Happy New Year and a new decade to boot! This post was the most-read screed I published in 2019. It’s fitting both to end and to begin the year with it since the topic involves change. This is the time of the year when many people stop and assess their lives which often leads to change. This piece, originally titled “Taking The Beaten Path” has to do with some issues involved in starting your own business. I published it last February and I hope you’ll give it a read and some thought if you’re thinking about starting fresh in 2020.
One of the questions that has come up often in my newish role as a franchise consultant has been why one should look to invest in a franchise to begin with rather than starting a business from scratch. After all, there are generally fairly substantial franchise fees associated with a franchise along with the other expenses one might expect when starting a business plus you usually have on-going royalties. You’ll still have to pay to incorporate, you still often need insurance, licenses, equipment, space, and people. Why incur the extra fees on top of the ordinary expenses? It’s a good question and I have what I think are some good answers. If you’re thinking of starting a business or maybe changing the nature of the business you’re running, here are my thoughts.
First, the biggest advantage of buying into a franchise is that it’s a business in a box. It’s a proven business model, one that comes with built-in support. Almost every franchise I work with has some form of training and on-going mentoring. I think about that in terms of the businesses that have hired me to consult in the past. Much of what I did would have been covered by that sort of support, negating the need for an outside consultant. The franchise will have research and the business results of all the other franchisees. That’s invaluable and beats the heck out of going it alone.
Another consequence of that is you’ll probably experience much faster growth. You won’t be spending time formulating a business plan. Instead, you’ll be getting trained and executing one that has been time-tested. Something as simple as logo design, which can take time and several iterations, is not really a concern. You’ll generally be presented with operations manuals and marketing materials. Your time to market is greatly decreased.
One thing that is much easier is financing your business. Franchises are less risky in lenders’ minds since they’re known brands and proven businesses. While banks aren’t the best source for franchise ending, there are many lenders who specialize in that (I work with 6 of them) and SBA loans are easier to come by as well. Finally, your potential customers will already know who you are. Most franchises have good brand recognition, and even those that don’t have a current local presence can often benefit from being seen as part of a bigger entity.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that roughly 1 in 5 of all businesses in the U.S. close after the first two years of operation and a little over a third shut their doors after four years. You can beat those odds by taking the beaten path and investing the franchise fee to gain the above benefits. In my mind, and why I added this to my consulting portfolio, that investment yields as good or better returns than blazing your own new trail. What do you think?
One question that often comes up as I’m discussing franchise opportunities with people is that of what businesses are “hot.” It’s interesting that “hot” comes up at least as often as “profitable”. I can answer the questions for them (and usually do), but I also add a couple of other thoughts. That’s our topic for today.
For those of you that are curious, what’s currently “hot” in the world of franchises falls into a few broad categories. Within the food sector, breakfast places, juice bars, Mexican food, and healthy bowls are doing well. Restoration services – businesses that clean up after accidents or disasters are hot as well. Some of the other categories that are in demand are childcare, pet services, fitness businesses, and some “alternative” health businesses (cryotherapy, etc.), and beauty/grooming. As an aside, I represent businesses in every one of these categories – let me know if you want to learn more!
I’ll review those categories with interested candidates but then I caution them and I’d like to do the same here. Many of the businesses in those categories are “sexy” but several are not particularly profitable. When you’re thinking about making a huge life change, which is what many of the folks I speak with are doing, you need to take a step back and look at the big picture. It’s not about what’s hot because what’s hot today may be gone tomorrow. Think about businesses that were all the rage a couple of years ago. Yogurt stores (yes, I have some of those too) seem to be fading away. Most of the “daily deal” sites have consolidated or gone away. Same with many of the subscription box services. The tanning bed business has transitioned into a spray-tan business.
My point to them, and to you, is that focusing on what’s hot isn’t a great criterion as you’re looking at new opportunities. Instead, ask yourself what makes you happy. What can you see yourself doing every day that will have you excited about getting out of bed? The odds are that there is a franchise that will allow you to do that. Some folks are equally concerned (or more concerned) with making money. Many of the businesses that do that aren’t “sexy.” They’re things like home repair or remodeling businesses or they’re businesses that might require a higher level of capital like a senior care business where you might need to “float” a payroll until cash flow grows.
Businesses ebb and flow. Categories run hot and cold, but what makes you happy probably doesn’t. Add profitability to the mix and you’re on the right track, whether it’s hot or not.
When you have over 500 different brands that you represent, the reality is that you can’t know each and every one of them to the same degree. As I’ve been speaking to people interested in changing their lives for the better, I’ve come to have a list of “go-to” brands in each of the major categories. How these brands got on this list is, I think, instructive for every business.
