Time to franchise
Three years ago Tina and Mat faced their roughest business year. Previously the Begin Bright Introduction to Learning Program (for children aged from two to 12) was sold under a licence, but when teachers started asking for business advice, licensing legislation prohibited Tina from sharing her wisdom even though she wanted to help.
One solution was to franchise Begin Bright centres: a move she made in 2011 that was criticised by Tina’s business mentors and lawyers. They warned the then 27-year-old that the cut-throat nature of franchising could destroy her happiness. In spite of this, Tina knew that it was the only way to realise her dream of helping as many children as possible to feel smart and confident.
“It was a way I could reach tens of thousands of children instead of the hundreds I was limited to with just one centre,” she explains.
Listening to her heart paid off. The eighth lawyer Tina approached agreed to help and within nine months, seven Begin Bright franchised centres were up and running.
However, the young couple were injecting all their profits back into the business and were almost broke.
“We were living on $200 a week while we were building the franchise business. The pressure nearly caused us to get a divorce,” Tina recalls.
From the start, Tina and Mat were faced with enormous obstacles. They had two little mouths to feed and a hefty mortgage on a four-bedroom house in Caringbah, Sydney, but they refused to take outside investment.
“Trying to build a business while bringing up children was certainly a challenge. There was a constant pull in both directions and a huge dose of mummy guilt,” Tina recalls.
After a trip to Uganda with The Hunger Project (a non-profit organisation committed to ending world hunger), Tina realised that, while she was living the ‘white picket fence dream’ on paper, the reality was different.
“We were so far away from the life we wanted to lead. We were working really hard and were not seeing our children or each other very much,” she adds.
Looking for a tree change
So the family took a month-long sabbatical. They piled the kids into a campervan and drove from Noosa in Queensland all the way back to Sydney looking for a location where they would like to live and not have to worry about ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.
They soon discovered the location that Tina now calls ‘her sanctuary’; a property in Pottsville, a beachside village half an hour from the Gold Coast and from Byron Bay. With its lush greenery and little dam, it would provide the perfect setting for family picnics with plenty of space to keep chickens and grow veggies. It was their dream and the family has never looked back.
“Once the business reached critical mass, I could work from anywhere as long as it was near an airport and had a good internet connection,” she says. “Our head office is in Coolangatta so I get to go from my little rural home to the beach for work!”
With a happy family, 20 franchises and more than a decade of experience being her own boss, Tina finds that it’s easier to juggle her work and personal commitments.
Making different choices
“I want to live until I’m 104 years old and create an awesome life. I used to believe that to be successful I had to work seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day, but now I make different choices,” she states.
Since having children – Kai, now six, and Cohen, five – Tina’s priorities have shifted.
She is able to pass on her business and life knowledge to her franchise owners, who all just happen to be women with young families.
Mentoring and sharing successes with her franchisees are some of the biggest highlights in her career. She recalls Begin Bright’s three-day conference at Sea World on the Gold Coast last October where the business owners gathered to brainstorm ideas to boost business.
On the last day of the trip, Tina arranged for them to go swimming with dolphins. She was thrilled by the enjoyment it provided.
“Franchising can be a thankless industry so it was a great moment for me to see all the owners beaming and celebrating the creation of their great Begin Bright businesses and to see that I had provided them with the system for that empowerment,” she adds.
Tina Tower's tips to get the most out of your day
Balance. “I have a stringent schedule for my work and personal life. It never balances perfectly, but I make sure I’m giving enough time and energy to all areas of my life.”
Leadership. “I’ve had great mentors and I’m now able to return that by helping other women who are at the beginning of their journey. If you work on your own personal and professional development instead of relying on others, you’ll do better than those who don’t.”
Girl power. “Women are often reluctant leaders, but the more women stand proud about what they’ve created, the more it gives other women permission to do the same.”
Family first. “For my head office team of four, we have flexible arrangements. If someone’s kid has an athletics carnival or concert, then they absolutely should attend. When you treat your people well, they treat you well and it’s better for everyone.”