My own business journey has taken me from tentative entrepreneur starting an independent business delivering art classes for babies and children, to licensor and then franchisor over the past decade.
Before I launched my first business I was a lawyer. Some might say that meant that I was perhaps better equipped than others to embark on the franchising journey – however whilst my legal background has certainly helped me along the way at times, I’ve still found franchising a business to be an immense learning curve!
As time goes on, I’m often approached by others looking to franchise out their businesses seeking advice and guidance. And whilst I am always happy to help and provide lots of encouragement and support, I try to be very honest too about the amazing highs and then sinking lows that I believe are part and parcel of any franchisor’s daily life. When I started out on this path, I didn’t actually know many other franchisors! In hindsight I ventured into the franchise world pretty much blind, with the main advice and guidance being from the franchise consultant whose services I employed.
And also in hindsight, if someone had given me the advice that I now give to any would-be franchisor, would I still have embarked on the route to franchising? I actually think the answer is a pretty resounding and stubborn Yes!
However, although I really would do it all again tomorrow, here’s five of the things that I wish I HAD known when I started out life as a franchisor…….
1. Success won’t happen overnight
Franchising a business is an expensive business. It can involve franchise consultants, lawyers, branding experts…..I know that I very much underestimated the actual cost of making the business franchise ready. And then, having spent that amount of cash, it can be tempting to fall into the trap of overestimating how quickly you’ll be able to successfully sell franchises and recoup the investment. Franchise consultants can sometimes err on the overly optimistic side, and the reality for all but the very very fortunate few is that there won’t be a queue of potential franchisees waiting around the block for you to launch your new-to-the-market franchise opportunity. Make sure that you have realistic forecasts in place based on slow and steady growth. Doing that should guard against knee jerk recruitment decisions made in a cash-flow panic. The key to successful franchise growth is “Quality not Quantity”, and I believe that this should be any franchisor’s mantra that they should repeat at least twice a day! And try not to compare yourself to others (I’d give that same advice in all areas of life). It’s simply not helpful.
2. Have courage in your convictions when developing your franchise model
The world of franchising is quite traditional in many respects and franchising by its very nature is restrictive. When I developed my franchise model I was advised by the franchise consultant I had employed (and others in the industry) to follow tried and tested traditional franchise models. I certainly felt pressure to conform to the “norm”. I felt strongly however that I knew who my target franchisee was, that I knew what would and would not appeal to them and I also knew that I wanted my franchise brand to carry on the same ethos and values of the core brand (it’s a creative business and retaining flexible, creative elements in our franchise model was a must for me). I’m pleased that I trusted my own instincts and built a creative franchise model that is seen as quite unorthodox but as a result stands out in a busy marketplace and has a high franchisee retention rate . Have confidence in your brand and in your model and know your target franchisee inside out from day one. At the end of the day, when it comes to selling your franchise opportunities, it’s you that will be doing the selling and you will need to be able to justify your franchise package, your pricing, your royalty model, structure and processes to prospective franchisees
3. You’ll need to be tough enough
Franchising can be emotionally tough. I didn’t really appreciate this fully enough. It is an emotional wrench to let other people loose with what is effectively your “baby”, a business that you have sweated blood and tears over, even if you are fully confident that you have recruited the right franchisees to take it forward. And as a franchisor your responsibility is not only to yourself but also to all of your franchisees when it comes to recruiting, steering the business and making management and personnel decisions. Make tough decisions fast and don’t let your emotions get in the way. Your franchise team need you to do that and then move on.
4. Franchisees are all very different people, and that can be a great thing
Franchisees are people. They come to your business with different backgrounds, different personalities and different needs – needs both from you as a franchisor and needs from their franchise business. Whilst building an Ideal Franchisee Persona against which to measure applications should be an essential component in your franchisee recruitment process, build flexibility into this too. Sometimes an individual might approach you who does not fit your preconceived idea of your target franchisee. However, I’ve found it’s important keep an open mind. It’s having different personalities within the franchise network that I believe really makes a successful team – everyone bringing their own strengths to the table and helping each other to overcome their weaknesses and difficulties. It’s the melting pot of different franchisee personalities that can be the key to creating a dynamic franchise brand. Having a team of identikit Stepford franchisees might mean the business is an easy one to run from the franchisor’s point of view- however it may well simply also mean that the business stagnates!
5. Don’t forget to share your vision with your franchisees
I’m quite embarrassed to say that this is something that I really did neglect to do in the first couple of years of my franchising journey. I had a clear vision for the brand and where I wanted it to go but I had neglected to actually communicate that with anyone outside of my own head, let along my growing franchise network! Communicating your vision to your franchisees not only means they will feel fully invested in the brand and part of it, but also means that when as a franchisor you are making decisions about taking the business in a certain direction (or making some of those other tough decisions referred to at point 3!), that your franchisees can see WHY you are making those decisions or taking a certain path. It means that you remain accountable to them, which I consider to be vitally important as your franchisees are the key stakeholders in your brand.
Franchising is a rollercoaster ride, and I always tell anyone looking to launch into franchising how invaluable peer-to-peer support from other franchisors really is. All franchisors will have days when they simply want to jack it all in. That’s perfectly normal! But there are great rewards to be had from building a successful franchise brand with a team of happy and engaged franchisees. So my final piece of advice? (Yes, I know that’s number six!) Don’t give up.
Fiona Simpson is the Founder and MD of ARTventurers, a UK based children’s art and creative play franchise and was named Woman Franchisor of the Year in the UK EWIF Awards 2018.