Nikita Dixon Of Story Sense: Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

If you are carrying on running the services or selling the products yourself as well as building the franchise, you are running two businesses — that means double social media and potential two different audiences! Running multiple social media accounts and systems is really hard without a team behind you and as a new franchisor, you potentially don’t have the funds to employ anyone. Scheduling and planning social media is key to stop one or the other falling behind, something which I have experienced.

The world of franchising offers a unique blend of entrepreneurship and established business models. However, navigating the franchise landscape can be daunting, especially for those embarking on this journey for the first time. There are lessons to be learned, pitfalls to avoid, and success stories to be inspired by. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nikita Dixon.

Nikita Dixon is a mum of 3 and lives in Devon, UK. She is an experienced primary school teacher, Story Play Specialist and award-winning franchisor of Story Sense Ltd, unique classes for babies and toddlers based on immersive storytelling through play. Her passion for child development has been the building blocks of a small business turned franchise within 5 years of starting. She also supports Early Years settings to incorporate stories through their play to enhance the curriculum.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about succession, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

From a very young age, I always knew my career would be in teaching where I could really make a difference for the next generation. I have always spent time on the stage as a hobby, so standing in front of a group of people was natural for me. I absolutely loved teaching and spending the day with children watching them flourish but when I had my own children, the demands of teaching meant I was missing important milestones at home. I decided after maternity leave that I would leave the profession, at the time the thought was temporarily, until my first child was older. However, I am not someone who can sit and do nothing and I wanted to still be a part of education. With literacy being a core subject and one that many children dislike, I decided to start my own small business that could work around my little boy but allow me to do the thing I still loved most. Over the past 7 years, the business has grown from strength to strength, much more than I ever imagined, so in 2022 I decided it was time to franchise the business. In 2023 I acquired my first 3 franchisees which brings me up to now, currently onboarding the next 3 into our family after a successful pilot year.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I want to say winning a customer service excellence award or even the Small Business Sunday award, but ultimately my best memories of my business are with the families. I have so many incredible stories I could share but I can sum up many of them into one. I have the absolute privilege time and time again to observe milestones of young children. Whether that is the first roll, first crawl, first steps or even first words, I have had all of these happen in class, but it is rarer than you would think! To be a part of a child’s first year is an incredible opportunity and to watch them grow, a lot of the time more than some of their own family members, is just unbelievably special. I have a couple of children who have joined me from 4 weeks old and continued our sessions until they left school. To watch that child learn every week is an honour, and when the parents blame me for them talking too much from learning in our sessions, it is something I will happily accept!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

One of my favourite quotes which I have displayed on my wall in the office is ‘Don’t Quit! You never know how close you are to success’. I think this can be applied to both general life as well as business and has certainly been something I have experienced many times. The biggest example of this was during and just after the pandemic. Our classes use a lot of equipment, some which parents wouldn’t have access to at home. I had a tough challenge to try and recreate our sessions into online versions which they could join in with using things around the house. There were definitely moments throughout that year where I couldn’t see if the business would survive. However, the business boomed shortly after and grew at an exponential rate. I was having to recruit teachers to help me deal with the waiting lists for our classes. Our social media following doubled within a couple of weeks and we were fully booked, 5 days a week across a small area. If I hadn’t read that quote every day, I know my business wouldn’t be here today!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I have worked tirelessly to ensure our business is different. We base all our sessions on the Early Years curriculum and follow evidence-based research. Our main USP is our stories are written by myself and we use real-life images to support the stories. The impact of real images is amazing. I remember having a parent send me a message after a class saying they had been out for a walk following the session and their 2 year old walked past and named a bench. This was the first time they had ever said the word, having seen a photo of a bench in our class which we all spoke about. This was a direct link from our class to the outside world, showing the impact we have on a small but mighty level. We stand out in a very crowded market with our unique sessions and mission to make a difference in education.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What factors did you consider when selecting your franchise, and how did you determine it was the right fit for you?

My passion for education has shone throughout my career. When I started considering expanding the business, I investigated licensing and also carefully considered just staying small in my own area. I had confidence in what we offered at a local level, and I knew that this could be repeated in other locations and after a lot of research, decided franchising was the next step for our growth. My current franchisees in Glasgow, Leicestershire and Exeter have all made their areas a success. In working with and supporting them to grow their own businesses, I am confident that franchising was not only the right decision for Story Sense but also for me and my own professional development. I really enjoy the role of franchisor.

Can you share a significant challenge you faced while establishing your franchise? How did you overcome this obstacle, and what did this experience teach you about running a successful franchise?

