The Entrepreneur: Christine Kelly, Little Kickers

Little Kickers doesn’t just provide successful football classes to thousands of young children across 33 countries, it also champions sustainability - making football kits out of sea harvested plastic

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Startups was founded over 20 years ago by a serial entrepreneur. Today, our expert team of writers, researchers, and editors work to provide our 4 million readers with useful tips and information, as well as running award-winning campaigns. We interview successful entrepreneurs from all over the UK, celebrating their achievements, hard work, and determination to get to where they are today. This article was authored by:

Founder: Christine Kelly
Company: Little Kickers
Website: littlekickers.co.uk

Identifying a gap in the youth football training market, Christine started Little Kickers. The classes are tailored to the needs of children between the ages of eighteen months and seven years of age, and aim to give children a positive introduction to sport by teaching high quality football skills in a friendly, pressure-free environment.

Christine Kelly, founder and CEO of Little Kickers, speaks to Startups about business challenges, being awarded the ‘Global Franchise Champion’ at the prestigious Global Franchise Awards, and how her brand is encouraging youngsters to become active through sport at an early age.

The Business

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

Franchise model – we’ve remained extremely agile even as we’ve grown to become the global market leader.  We constantly adapt to the evolving priorities of our global audience, innovating (taking a firmer stance on education, sustainable issues…) whilst never resting on our laurels – embracing change is deeply embedded in our culture!

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

When Little Kickers won the ‘Global Franchise Champion’ award at the Global Franchise Awards in 2020. Although winning ‘Best Business Serving Football’ at the annual Football Business Awards comes a very close second.

How did you fund your business?

I invested £200 to get the business started, then funded it organically. Over time, I have bought out various shareholders and I funded these buyouts through bank loans/re-mortgaging my house.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

Number of children attending classes, number of waitlisted children, number of girls vs boys participating and franchisee revenues.

To what extent does your business trade internationally?

We operate in 33 countries (and we're not done yet!)

Where would you like your business to be in five years?

For 250,000 children to be attending our classes each week, and Little Kickers to achieve a zero-carbon footprint.

What software or technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

The customised software we built on top of the Salesforce platform – which enabled us to move the business from twelve-week payments to a monthly recurring payment model which boosted our franchisee's revenues by over 30%.

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Growth Challenges

What is the biggest challenge you've faced in business?

Lack of time.  I set up Little Kickers when my son was two and my daughter arrived six months later.  I’ve been a pretty hands-on Mum to them both over the years while growing the business across multiple countries and time zones.

What was your biggest business mistake and what did you learn from it?

Not realising how big the business would become and giving away too much equity in the early stages, then having to buy it back later on!

What one thing do you wish someone had told you when you started on your business journey?

Buy Apple stock!

How has the pandemic affected the market you operate in?

We were closed in the UK (our primary market) for nine/twelve months in 2020 and have faced closures of varying severity in most of the other markets in which we operate.  Throughout that time, we created content to support our coaches maintain some sort of stay-at-home offer.  We also used this thinking time to fine-tune our all-encompassing sustainability pledges (kits made from sea harvested plastic….)

Since re-opening we’ve seen a huge uptake in the numbers of kids coming to classes thanks to the healthier living message that resonated so loudly during Covid – we have 30% more children attending than we did pre-pandemic.


Personal Growth

Did you study business or learn on the job?

I studied International Business and Modern Languages at Aston University.

What would make you a better leader?

I have loads of ideas so sometimes I can be a tad indecisive.  Reining that in a bit more and getting better at focusing on one thing at a time would probably help a great deal!

I have loads of ideas so sometimes I can be a tad indecisive. Reining that in a bit more and getting better at focusing on one thing at a time would probably help a great deal!

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without?

Business: LinkedIn.

Personal: At the moment it’s the SSI scuba diving app – I just completed my online course and am trying to log as many dives on there as I can before the weather turns cold.

A business book or podcast that you think is great:

The Automatic Customer‘ and ‘Built to Sell Radio‘, both written by John Warrilow.

Finally, what’s the most important piece of advice you would give to an entrepreneur starting a business?

When I’m faced with a decision that involves taking a risk and I’m not sure whether to go ahead or not, I think “what’s the worst that could happen” and if I’m ok with that, I jump in feet-first!

Ross has been writing for Startups since May 2021, specialising in sustainable business and telephone systems. He also runs the successful entrepreneur's section of the website.

He's previously written for Conde Nast Traveller and the NME and is passionate about music, sustainability, and travelling. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.

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