International Women’s Day profile: Sandra Andrews To mark this year’s International Women’s Day – Sunday 8 March – we talked to one of our many women franchisees, Sandra Andrews, who co-owns the MBE Chippenham store with her husband Keith. Here are Sandra’s answers to our six key questions about what it’s like to be a woman in business in 2020. What made you want to start your own business? I’m very much a self-starter – I love to find things out for myself. For the first ten years of my career I was with a large company, doing a bit of everything and working my way up through the ranks, so I got to know a lot about how businesses work. I became a full-time mum when my two daughters were small, then had three part-time jobs, using various Microsoft programmes from accounts and spreadsheets to database creation and design work. My husband Keith had stayed with the company we both used to work for, and eventually he and some colleagues bought out one of the divisions, which saw its first ever profit that year. Sadly, though, one of their biggest clients took their business back in-house, so the company had to be sold. At that point my priority was to take a full-time job. I said I would do literally anything to bring the money in – except cold calling. But ironically I ended up selling for Vodafone and, although I hated the cold calling, I learnt a lot about how to deal with people during that time. Once you’ve worked for yourself, though, you don’t want to work for anyone else. Keith and I decided to look for business opportunities, and we were attracted to the Mail Boxes Etc. franchise. We thought that my software skills and creativity allied to Keith’s accountancy background would stand us in good stead. We knew we had an awful lot to learn, but we believed that if we didn’t take the opportunity we would regret it. Was it difficult to balance the demands of family and career? If you have a young family, it can be a bit of a juggling act when you start your own business. My daughters – now 28 and 30 – were still at school when we took on the franchise. Both my daughters went to university and got first-class honours degrees and both are working now, so we must have got something right! What were the biggest business challenges you faced? In some ways we felt we were reinventing the wheel, learning about the local area and deciding how we were going to pitch ourselves. Luckily there wasn’t much local competition except the Post Office for post and parcels, and one small printer. We knew we could offer plenty of extra services to our customers and for the first five years we spent a lot of time thinking about how best to market ourselves. We used social media and other free channels wherever possible – I made sure we were on all the free listing sites I could find. Now that we’re established, though, much of our business is via repeat custom, word of mouth and local business organisations like Chippenham BID. We had a lot of start-up help and training from MBE’s head office team, but you tend to learn on the job. We certainly made a few mistakes! Every centre is different, so the marketing needs, challenges and opportunities vary. We’ve made the most of all the profit centres during our 17 years in the business. Shipping is a key focus for us, and we work with a lot of the local auction houses. Work-life balance is really important, too, and we did have to make a concerted effort, after a few years, to ensure we took an annual holiday. One of our most recent challenges has been relocating to new premises – that was pretty stressful. But now that we’re settling in, we’re seeing more footfall after just a couple of months, so it has been a good move. Stunning, full-colour flyer printing in action at Mail Boxes Etc. Chippenham - one of the many services offered by franchisees, Sandra and Keith. Would you do it all again, given the chance? Yes, absolutely - I love running my own business. There are so many positives. You meet so many people and most of our customers have been great. You learn a lot about yourself, too: you become more customer-service orientated but you also become more assertive in your own manner. You’re always learning – you keep learning till the day you die. I’ve also loved having the support of the Mail Boxes Etc. team. Our offering is very diverse and it’s not a business that you can run easily by yourself – as I found out when I nearly lost Keith to sepsis a few years ago. It meant that I was literally doing everything for a few months, which was really tough – but it was nice to know I had the support of the staff at head office, even if it was just someone on the end of the phone. I’m happy to say we made it through. Our lease comes up in another five years and I’m definitely not ready to retire yet. Eventually I’d like to be able to pass the business on to someone else, or sell it, and we want to be in a good place to do that. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is forging a gender-equal world. Do you think we’re getting there? More and more people are rising to different challenges these days, and I don’t think it should be about women – it’s about people. Whether you want to be a plumber, electrician, retailer, whatever – anyone is capable of doing anything, so I agree that gender shouldn’t be an issue. What is your advice to other women thinking of becoming MBE franchisees? I’d say to anyone considering starting up on their own, if you really want to give it a go, give it a go. Because otherwise, you will always wonder what you could have done. If it doesn’t work out, at least you can say you tried it – and that goes for whatever you’re thinking of doing. Feeling inspired by Sandra’s franchising journey? If you’re ready to take the first steps towards joining a team of like-minded entrepreneurs, just like Sandra and Keith, click here to find out more about our franchise opportunities or request a brochure.About International Women’s Day The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is forging a gender-equal world, celebrating women’s achievement, raising awareness against bias and taking action for equality. For more information and resources to help support the campaign, go to www.internationalwomensday.com and use the #EachforEqual and #IWD2020 hashtags in your social media posts.