I didn’t think I wanted to be my own boss: it’s the best thing I ever did!
“I never really wanted my own business and now, eight years on, I couldn’t imagine being without it! It’s changed my life in so many positive ways. Financially it’s very rewarding but there’s much more to it than that – I have the freedom and flexibility to steer the ship in whatever direction I want. That means an awful lot to me.”
Fleet specialist, Sean Bingham, has been running his ERA franchise since January 2009. Despite never having aspirations of being his own boss, he is now one of the most successful franchisees in the network. Awarded highest earner in the network for both 2015 and 2016, Sean now employs two members of staff and is set to make history with a new pan-European business model, the likes of which the company has never seen before!
“I could never go back to employment now. And it’s not just about the money! It’s about culture, lifestyle, being your own boss and driving in the direction that you want to go, when you want! There’s a much greater sense of achievement for your hard work which believe me, isn’t always the case then you work in the corporate world.”
At the age of 53, Sean looks back fondly on his education and a career which equipped him with the knowledge and expertise that still helps to fuel his success today: “I’ve been in Fleet and Leasing all of my professional life – literally since day one. After completing my A-levels in Ireland, I thought ‘that’s it for me!’ and I left with £500 in my pocket and a one way ticket!
“I got my first job with Godfrey Davis in Watford in June of 1982 as an office junior and was there for another 26 years! I basically worked my way up through the ranks, leaning all the way. From tea-boy to internal administration, operations and customer facing roles. My last role was Sales Director for Bank of Scotland Vehicle Finance which is what the company had become by that point. We went through many mergers and acquisitions in my time but I enjoyed the diversity of the role and, having always been a bit of a petrol head (veering towards anorak status!), the industry was very attractive to me.”
But in the end, Sean found that one merger too many destroyed the heart of the company he had so loyally served. When the last became a reverse take-over, it became apparent that red-tape and corporate politics were to be the rule of the day. Senior board members of the original company were not offered seats in the new entity and instead, were given the option of voluntary redundancy or invited to reapply and interview for jobs which would effectively result in demotion.
“I loved my job. I really did. I suppose you have to if you stay as long as I did! When we got the announcement of Lloyds Bank coming along, the sense of dread and weariness I got confirmed to me that I’d fallen out of love with the place. So, I took the bull by the horns and jumped. With no idea what I was going to do next!”
Like so many professionals, Sean was unfamiliar with the world of franchising. It wasn’t until he made what he expected to be a ‘goodbye and good luck’ call to an old contact, that things fell into place… for all concerned!
“I was totally unaware of franchising – or rather how large and prevalent an industry it actually is. The things I thought were franchises were things like McDonalds or Burger King – the kind you see in St Pancras. I already knew ERA through my job because they had introduced business to us. I called my contact in Scotland and told him what had happened and that I was taking my redundancy. He actually laughed and said he couldn’t believe it because only that morning, he’d been speaking to his MD about the fact that they would love to have a fleet specialist in their network. He definitely thought it was fate! I was a little more sceptical but I filed it away in the back of my mind – it just didn’t stay there for very long!”
ERA are world leaders in cost management and procurement consultancy. Franchise Partners are trained to offer strategic advice and practical methods which optimise supplier relationships and generate cash. Boasting the highest consulting revenue of any UK procurement franchise, the ERA network has enjoyed impressive sales over the past five years and are projecting a 13.2% growth in the next financial year.
Sean already felt that the corporate landscape was bleak but his suspicions were quickly confirmed and he found there were few, if any, jobs available. With a sense of curiosity, he went back to ERA and met with Managing Director, Robert Allison, to discuss the opportunity and the business model in more detail. And find out what being a Franchise Partner was really all about.
“I have to be honest, I had no desire to run my own business. I was always the corporate animal: Bupa, fuel card, expenses – that was just what I was used to. I think I saw running a business – Tax, VAT and all of that as a larger hurdle than it needed to be. But after spending time with Rob, I started to see the answers were actually quite simple. And so, I locked myself away in a darkened room to come up with a business plan!”
We encourage a comprehensive and extensive due diligence process for anyone hoping to join our franchise family. After completing his market research and speaking to existing Franchise Partners, Sean was able to gain a clear vision for his new business that really set him on the road to success.
“I decided from day one that I was going to be solely a Fleet specialist. It’s a very complex, tax sensitive and volatile cost centre so I was confident that I could add significant value, not only to my clients but to my fellow Franchise Partners too. Essentially, I could give them another string to their bow. I think that’s the beauty of the ERA network and one of the things that really attracted me to the franchise. Each consultant has particular skills and knowledge and experience – and we all share it. That makes the network very powerful.”
With the support of his family and a renewed sense of excitement for what he could achieve professionally, Sean signed his all-important franchise agreement in January 2009. Next stop: training!
ERA’s award-winning programme of training and support is designed equip you with all the knowledge and confidence you need to successfully launch and run your business, whatever your skills or background. New franchise partners undertake a tailored 5-week course consisting of classroom and hands-on learning at the ERA Academy.
“I think it’s fair to say I pushed the boundaries a bit at training. I was meeting a client with one of the associates on what should have been my last day of training! But eight years on, the training for new Franchise Partners continues to evolve and improve. We only want the best joining us and in return they’re given every conceivable assistance to succeed. To the point where I’ve even known Rob go out to a sales pitch with a Franchise Partner who has only just been through training! The level of ongoing support for new and existing consultants is second to none in my opinion.”
Though he perhaps wouldn’t have described himself as such just a few years ago, Sean has proven himself to be every inch the savvy businessman! With plans to expand not just in the UK but by pioneering a totally unique and exciting pan-European business model, with the potential to catapult his business to new heights.
“The new business model I’m developing is something that’s never been done before and it’s a real opportunity to take the business to the next level. It’s a challenge for sure but that’s part of what drives me! We’ve got one eye on expanding the team here and basically ensuring the business is robust and well equipped for the future.”
When he’s not hard at work, Sean’s children, both in their mid-twenties, still keep him on his toes! From a busy business owner to a busy family man, Sean also enjoys the strong social aspects that come with having over 150 like-minded colleagues and friends!
“For me, the acid test is on a cold, dark morning as you roll out of bed – to this day, I’ve never, ever had the ‘God, why did I do this’ moment. Even through the challenging times. As a network, we’re all pulling in the same direction and are of the same mind-set so it’s fun, rewarding and inspiring. It’s something I’m very proud to be a part of.”