Littlemagictrain provide resources , training and support to early years practitioners. In 2021 Littlemagictrain received a TALE grant of £8,637.20 towards integrating a CRM into their website. We spoke to the founder, Gina Bale, about the application process and how this development has given her business a “100% uplift”.

Why did you apply for a TALE grant for Littlemagictrain?

“COVID-19 changed the way everyone was doing business. It completely changed my mindset on what my business is and how to make it more accessible. I think a year before I applied for the TALE grant, I wouldn't have been ready to go ahead. COVID really pushed me into thinking about how the business was going to develop and what the future will look like.

“I knew I had to make a big investment in the business to take it to the next stage, but I was anxious about the costs. It was only because of the TALE grant I was able to do it when I did it. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have looked at it until later and I wouldn't have the customers I've got now.

“I think the future is all delivery and speed. Customers want to download resources or have them sent to them instantly, they also expect to receive excellent customer care. I am improving the delivery process for my customers because we are now in a world where everyone wants to order and buy online rather than picking up the phone.

“I first found out about TALE when my accountant advised me of some good websites that list support options. I wasn't too sure if my project would fit the bill and it was close to the end of the original scheme. I just thought, I'll try it and see what happens. I worked hard and I was really surprised that I managed to get my application in, in time.”

What was the grant application process like for you?

“In my first chat with Sian, we went through everything to see if I was eligible. She thought I was, so she sent me the forms. I went through the forms and sent them back with the three quotes. The TALE team was so patient with me because I’m not particularly tech-minded – I kept asking ‘Would that work?’ and they were very helpful.

“You sometimes think if you apply for support, it will never happen or it's going to be difficult, but it was such a quick turnaround. It was probably only a few weeks from when I started the process to being told I could go ahead. The payment of the grant was also fast, I was impressed. It was a very smooth, stress-free process.

“I ended up working with Internet Assist to develop my website – they’ve been amazing, and they did it at the best price. It's working beautifully with the CRM integration. Internet Assist are based in Essex. They’re a big team, but they have taken a real interest and nurtured this project.”

“I want to say, ‘thank you so much’ to the whole TALE team because the grant has completely changed my business.”

How does your new CRM system work?

“People now have access to our training videos 24 hours a day, they’re delivered to the customer directly from the website. They can't copy them, which for me is an important part of the integration. If they want to order content as a download, they get that within three minutes. Then we're tweaking the last bit, which is automating the delivery of physical orders. I'm currently choosing a fulfilment house for those orders, as I'm still doing that bit manually.

“Through the CRM we're able to run reports of what we're selling and information about our members. The amazing thing is the integration shows what people are looking at, what they’re downloading, and what they're ordering.

“We have lots of things on the website that are completely free for people. These act as a sort of ‘lead magnet’ to get them in, then I nurture them. The councils find us through word of mouth, but I also give them a free sample they can only access once they go into the website to see how the process works. They receive their resources within three minutes and that's what I think turned the corner for the business.”

How has business improved since receiving your TALE grant?

“We did a pilot with Caerphilly Council over the summer that was successful. We've now got a four-year contract with them. I have also been commissioned by Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Monmouthshire and Vale of Glamorgan Councils. We've just had a third purchase from Newport for more training. I'm also having discussions with several other councils who have approached me.

“People are now talking about Littlemagictrain, and we're able to give customer care which I wasn't able to before. I just didn't have the ability to deliver the product, the service, and the care I wanted for the customer. We're still at the very beginning because we're tweaking things, but the main thing is the system’s now in place.

“I'm technically making a profit now, and I’m feeling very positive. It feels like a much better Christmas than last year. We've got customers booked in all the way through to September 2022. I've never had orders in December before, because December is dead in education – everyone’s focusing on the Christmas nativity and holidays. To have had three orders in December, that took me through to March of 2022, is a real turnaround.

“The aim is to be bringing in £10,000 per month and that will enable me to keep investing in the business and making it better for the customer. Because things were just starting up the business ran at a loss last year, and the year before I broke even. So far this year I’m in profit (the educational year is September through August). This is going to increase as I'm about to send out some more invoices, which is nice. I'd say since we installed the new system the business has had a 100% uplift, or more than that.

