Danielle Smith of Georgia trades in military career for youth sports business

Danielle Smith of Georgia trades in military career for youth sports business

Single mom thought 2020 was the perfect time to strike out on her own with an i9 Sports franchise

i9 Sports franchise owner Danielle Smith
Danielle Smith

Last fall, Danielle Smith was a single mom trying to juggle home-schooling her 6-year-old son with her demanding job and pursuing an MBA at University of Georgia, all in the middle of a pandemic. The opportunity to become an Area Developer for i9 Sports and open her own franchise — yes, even in the middle of a pandemic — didn’t seem that daunting.

“I felt like it was a good opportunity to take that leap of faith and get into this franchise and see how that goes,” Smith says. So she took the leap, taking over the territory in McDonough and Stockbridge in Georgia, along with a few other communities southeast of Atlanta. She’ll have her first season opening in April and couldn’t be more excited. 

Diving into the youth sports business

Before becoming a franchise owner with i9 Sports, Smith was a full-time National Guardsman. She served as the Brigade Public Affairs Officer for the 201st Regional Support Group Homeland Response Force, Region 4. That particular Army National Guard unit responds to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats and is the first unit on call whenever the Georgia National Guard is deployed.

After nine years or so of doing that full-time, things had gotten even more hectic. There was so much civil unrest, she says, and when the pandemic hit and her son couldn’t go to school anymore, Smith knew, “it was time for me to take that leap of faith and try something new.” 

She and some other business partners bought a Perspire Sauna Studio in 2018, and then sold it, which freed her up to consider other franchise opportunities. She got an email in her inbox one night about the i9 Sports opportunity, and that little light bulb went off in her head. 

“I decided that I wanted to pursue i9 Sports full-time,” says Smith. “My son is 6 years old and he wants to do more sports. We enjoyed it when we started before the pandemic, but he hadn’t been back with everything that was going on. I felt like it was a good opportunity to get into this franchise and see how that goes.”

Sports background: Nice, but not necessary

Smith competed internationally with the Armed Forces Judo team. She was active growing up, a competitive cheerleader who was named the fourth-fastest in the state in the 400 meter youth category in track and field. She took dance lessons and judo lessons as well, and now her son, Daniel, is also taking judo lessons. He’ll be enrolling in basketball and soccer, too, once she launches her inaugural season on April 24.

It’s the kind of thing you’ll find a lot with i9 Sports franchise owners — that passion for youth sports often stems from personal experience — but it’s not required. What is required is business acumen. Smith had some entrepreneurial experience already, but she has also appreciated the support she can count on from i9 Sports.

“Coming into this franchise with i9 Sports has been fairly easy and a pleasant process,” she says. “They assign you a business coach that you speak with every week; there is a week-long onboarding training.

“Every person in every department introduced themselves and explained their capabilities and how they could support us, so we have that direct contact with them if we need help. I appreciate knowing who those people are and having those resources.”

Smith has especially loved using the franchise portal where owners can log in, pull reports, schedule follow-ups with parents, arrange email marketing and more. “They set up your Facebook and get you onboarded with everything you need for accounting,” Smith says. “It’s just all there.

“It’s not like that with every franchise, but it should be. What they’ve built is definitely perfect for somebody like me who’s doing this venture by themselves. I know I can pick up the phone and call my business coach at any time, and he’ll respond to my call.”

Why buy an i9 Sports franchise?

For Smith, the decision to buy into i9 Sports was relatively easy. It’s a home-based business, which means very little overhead, and startup costs are low, too. In addition, franchise candidates can take advantage of our five-year agreement, which allows you to spread your franchise fee into monthly payments over a five-year period.

Smith notes that not only will this franchise not break the bank, it’s perfect for entrepreneurial parents. “If you have kids, it’s perfect, right? You’re going to be taking them to practices anyway, you might as well start with something that you can be a part of and make sure that you know the people that are going to be around your children.”

Take a chance

Smith’s background as a Guardsman provides her with many of the skill sets that will help her be successful in business, such as understanding the importance of structure and organization as well as understanding logistics and operations. “It’s been tremendous for me,” she says.

i9 Sports is an ideal franchise for veterans, but naturally most of our franchise owners are non-veterans. Our proven systems and ongoing support and training make this a great franchise for first-time entrepreneurs as well.

Fears are normal, Smith notes, but the key is to make a move anyway.

“There are people who’ve been in their jobs for 15 or 20 years and they’re scared to death and they never make that move,” she says. “I was terrified when I bought into that sauna studio, and it was a lot more than this in terms of how much it costs to get started. But it paid off. And once you’re in it, the nerves subside.”

It’s important to note, too, that having supportive family and friends is truly key. No business owner is every truly alone, and for Smith, her family has been an important part of her decision-making. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them,” she says. “I have the most amazing support system in the world, and my father and step-mother help me raise my son. I have two sisters as well who also help me with childcare. It’s really an entire family team effort, and I drive constantly back and forth to Macon (an hour and fifteen minutes away) to take him to his grandparents when I am unable to have my son with me.”

Her final words of advice for prospective buyers?

“I would just encourage people to take a chance. The American economy thrives off of business owners and people who want to step out there and try new things, because they may be sitting on an idea that can change the world.”

Learn more

To find out more about the business opportunity with i9 Sports, fill out the form on this page to download our free franchise report.

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