Interview with Kids Kitchen
Nicole is an inspiration to anyone thinking of developing classes and courses for children. She is passionate about her subject, and sound business decisions allow her to grow the business without compromising on her work-life balance.
Nicole’s down to earth approach to growing a business makes The Kids Kitchen a brilliant example of a successful lifestyle business. We were curious to find out more about the innovative ways she has found to grow her business.
On how it all started
I trained as an accountant, started an MBA, and I was working for Andersons for years, on the senior management scene in the UK. Like so many other people, I lost my job during the 2008 recession. I was 6 months pregnant. I took a career break and finished my MBA.
My daughter is a good eater, it was a joy to cook for her and make her discover new foods. I was always surprised to hear of children who wouldn’t eat. It is only when my son was born that I realized that some children are just not interested in food. More than not interested, they can have an unhealthy relationship with food and develop bad habits very rapidly. This is when I developed a passion for helping children develop good eating habits.
On developing great course material
What I teach is based on evidence. There is a wealth of scientific evidence out there, but it is difficult to make sense of it. I keep up to date with the latest research and apply science-based evidence to my classes. I use pediatric nutritionists and general nutritionists as experts to support my courses. However, there is still a gap in the research on the difficult relations children have with food.
As I was setting up my classes, a few high impact articles came out on the subject: The Daily Mail published evidence on why children should be encouraged to play with their food , and fussy eating has been a big feature in the news over the past few years.
I teach children from 2 to 16 yrs old. I seem to observe a few phases of fussy eating. The research is only on young children. The research is very medicalised, and the term fussy eater is negative. I do not always agree with the direction the research is taking. As a practitioner, I try to be in touch with the latest science, but take a practical approach to help children and their parents to change their behaviour and open up their mind to try new things. I also translate the science to make it clearer to parents and carers. I am currently designing an online course, on which I am editing a blog featuring articles from experts.
It is interesting to see the steep cultural differences in children’s food education in France, the UK, and the US. French Children Don’t Throw Food (Pamela Druckerman) is a witty and informative book describing the experience of an American mother in Paris. She compares how parents deal with the pain, struggles and triumphs of bringing up small children in France and in America. She describes French parenthood as a calm, pleasant and for the most part enjoyable experience, versus a fairly hysterical, intense and gruelling Anglophone method.
I teach several classes: pre-schoolers, 5 upwards, and I teach the cooking part of the Duke of Edinburgh award (13 +).
On growing your lifestyle business without compromising on your lifestyle
The Kids Kitchen mostly started organically. I knew what I wanted to do, did a couple of dummy classes with my friend's children, a little bit of market research by asking people I knew if they would pay for these classes, and it started from there. My business comes from word of mouth, so it is very organic. I never paid for advertising. I was very fortunate to be on TV, and have articles published in the media: that media coverage promoted the business very well. I then promoted those through social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), although I could be much better at social media marketing. My background in business has helped develop the business, especially in terms of marketing, finances, and accounting.
As a lifestyle business established around a growing family, flexibility is equally as important as business development. For the last 7-8 years, it has grown steadily, but there is a limit to how many children I can teach. And to how many children I would want to teach, as I am determined to maintain the quality of the classes. I couldn’t do more classes, it requires a lot of energy! We have a lot of set up and preparation time to take into account.
This is how I came to add two new aspects to my business. I am developing and setting up an online course. This is all about how to encourage children to eat better. We take children’s background, beliefs, and personal situation into consideration and tailor a course. We propose a monthly membership with newsletters, videos, recipes, support, targets, and inspiration with themes.
I initially thought of franchising, but it doesn’t seem to suit my ideas of how the business should grow. There are a lot of franchise models for children’s courses, and I have several friends who are franchisees of big organizations. It is a tough job to run a successful franchise and stay true to your core beliefs in terms of the course content, but it is possible. On the other hand, if you do not have the business know-how and the confidence to go on this unusual career path, becoming a franchisee is a safe way of developing your own branch with the technical support of a large organisation.
On getting qualifications
I don’t claim to be a nutritionist, although I can point my clients in the direction of the nutritionists I work with. I have a keen interest in the subject, an objective mind and a practical approach to making food fun and interesting for my little participants. A DBS certificate is essential, as well as being fully insured. I take a lot of photos and report to parents in detail, those are very appreciated.
I don’t compare myself to other courses, I trust what I do and make sure it is good quality.
I put myself up for relevant awards. You usually have to be nominated by your customers. You ask them to help by nominating you. I have also been nominated by customers without knowing a few times, a great surprise! Gaining awards helps solidify your reputation and it is good to gain confirmation on the quality of your work. My customers like seeing me gain awards. However, I have stopped doing it for now, as it doesn’t bring new business and I was always asking customers to help by voting. It is time-consuming to put yourself up for awards every year. You need to chase your clients to vote for you, and the online applications don’t always work. So I would say aiming for one or two awards is helpful, but don’t spend too much time focussing on awards, it doesn’t translate into sales.
A bit of useful information on awards: some awards are now charging people to enter the award, and members of the associations linked to these awards are overwhelmingly winning, putting companies who are not members of the right associations at a disadvantage. I suggest checking how the award truly works before focussing all your efforts into the right one for you.
Whereas several members organisations are very prominent online, remember that Ofsted is the only regulatory body that reports to the Department of Education. A note from the Bookwhen team: you can explore the UK regulations for children’s clubs in our blog article here.
As a local club, class, course, or workshop, word-of-mouth is your strongest marketing tool. People will then go to your website and like what you are offering or not. If you make it easy to book a trial online, they will try it out, and either continue with the class or not.
My biggest achievement is when a child tries something he/she would never try. Having these successes, and having such a big impact on children and their family is much more rewarding than any award.
Notes from the Bookwhen team
We were thrilled to interview Nicole. We were particularly inspired by her unique approach to growing a business via online courses - a great way to ensure a balance between work and family! Bookwhen has supported a huge range of businesses over the last 10 years. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can help.