Name: Andi Warner
Often, one of the most difficult things about starting a business in whatever sector you choose is knowing where to start with all of the paperwork and procedures. Many people find this alone is enough to deter them from pursuing an idea. Imagine then that your business is to do with children’s welfare and their futures. Does the even higher pile of paperwork and procedures deter you, or does your idea carry you through?
In the case of Peter Turner and Andi Warner, the two founding directors of FosteringPeopleToo, their idea has most certainly carried them through, and then some.
The idea of starting their own child fostering agency was brought about through their shared career history. They both had a background of working in local authority and subsequently a national fostering and adoption agency where they recruited, trained and assessed prospective carers for children. Andi herself had also been a local authority approved foster carer for six years prior to becoming a qualified social worker in 1996.
The expertise, knowledge and experience was all there to stand them in good stead and ready them for the challenge of starting out on their own.
Andi said: “Initially, the main challenge was in writing all of the necessary policies and procedures required for this type of organisation. We also needed to become registered and inspected by Ofsted and also inspected and approved by a major child protection authority. There were also challenges in tendering with the local authorities to become a preferred provider for them.”
Then there were the more regular challenges faced by most new businesses, such as establishing business bank accounts, securing reliable telephone and broadband services (which were essential) and ensuring that they had a sustainable cash flow model to see them through the first few months as they knew that many local authorities would take time in setting up their payments.
Ignite were approached early-on at the stage when they were looking for premises. They had identified that Braintree was ideally geographically located for the area they wished to cover so they just needed a space that would enable them to easily reach their target areas where all of their foster carers lived.
At the time Ignite was able to provide them with their ideal starter office for what Andi called ‘a reasonable cost for a small business just starting out.’ She said: “Ignite was able to offer us a stable base in order to start our business and at a financial rate which enabled us to invest in the development of the business.”
The fact that they didn’t have to worry about fire certificates, water rates or building insurance was also considered a bonus in terms of finance and workload as these were covered within the rental agreement with Ignite. The company also made regular use of the onsite meeting room.
It was this initial unit cost and attached benefits that enabled their subsequent development, which meant that they were soon faced with a different set of challenges. How to handle growth. For this they sought Ignite’s advice.
Andi says: “They were able to offer advice on business plans and marketing strategies and offered us the time and space to think through the next steps we needed to be considering in a working environment that has ever changing legislative requirements and goals.”
As their careful and thoughtful beginnings began to bear fruit and their advice from Ignite on how to develop took effect, the company sought to move to a larger premises to accommodate more staff. Bearing in mind they were still a young company, Ignite was again able to help as they moved to larger premises within the Enterprise Centre twice within five years. Each time doubling in size as staff grew from three to eventually nine. They also found it useful being part of an enterprise community, where they could make use of companies specialising in office equipment, printing and even catering.
Eventually this exponential growth led them to feel able to look elsewhere for a property of their own.
Andi said: “Up to and including 2014 we had been renting rooms in the Braintree Town Hall, for our preparation training, panel meeting and support groups and the hire of rooms cost a considerable amount. We decided that we needed to move to new premises which would enable us to hold these meetings in our own building and we subsequently successfully purchased and moved in April 2015 to a new office in nearby Felsted.”
Having settled in to a new home of their own, how has their beginnings with Ignite seen them fare? Their record speaks for itself. While at Ignite they were twice judged as an Outstanding agency by Ofsted inspectors and now this record has been sustained having been awarded this same rating just months after taking up residence in their own place.
Operating a text book case of a successful business for over a decade, they are well placed to offer advice to others seeking to emulate them.
Andi said: “Be sure you have thought about all the involved costs associated in establishing your business and secure enough financial back up to ease cash flow in the early months. Develop a well thought through and achievable business plan and don’t be too over optimistic on what can be achieved within the timescale.”
The team at FosteringPeopleToo are proof that those with an idea for a business should never be deterred by all of the unknowns or obstacles to starting a business, because if they can grow a successful company from scratch in a sector filled with necessarily strict and ever evolving paperwork and protocol, there is no reason for others to be daunted when approaching their own sectors.
And as Andi says, it also helps if Ignite are there too: “We will always be grateful to Ignite for allowing us to start our business in their office space and for supporting our growth over the last ten years. They are there to offer support and advice if needed, but are not intrusive and they allow you to develop and expand as and when the time is right for your individual business. The office staff are friendly, approachable and supportive when needed.”