make a good living from doing something they love and that gives them control of their own destiny and enables them to have a good work/life balance.
What have been Total Guide to’s biggest achievements/successes to date so far?
Seeing the model thrive in each location and enabling our franchisors to have a winning formula to have a great lifestyle is very rewarding, as is providing our site audiences with information to really enjoy where they live or are visiting. However, I am the proudest I have ever been right now…Everyone involved with TGt has dealt with the Covid situation with such bravery, resilience and positivity. The head office team dealt with working remotely incredibly and have never been more focussed and productive during such a busy and uncertain time. We’ve completely changed our content plan in order to help our clients through this difficult time and help our site users find useful local Covid info (such as local food supply services). Liam, our Total Bristol franchise decided to use the time to recruit and although a bold decision as it’s such an unstable time, it has paid off; he has recruited one of the most talented sales execs I’ve come across – the calibre at interview stage was very strong!
What challenges have you had to overcome?
When you are growing a business there are ongoing challenges. We’re very busy making sure that Swindon and Bath, the sites we manage in house are everything they can possibly be to be able to fine tune the model to roll out to our franchisees so with that comes constant pressure and hard work.
Without doubt Covid has been a big challenge but it has forced us to create even slicker processes and systems and everyone behind TGt has formed a strong bond as we’ve all helped each other not only come through the crisis but come out in the strongest position we’ve ever been in.
What marketing/promotional tools do you use to grow Total Guide to?
We use a PR Agency to drip feed stories about Total Guide to Ltd and our franchisees – people buy from people, so this method is extremely important.
- Ongoing SEO and Social Media Marketing
- BFA Membership
- Advertising on various franchise recruitment websites
What differentiates Total Guide to Ltd from the competition?
We’re so much more than a directory website which is pretty much what our closest competitors offer. Our model is to help local businesses, residents, students and tourists make the most of the town or city they are in. We provide useful content, targeted ads, offers, competitions and a joined up digital marketing solution for our clients to offer them real value that they can’t be without. As a result our client retention rate is 90%+ and the bulk of our clients are on a monthly retainer – offering them ease and consistency and our franchisees a guaranteed monthly income.
What qualities do you look for in a franchisee? What makes a successful franchisee?
Those that don’t expect success to fall on their lap. Though I founded the business. I still work hard ‘in’ the business, day in, day out. There’s no letting up, but the rewards are that you pick and choose when you work – as long as the work is done is doesn’t matter when.
A successful franchisee’s main skills are digital marketing and sales orientated and they must love their patch – this passion will come across to their clients and audience.
Most of all you have to have the will to keep going no matter what is thrown at you. I think you have to be a ‘glass half full person’ and see the opportunity in every difficulty.
What changes have you seen in your industry over recent years? And how have you adapted to them?
Digital Marketing sees changes to the industry pretty much monthly. From Google changing their search criteria to Facebook changing their algorythms. We keep up to date with all industry trends and share this knowledge with franchisees and franchisees in turn share their learnings with us.
We have hubs where we share our ongoing knowledge and experience with our franchisees and clients such as Basecamp projects, Facebook and What’s App groups. It’s a fast-paced industry and we’re always adapting but that’s part of what makes it so interesting!
What does the future hold for Total Guide to Ltd?
More franchises to be launched. Our Bristol Franchisee already has plans to purchase a new location this autumn and Covid has delivered us more leads than ever as people are looking for change and the business model has proved to be so diverse and pretty bullet proof!
What expansion plans have you got nationally and internationally?
More TGt locations, I’d like to have the South West covered within the next two years. International would be incredible but we will focus here first. We will also offer the White Label model as another opportunity as this is working so well with Action Net Zero.
What advice would you give to someone considering franchising their business?
Only do it if you truly know yourself and how resilient and passionate you are. It isn’t an easy path and you have to have a good team around you to support you and deliver the day to day side of the business while you focus on getting all the systems in place. It’s another business so in the early stages you will be spread thinly so it’s crucial you have a good team around you to begin with.
Becoming a member of the BFA has helped me immensely as I have a wealth of knowledge and support on tap and I am completing the Qualified Franchise Professional qualification, so I know I’m not just ‘whinging’ it! I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t think we had rock solid systems and legals in place.
If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?
I’ve made a few mistakes that have created distractions and may have resulted in delayed growth and I’ve had more than a few sleepless nights but I wouldn’t do any of it differently. The only way to learn is by making mistakes. The key is acceptance, to take the learnings and grow from it. I love the journey of running a business and that includes the lows as well as the highs!
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