“I'm actually giving myself a salary for the first time thanks to the TALE grant. Before, I was running Littlemagictrain but also having to teach on the side to fund it. Now I’ve got the contracts I've given up most of my actual teaching because I need to be focusing on the business more.

“I can see that I'm getting more contracts because I have the time to look at my marketing. I couldn’t do that before because I was so busy. I would work 24 hours a day, seven days a week and still not feel I got anything done. I am much happier now.”

How is the new system helping you expand your operations?

“The TALE grant has freed me up to be able to develop the business. I have new services, new offers. I’m able to talk to potential hot leads, which I never had the time to do before. Today, for example, I've sent out the forms to a company to evaluate their free gift. We're really listening to our customers, and I use that feedback from them to improve our services. I've never had the time to do that before.

“I also spent a lot of time duplicating tasks. Now, when they place their order on the website, all that data goes into the different sections of the CRM and the content is sent out. I just have to check on it.

“A year before I thought it would happen, I've taken on somebody doing four hours a week on telephone calls. I'm paying them to work on customer care – to see if there's anything else the customers need (Do they want to order anything else? How can we help them?). That started at the beginning of November and if it goes well, I will find somebody to do it full-time. The next stage is to get ‘boots’ on the ground and hire someone to go into the education settings. I think that's how my business will grow.”

What products and services are you launching next?

“We recently put together a special print newsletter which we’re initially going to send out quarterly, but that frequency will increase. It's called the ‘Pssst’ as it aims to get our customer’s attention. The newsletter includes informative articles and QR codes so teachers can watch clips of the children doing the science experiments linked to the session.

“In this edition, there’s a poster of a polar bear for the children to dress in the appropriate clothing and pin the tail on. It also features a 30cm ruler so they can measure the width of their hands against that of a polar bear’s paw and a Christmas quiz. I would never have had the time to produce something like this before, and the response has been great.”

“When I started this process, I was telling Sian that the next stage was to sort out resources for sensory activities. I didn't think there would be time until next year, but I've already had that meeting and I'm already putting that information together for the customers. I’m way ahead of where I thought I was going to be.

“A sensory activity could be something like getting a tub of margarine, filling it up with water and freezing it. Then grating that over the children's faces – that’s a lovely way of representing ‘snow’.

“We’re designing some physical items to be sent out to customers and others that will be downloaded. The instructions are something they can download, but they are not going to want to spend the time printing or cutting out physical elements – they should be sent out the directly. That's what I'm trying to get my head around next.”

What are you doing to promote Littlemagictrain?

“I am currently working on the marketing side of it, trying to get those little bits right. I’m looking at whether teachers could make purchases through Instagram as so many use the channel.

“Inspired by that idea, each week I'm sending out our personalised ‘picks’ to our customers with the activities we think would be good for them in their setting, plus reminders and polls. Our customers sometimes stack classes (planning back-to-back activities). So, I can also suggest they stack the session we have sent with, say, a speech and language activity, and then add another stack of something creative on top.“I’m also still tweaking my emails. I have a Peloton bike and they have the most brilliant marketing, (apart from what's just happened on Sex and the City) and I've nabbed some of their ideas. I love the emails I get from them; they send me my personalised ‘picks’ about which classes to attend every week, which makes me want to try classes out. I’m easily swayed by personal touch.

“I've been trying that out to see what the response is. We're seeing a good open rate. I think come January I'm going to follow through with that approach, contacting people who aren't customers yet but are who are interested with a free ‘sample’ personalized ‘pick’ for them to try.

“I think the TALE grant has given me more confidence in the business. I’ve booked myself into the childcare expos in London, Bolton, Coventry, Wales and North Wales for 2022. That's five exhibitions I wouldn't have done before, but now I feel confident in my product and ability to deliver gold star customer care. Before I worried that if the business did take off, I wouldn’t be able to deliver or look after people, but now I know I can.”

TALE is funded by ERDF.