Signs Express is the UK and Ireland’s leading signs and graphics franchise, established in 1989 with a network of over 70 franchisees. Anne Hitch is Managing Director of Signs Express in Peterborough, which also serves Kings Lynn. As the only sole woman at the helm of a Signs Express franchise she is one of the inspiring personalities behind the brand.
We spoke to Anne about her career path and what qualities she believes makes her successful in business. As well as being an award-winning franchisee, Anne is a mother of two, an active member of her local business network and proactively supports charities and community causes.
Accolades include being selected as finalist for the British Franchise Association (BFA) Franchisee of the Year Award 2009, as well as finalist for NatWest Award for Woman Franchisee of the Year 2011 in the Encouraging Women into Franchising (EWIF) Awards 2012.
"I started off my working life in office support roles but my longer term ambition was always to become by own boss", explains Anne.
"Having a partner with professional interests abroad led to our living in the Middle East for 10 years, while our boys were young. Whilst away, I studied a part time correspondence business management degree and am very proud to have graduated with first class honors. We returned to England for the children’s schooling. Although I was initially looking into managerial jobs, my partner and I went on to buy a Signs Express franchise. As circumstances changed I began running the business by myself and have been doing that for three years now."
Anne observes that things have changed since she became sole manager. “"I have an extremely supportive and highly skilled team. The hallmarks of my management style are diplomacy, empathy and flexibility. It’s a softer management style compared to some men I know but I think this helps to get the best out of people. I plan ahead so that production is consistent, avoiding peaks and troughs where possible. Everyone in the team has their specialism but is also trained to cover other roles. For example our sales person has had risk assessment training, so this is something factored in to initial contact with clients, rather than further down the line.
Credit control and good financial management are my strengths. Yes, it’s good to know the technical side of things, but good business management is most important when running a management franchise, knowing your overheads and so on. The business degree gave me so much knowledge. You’re never too old to learn."
How does Anne balance work and motherhood? "Being a full time working mother, there are times when I’ve got to be in too many places at once. You have to ask flexibility of your kids sometimes. Being self employed, if I have to take someone to the hospital for example, I can do it. Things might not always happen when I’d like them to, but they do get done."
On women in business, Anne says: "Women have so much to offer. Being organised is critical to business success and this is where I think women excel. Many working women also run a household, do the shopping, cooking, cleaning and so on. Most of us intuitively juggle and multi task and that’s often played down. I think that women have to be confident in their ability. Sometimes this can come across as a bit hard but you have to be brave and have a go. I’ve had it all said to me in the past; 'how are you going to do that'? If you believe negative comments you will lack confidence and won’t achieve."
"I feel a bit of a pioneer, being the only lady operating as a sole franchisee within the Signs Express network. Hopefully I will inspire other women to seek out similar business opportunities."
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