The biggest challenge was producing the operations manual to allow others to run the business. I naively thought that it would be fairly straight forward to write down what it entails, but I do so much more in the business than I ever imagined. Never before had I sat down and evaluated all the different parts of running the business that I do. From admin tasks to photography, organising, cleaning and ordering equipment to time management and booking systems. I decided to take a notebook and pen with me wherever I went and wrote down any task that I did which was for the business. I would then sit down in the evenings and put the information into an online operations manual for others to be able to use to grew their own Story Sense territory. I didn’t anticipate how long it would take to put this together and it involved a lot of late nights. However, what I love now is that we have the main backbone of an operations manual, but it is a working document. I can add anything when needed and with the support and feedback from franchisees, can make changes and adaptations. Changing my mindset from it needing to be a completed document to being a more fluid working piece made the process a lot easier and less stressful!

Looking back to when you first started your franchise, what was one aspect that completely took you by surprise? This could be related to the franchising process, customer interactions, or day-to-day management that you hadn’t anticipated.

Running a franchise is like running a whole new business! I am still on the ground and customer facing with classes so I can keep in with trends and changes but launching the franchise now means I am effectively running two separate businesses. A lot of time goes into both, so finding a timetable that works around my family (which since starting has grown from 1 to 3 children!) and the demand of our local sessions was crucial to being able to make the franchise a success. I hadn’t anticipated the amount of support my franchisees might need having never run a business before on top of what I had put in the operations manual and their initial training. It is a lot to process all in one go and their biggest learning curve joining the franchise.

In hindsight, what advice would you give to potential franchisees about selecting a franchise that aligns with their personal and professional goals?

Research! Research! Research! There are so many options for franchises out there, it is so important that your own values and desires match those of the franchise to help you be as successful as you can be. Even if you think you have found the perfect one for you straight off, I would always encourage you to look at a couple of others just to make sure. Then dig deeper. Check out their website and information pack of course, but also research on Google for other places they are mentioned. Are they well known? Does the franchise advertise well? Can they be found in multiple places? If you like to support charities, how does the franchise do this? Are the franchise’s aims the same as what you want to achieve? Does it work for you and your family? I also always advise anyone who comes to me to go and do the British Franchise Association’s (BFA’s) franchisee free course, which takes them through what being a franchisee is so they fully understand the role.

How do you balance adhering to the established systems of your franchise with the need to innovate and adapt to your local market? Can you provide an example of a successful adaptation or innovation you implemented in your franchise?

I find this so hard! I have always been full of new ideas, adaptions and developments to my business and as a sole trader it was easy! I could just throw it into the mix and see what happens without lots of planning or preparation. Now with the franchise, everything has to be thought out, tried and tested fully and then rolled out to everyone. I’m no longer in my own little bubble. However, there are always instances when the customer makes a request, or even franchisees approach me with new ideas or changes. One instance was wanting to work more with schools. After quite a few visits to local schools with our sessions for the Early Years, I was asked whether we run anything for older children. I could see this as a big opportunity for the franchise, not just to grow financially for franchisees, but to have a bigger impact on our vision for education. Over the past year, I have been working locally at designing a new program which allows us to work with children up to 11 years old, widening our audience, strengthening our franchise and impacting education. Once tried, tested and adapted as needed, this is rolled out across the Franchise.

What are your “Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise”?

1 . If you are carrying on running the services or selling the products yourself as well as building the franchise, you are running two businesses — that means double social media and potential two different audiences! Running multiple social media accounts and systems is really hard without a team behind you and as a new franchisor, you potentially don’t have the funds to employ anyone. Scheduling and planning social media is key to stop one or the other falling behind, something which I have experienced.

2 . You can’t do it all on your own — I had this vision that I would be training franchisees in everything that was needed, being around to support them. However, I quickly learnt I can’t do it all! Not because I don’t want to but because I’m not skilled in everything. I only have my own experience to go on and whilst I can teach them what I know, it isn’t everything. I am frugal so will always opt to do a course myself so I can do it, but most of the time it isn’t enough. If you can’t afford a permanent team, calling in expertise is both essential but also value for money because of the time and energy it will save you (this can be applied to both franchisors and franchisees).