I was actually speaking about this topic to a development director at one of the brands who reached out. Her first question was about the commission structure. We consultants get paid by the franchisors based on people signing franchise agreements and not by the candidates. I gather that for some consultants that how much of a commission they can make influences their choice of which brands to put forward. Point number one: while it’s obvious that the brands are my customers since they pay me, it’s impossible to work in a situation where the candidate’s interests diverge from the brand’s. In my mind, therefore, the commission is a non-factor. I can’t expect to earn anything in a situation where I hand off an unqualified candidate to a brand. My point is that in any sales situation, every stakeholder’s interests must be considered and subordinating what’s right for one party to a potential higher commission isn’t going to work.
One thing that influences my choice of brands a lot is the amount and quality of information the brand provides. You would not believe how little information I have about some of these franchises, several of which are businesses I don’t quite understand. In some cases, all I have is bare-bones information about costs and royalties and a link to the consumer website – not even a “want a franchise?” page which I have to find on my own. Where some brands give us presentations, folders, one-sheets, and research, others give us nothing. You can guess which brands get pitched. Point number two: don’t send your troops into battle without arming them properly.
The next thing I consider is responsiveness. In many cases, getting the candidate engaged enough to want to speak to a franchisor is a time-consuming effort. Once they are ready to go, I want someone at the franchisor who will be as proactive as I have been to get the candidate this far. Once I’ve made an introduction, I expect the brand to reach out within a day, hopefully within an hour or two. Point number three: if you’re not going to work as hard on making a sale as others engaged in the process, you need to know that there are other businesses out there who will. Be responsive. Return phone calls and emails in a timely manner.
Finally, I also consider communication. Some brands tell me every time they have an interaction with my candidate. Others have been radio-silent. You can guess which type I prefer. It’s very hard to over-communicate in any business.
Those are things I consider when choosing partners. Anything I’ve missed that you think is critical?
I went to one of the warehouse club stores yesterday to make some bulk purchases. If you’ve ever been in one of them – Costco, BJ’s, Sam’s Club, etc. – you know that one feature of walking around the place is that there are usually free samples. You can taste the latest and greatest in meats, cheeses, and frozen things to cook while you’re too busy to make something yourself. That got me thinking about the fact that you really don’t see a lot of sampling elsewhere.
I’m a fan of the free trial. It gets customers walking through your door and using your product. What I don’t particularly like are those “free” trials that require you to fork over your credit card. Free means without strings, right? In particular, if you’re a business that is built around what I think is the gold standard – recurring revenues – you ought to be spending a good chunk of your marketing dollars on free trials.
It’s relatively simple math, right? What’s the lifetime value of a customer? What does it cost you to offer up a free trial – a visit, a free month, whatever? What is the conversion rate of those freebies – how many of the trials become regular customers? Recurring revenues are predictable and generally pretty stable. I bet you’ve signed up for subscriptions of some sort and forgotten you’ve done so or don’t use them as often as you thought you would. For a business, that’s a customer without costs, and that’s a nice margin!
When I talk to people who are looking at franchise opportunities and who don’t have a particular brand or industry in mind, I usually talk to them about the businesses with recurring revenue models. Things like cleaning services. Not a sexy business, but very profitable and that, in part, is because of the recurring revenues. Same thing with spa businesses or some hair salons that feature memberships. Are those businesses that can offer a free trial? Maybe if you’re an out-of-the-box thinker. Giving a converted customer the ability to give away a free trial to a friend is another great way to expand your base at very little cost.
Here is the thing about free trials leading to recurring revenues. As with any business, you have to maintain a high level of customer service. After all, when someone’s credit card is getting dinged each month and your business appears on their statement, it’s an opportunity for them to reconsider. If they walk away, no amount of free sampling will get them back most of the time. Everyone loves something for nothing. The opposite – nothing for something – is very much NOT true!
I left corporate America at the end of 2007. In the dozen years since I’ve worked for myself. Oh sure, I have always considered the clients for whom I consulted to be my bosses, but at the end of the day, I was on my own.
If any of you have been, or are, in a similar circumstance, you know that it’s both a liberating and terrifying feeling. There is the freedom to spend a beautiful day at the beach or on a golf course instead of working. After all, you’re the boss. Along with that freedom, at least for me, there was always guilt that I had taken the day to play or run errands rather than grinding it out as I had done for the 30+ prior years of my business life. I guess the Protestant work ethic applies even to Jews…
While I’m still working for myself, the last year I’ve not been BY myself. As a franchise consultant, I’m a part of a much broader network of several hundred other coaches. We share information, I have access to ongoing education about franchises and how to do my job more effectively, there is someone doing collections for me, and the network actually even finds leads for me if I want. I’m in business for myself but not by myself, as is the case with any franchise.
Candidates (people considering investing in a franchise) sometimes ask why they should go with a franchise instead of using their capital to start up their own business. The statistics answer that question for me. 90% of new businesses fail in anywhere from the first five years to as little as the first four months. 90% of franchises are still in business after five years. There is a reason for that, which is that you’re investing in a proven concept. The mistakes have been made, the operation has been refined, marketing plans have been tweaked, and all of that is being handed to you as part of your investment along with training that can last from a few days to weeks, with ongoing mentoring and education for much longer. Pretty spiffy, and a route I wish I had taken a dozen years ago instead of trying to figure it all out on my own.
