Keith Smith spent 30 years in the Police service,
adhering to strict and often unsociable shift patterns instructed by superiors. On retirement, Keith was ready for some freedom in his working life and the flexibility to adapt to his family commitments, he said:
“My decision to work for myself after retirement, rather than seek an employed role with financial stability, caused some uncertainty and put a lot of pressure on me to fund a lifestyle the family had become accustomed to.
“The early days in the business were difficult as financially it was slower than predicted and things were very tight. Other people who had retired with me were jetting off on exotic holidays and buying new cars whilst I was working Sunday mornings and driving a van!”
Keith chose to take on a franchise called didi rugby which was founded by international Rugby Union player Vicky Macqueen which aims to get kids as young as 18 months active, by running fun activities and games based on the sport of rugby. Keith holds the franchise for the Cheltenham area and, since Keith is an experienced cricket coach, he was asked by Vicky to set up and start didi cricket and pilot the classes. He now holds both his rugby and cricket classes at sports halls and indoor venues around Cheltenham, and also provides sessions to educational settings and social groups. The activities are aimed at the early years, categorised as ‘didi Minis’ for 18 months – 36 months, ‘didi Juniors’ for children aged 3-4 years old and ‘didi Seniors’ for children aged 4-6 years old.
“I am in contact with several schools, and nurseries about bringing didi sport into their curriculum and also have interest at rugby clubs and cricket clubs to run classes. By forging links with a local University that teaches sports coaching, I hope to have a supply of young enthusiastic coaches to use as we grow and expand to new areas.
“I have also set up classes at a local SEN school which increases our range of abilities and puts us ahead of our competition with what services we can provide. We have also started to run themed Birthday parties and plan to hold 3 day camps in the school holidays.
“The introduction of didi cricket is exciting, as I’ve been able to lead on adapting the games and activities to suit the sport of cricket, and work closely with Vicky to refine this proposal before we cascade this out to other franchises around the UK.”
The benefit of choosing a franchise is the ability to start trading immediately. However, with a franchise engagement comes a fee, the funding for which Keith was able to access through X-Emergency Services (XES) in the form of a Start-Up Loan. The £7500 he borrowed covered the franchise purchase and allowed Keith to buy the kit and find venues and coaches. Since drawing the loan, Keith’s dedicated business advisor keeps in touch to guide progress, in a mentoring programme supported by the Royal British Legion.
“XES has helped to open a new chapter in my life. Funds were not easy to come by and the whole application process was easy to follow and well explained. Communication was excellent. Since taking the funds, I have had regular contact with update requests and useful links to help my business.”
Although there is a lot of support from the Franchise owner centrally, buying a ready-made business can still have its challenges. Keith describes his new role as a business owner being a complete step change to his working life in the Police, requiring greater self-motivation. He said:
“I’ve had to learn new skills and learn about business in general and I’m still doing so. I’ve had to adapt tovery different working hours, and stepout of my comfort zone to approach people and make things happen.I’m not the most organised of people and so my biggest challenge has been to organise myself andget my business in line.”
Keith’s transition from the services into business has given him a new direction as well as a new sense of freedom to decide on how to balance work and family. Keith explains that it has been a risk worth taking:
“I might describe this career change as the grass looking a lot greener on the other side of the fence, but it does take a lot more cutting. It’s not for everyone, so if you like sitting doing nothing or like just relaxing in your spare time, maybe think twice about running a business.
“It’s a continual learning curve and I would recommend accepting the help available and making good acquaintances, which can be essential. Ignore the negative and speak to the positive people especially those who have trodden your chosen path.
“Now didi sport is off the ground, I have found I can plan my workload around my plans and family life. The freedom has given me so much more time with my daughter and allowed me to attend the majority of her training and athletic competitions. A traditional 9-5 job wouldn’t have given me this precious flexibility.”
Moving from law enforcement into the early years of sports is a huge leap, recognised by X-Emergency Services CEO and founder, Ren Kapur MBE:
“Members of our emergency services have key skills that are ideally suited for business: resilience, pragmatism, determination, adaptability and positivity. Keith has dedicated thirty years to serving the public, and it is our honour and great pleasure to support him to make his business to be both successful and rewarding.”
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