3 . The time it would take to bring everything together for others to be able to replicate it successfully — When running classes locally myself, it seemed super simple to tell everyone what I do each day and for them to do it themselves. I am also someone who has an idea both in business and in personal life and when I get an idea, I want to do it there and then. It wasn’t until I started taking my notebook and pen everywhere with me so I could write down all the little things I was doing in the business that I realised just how much I do. It would end up taking me a year to gather everything together (as we have a year long program of classes) and put it into a useable operations manual before taking on my first franchisee. This was hard for me to be patient but it needed to be done to ensure I was both mentally and physically prepared for the journey of franchising.

4 . The impact it would have on my family. There have definitely been moments of celebration and moments of chaos when it comes to family and franchising. Enjoying the successes and opportunities that have come my way since becoming a franchisor has been wonderful to do together. In the same space, it has also been the most stressful thing I have ever done. Where I left teaching to have a better work life balance, there are some days or weeks when I have to put all my time into the franchise. In some respects, franchising has taken me further away from family life, finding I need to be on call for franchisees from 9–5 each day in case of problems and continuing to grow the franchise but it has also opened up our opportunities as a family where we can travel together visiting places we would otherwise probably never have gone. There is a balance to find when you franchise a business but it is possible to have the best of both worlds.

5 . I will be on the road for a while — Whilst I build the franchise from the ground, a lot of the funds went into the growth and development. Now it is time for me to begin building a head office team to help with the workload. I am a real home bird and currently the one who needs to travel around the country for the franchise, either to see franchisees in action or attend events. I never considered before that franchising would take me out of my area and whilst I can do a lot behind the screen, I am the face of the business and I think it is important that franchisees see me working on the ground level too.

As your franchise has grown, what have been the key drivers of its success? Looking forward, what strategies do you plan to implement to ensure continued growth and sustainability in an ever-evolving market?

First and foremost is our unwavering commitment to quality and innovation in early childhood education. By basing our classes on solid research and aligning them with the Early Years Curriculum, we ensure that our programs are both educationally sound and highly engaging. This has resonated with parents, schools, and nurseries, creating a strong foundation for our franchise and can be seen in reviews and testimonials.

Another critical driver has been our focus on community and accessibility. We strive to make our story play sessions accessible to a broad audience, offering flexible options for parents to engage with their children at home, in community classes, and through school partnerships. This inclusivity has helped us build a loyal and diverse customer base. Additionally, our dedication to customer service has been key to building the brand. Being recognised with awards, such as the Customer Service Excellence award and being a finalist in several prestigious business awards, reflects our commitment to maintaining high standards.

Looking forward, our strategies for continued growth and sustainability in an ever-evolving market will start with strengthening franchise support. By providing robust training and support to our franchisees, we ensure they have the tools and knowledge to succeed. I would also love to continue to build partnerships, looking to collaborate with educational institutions, local governments, and community organisations to help us expand our reach and impact. By focusing on these strategies, I aim to ensure that Story Sense Ltd not only continues to grow but is also a recognised leader in early childhood education, adapting to the needs of families and communities in an ever-changing world.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

I think probably the thought that everyone is depending on me and the key decisions I must make. It is a big role to take on! Although franchisees oversee their own business and territory, they seek clarification and support daily whether directly from myself or via our operations manual. I always worry whether I have provided enough support or if what I have given them even makes sense when read by someone else. Every day, I try to either improve the resources we already have available across the franchise and make the updates to the manual or I work on new ideas and initiatives to continue to develop and further enhance what we can offer our customers, whether that is out in the community or in schools and nursery settings.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, it would be focused on building a solid foundation for reading and literacy from birth. This movement, called “Story Play for All,” would aim to give children the best start in life by fostering a love of stories through engaging and interactive play.

“Story Play for All” would make literacy accessible and enjoyable for everyone by providing resources and support to parents, schools, and community organisations. For parents, this would include practical tools and activities to integrate story play into daily routines at home, as well as access to community classes where they can join with their children in story-based activities.

For schools and nurseries, the movement would advocate for the inclusion of story play in the Early Years Curriculum, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to develop literacy skills in a fun and meaningful way. By embedding story play into the curriculum, we can help children discover the joy of reading and the power of stories from a young age, setting them up for a lifetime of learning and imagination.

This movement would not only enhance literacy and educational outcomes but also strengthen community bonds and support parents in their role as their children’s first teachers. By making story play a fundamental part of early childhood development, “Story Play for All” could inspire a generation of readers and storytellers, creating a ripple effect of positive change for individuals, families, and communities.

How can our readers further follow you online?

The easiest way to follow us is on our website or on our social media. For head office, follow @storysensehq on Facebook and @storysenseheadquarters on Instagram. If you are interested in joining our classes with your child, find your closest venues at or by searching Story Sense on social media.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.