So what can go wrong with a franchise? I think the two biggest sources of problems are when franchisees don’t follow the model or when they are undercapitalized. In the first case, ignoring the model is basically throwing away what you paid for and diminishing your success rate quite a bit. In the second case, ANY business will fail if it’s undercapitalized no matter how well-run it is. Counting on immediate cash flow to support the operation (or your ability to eat!) is short-sighted. That’s why franchising makes even more sense since there is a track record of what capital is needed to get the business up and running for the first few months. It’s actually so clear that the franchises put those costs in their Franchise Disclosure Document (item 7) and those are numbers I have and discuss with folks as they are looking at investing.
Being in business for yourself is great. It’s even better when you’re not by yourself. I can show you how to make that happen for you. Just click here and let’s get started.
Have you ever heard of a Franchise Disclosure Document? I hadn’t either until I became involved in matching people up with franchise opportunities. You can read about what the FDD entails here but in a nutshell, it’s meant to be a document that provides enough information to someone thinking about investing in a franchise so that that person can make an educated decision about the investment. It’s sort of like a prospectus you would receive before you invested in a mutual fund or a stock.
If you’re someone who is looking at franchises, putting the FDD’s of a couple of brands in which you’re interested side by side can be enlightening. You will see the differences in the ongoing fees you’re going to be paying as well as the estimated start-up costs you’ll incur. You can look at how many franchisees have joined the system over the years and where they’re located. You can see if any have left the system as well as if there are any bankruptcies or legal actions. You’ll see any differences in how they define the territory to which you’re getting exclusive rights (and if the rights you’re getting are, in fact, exclusive). In short, you’re being given a document that provides the bulk of the information you would probably have to spend weeks researching on your own if you could even find it. In fact, the FDD even gives you a list of current franchisee so you can “validate” the franchise by calling them and asking them to tell you even more information.
My first thought when I read my first FDD was “wouldn’t it be nice if EVERYTHING had an FDD?” I mean, who wouldn’t want to be handed this kind of information by law? Not only that, once you get the FDD there is a mandatory waiting period before the franchisor can take your money, even if you’re ready to sign up on the spot. Wouldn’t THAT be nice when you’re being pressured into making a quick decision about a big purchase such as a car or a house?
Come to think of it, if you’ve ever bought a car or a house, have you remotely thought that you had complete information? Maybe you got a mechanic or a building inspector to look at them but wouldn’t it be great to have an FDD?
That’s something any business should keep in mind. While we might not want to make up a 250+ page document, we should strive to disclose as much important information as we can throughout the decision-making process to potential customers and partners. Not only does it make them feel more secure in their decision to sign up with you but it also prevents a lot of surprises down the road. Just because we’re not legally obligated to provide something that’s the equivalent of an FDD doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, don’t you think?
And if you’re ready to change your life and look at a new opportunity, click here and I’ll help you make that happen. With an FDD too!
I spent last week at a conference of franchise consultants and franchisors. If you’ve read this blog before you’ll know that one of the recurring themes is the need to be learning constantly and going to meetings like that one is one of the best ways to educate yourself. After all, who knows more about that challenges that you face in your business than other folks who are dealing with the same issues?
One issue that came up a lot in my conversations with my peers is the issue of fear. We’re in the business of helping people realize their dream of business ownership. We find out their “why” and then find businesses – franchises – that match their goals and their budgets. In the process, we end up sending them a lot of very specific information about potential investments and it’s at that point that the fear barrier sometimes kicks in.
Imagine that you’re looking at several opportunities that could make your dream come true. You have the resources to make it happen. The next step is for you to speak directly to the development people at the brand and to continue your investigation. What often happens at this point is that people “go dark.” They don’t respond to phone calls or emails. I suspect that it isn’t that they’re not interested but, rather, that they’re TOO interested and suddenly things are VERY real. The notion of quitting your job and investing your savings in something completely new can be terrifying.
The people with whom we’re having these discussions identified themselves. They filled out a request to chat with someone about franchise opportunities. They WANT to make this happen, or at least they want enough information to see if that’s what they want. I’ve had people say they’ve reviewed the information and a company I’ve found for them isn’t quite right. That’s fine: we keep looking (I represent over 500 different brands). They’re not unafraid but they’re not letting the fear paralyze them. They use it as motivation. They believe that they can change their lives for the better and 94% of the time they will be right (that’s the percentage of franchisees that consider themselves successful).
No matter whether you’re looking at franchises or at changing companies or jobs or careers, the fear barrier will be there. The people who are truly successful – the ones who realize their dream and find self-fulfillment – are the ones that break through the fear barrier, not waiting for the “right time” or accepting the things in their lives that are really unacceptable to them when they step back and think about it. Is that person you?