Is there such a thing as a male-dominated industry anymore? At Expense Reduction Analysts UK (ERA UK), three leading ladies are proving that B2B procurement consultancy certainly isn’t one of them! These three top-performing franchisees are passionate about sharing their stories and encouraging more women into a business which they say, brings personal and professional rewards.
Harsha Patel, Zoe Willis and Tracy Follows all come from very different backgrounds and have varied skill sets and experiences: from a career in mortgage brokerage to prior business ownership and board level SME roles. One thing they do all share is a determination to succeed and a commitment to the ERA UK franchise model. Undeniably, it’s a combination that’s served them well!
Over the last 10 years, Harsha and her husband, Pritesh, have built their franchise into a highly profitable and rewarding business. For three consecutive years in 2014, 2015 and 2016 their business ranked as one of the top performing out of more than 140 consultants. The couple have three full time members of staff and, having just renewed their 10-year franchise agreement, have no plans to slow down their growth!
For Harsha, success isn’t just about profits. One of the most important aspects of her thriving business is the flexibility and time it allows her to spend with her children: “I’m thankful for being able to work from home and be around for my kids. It’s allowed me to have flexibility and retain the bond that so often is lost when a choice has to be made between career and family life.”
Whilst she says she doesn’t believe there are specific differentiators which make women better or worse franchisees than men, Harsha does feel that women have certain strengths that lend themselves to business ownership: “Women are often better at organising and planning – key skills for any business, not just ERA UK. I think we also tend to be more empathetic which can be key in a variety of situations – anything from client consultations to interacting with other consultants.”
“I think being a franchisee, in general, can be more appealing to women because it’s less of a risk than starting a business from scratch, where you might not have the background or the support. A franchise network gives you a tried and tested option, with processes already in place and support behind the scenes. But at the end of the day, success isn’t down to whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s down to your drive and hard work!”
Tracy Follows has been running her franchise since 2007. Since then, her business has grown year-on-year. She’s become a highly respected and valued member of the ERA UK community and, with her sights set on more of the same for the future, recently renewed her franchise agreement for another 10 years.
Like many others, Tracy came from a working-class background and went straight from college into the workplace. She worked for 10 years with a large American conglomerate before being headhunted into a board level post within a London-based manufacturing SME.
“My role was all about understanding client needs and behaviours to deliver the best service and enhanced relationships. Looking back, this formed solid foundations and helped hone the skills I still use to this day!”
Whilst she thoroughly enjoyed the role, another 10 years of gruelling commutes into the city led Tracy to reassess her priorities: “The endless commuting and time away from home wore me down in the end. I got to the point, when I was about 40, of thinking ‘do I really want to still be doing this in 10 years’ time?’
“I thought about starting my own business but when it comes to starting a business from scratch, there are always gaps in what you know, no matter how multi-faceted you are. I looked at the failure rates of a go-it-alone start-up versus a franchise business – 80% compared to 4% – and that really convinced me to go down the franchising route!”
At 53, Tracy says the decision to renew her franchise agreement was an easy one to make. Considering her franchise an investment for life, Tracy knows that she can continue to build her business into a serious asset which, thanks to the ERA UK exit strategy can be utilised as a pension provision.
“Re-signing was a no-brainer. There was never a question that I wouldn’t re-sign, I’m not ready to retire and I don’t want to do anything else. I know that I can slow the pace down a little if I ever decide that I want to but for now, expect more of the same! The business has grown year-on-year, and the last two years have been exceptional. The work is varied, the people diverse and I thoroughly enjoy what I do.”
Despite being a relative new-comer to the franchise, Zoe certainly isn’t taking things slowly! Awarded ‘New Consultant of the Year’ in 2017 at ERA UK’s annual conference, she is already regarded as a go-to expert in the field of Postage. Together with her husband, Nick, she’s built a substantial business with over £1.3million of spend under review for prestigious national clients such as the Sue Ryder charity and Paul Smith.
“I was so surprised to receive the award, I wasn’t expecting it at all! It was such a proud moment and to be recognised by your peers was very special. I really do feel like part of the ERA UK family and having worked so hard since day one, this award means a lot. If anything, this makes me even more motivated and determined to achieve bigger and better things for year two!”
A passionate advocate for women in business, Zoe believes that franchising can be a great route to business ownership and says that often, the only thing holding women back is a confidence in their own abilities.
“Women can sometimes be over cautious and have a tendency to doubt themselves if they don’t have 100% of the skills they feel they need – we forget that in business, as with anything in life, some skills you learn as you go along. My biggest advice would be, if you are considering it, go for it! I have no regrets.”
Whilst utterly dedicated to her business, Zoe says it’s important to find a work-life balance. She and husband, Nick, always make time to enjoy family life and indulge their love of travelling – something they plan to do much more of as the business grows.
“I think one of the best things about ERA UK,aside from the obvious benefits of a proven model and the fantastic support from head office, is that it allows so much flexibility. That’s important for a lot of women. Take Harsha, who has young family to consider but still wanted to forge ahead. You can build and run a hugely successful business on your own, like Tracy, or you can work with a business partner or as a husband and wife team like myself and Nick – there really is nothing holding you back!”