Great expectations

You’ve signed the franchise agreement and paid the upfront fee, and you’re probably wondering what’s next. Franchise expert Kurt Illetschko maps out the way forward to help put your anxiety to rest.

Review, review, review

You’ve taken a big step so any anxiety at this time is to be expected. Assuming that you have selected your franchise with care, a new and exciting life awaits and you are probably much closer to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow than you realise.

Prep for start-upfranchising

Expect the weeks leading up to the opening of your new business to be stressful, so try to keep your cool. Some franchisors will hand you a turnkey operation while others will leave the legwork to you. Either way, there should be no surprises because the disclosure document will have told you what to expect. Should the promised level of support not materialise, insist on receiving it. Becoming a franchisee means “being in business for yourself, not by yourself” – that’s what you paid the up-front fee for.

Your job is to follow the franchisor’s advice to the letter. Their start-up team members have done it many times before. Unless you are able to trust your franchisor’s advice (and financial prudence) implicitly, the relationship is doomed from the start.

Commit to the initial training

Immerse yourself in the initial training programme. Observe, learn and ask questions! And if the franchisor feels that you aren’t ready to fly solo once you’ve finished the planned training period, don’t argue. If your franchisor feels that you need additional training, or offers you an opportunity to spend extra time working in a company-owned unit, take it. The more practical experience you gain the better you will be equipped to operate your own business like a pro.

Remember, your franchisor wouldn’t suggest extra training unless absolutely necessary, as they have a vested interest in getting your business up and running as soon as possible. After all, it is only once you are trading that the management services fees begin to roll in.

Start building support structures

If you are a newcomer to the sector, as most franchisees are, now is the time to explore your new environment and establish working relationships across the board. Hook up with head office staff, fellow franchisees, supplier representatives and anyone else who plays some role in the sector. You will gain useful insights and may even receive all-important referrals.

Be ready to lead by example

Unless you love the brand, you will find it hard going. You need to show your pride because your employees will take their cue from you.

Building up a new small business is hard work and a franchise is no exception. Unless you love the brand, you will find it hard going. You need to show your pride because your employees will take their cue from you. If you give them the impression that the business is just a job for you, you can’t expect them to feel any different. Unless you and your team offer customers service excellence with enthusiasm and pride, the performance of your business, and its profitability, will be mediocre at best.

Behave like a franchisee

Franchising brings with it clear rules that you will need to follow. Although you own the business, you can’t operate it as you please. In the early days you probably won’t find this a problem. You will depend on the franchisor’s advice, and you will be happy to follow it to the letter. As you gain experience, this may change. But before your ego gets the better of you, remember that you invested in this franchise because you liked the way they do things.

Face up to the fact that it is unlikely that the network has changed over time. What has really happened is that you now think you know it all. But don’t expect your franchisor to stand idly by while you tinker with the system. If you think you have developed a better way of doing things, your first step should be to notify head office. They will test it and either introduce it across the board or discard it. This is something you will have to learn to live with.

Work with your FSC

One of the benefits of being a franchisee is that you receive regular support visits from a field service consultant (FSC). The FSC knows the business inside out and wants to help you make your unit more successful. Unfortunately, not every franchisee sees it this way.

Treating the FSC’s visits as unwelcome interruptions of your busy schedule is counterproductive. Accept that he/she is a dedicated consultant, trainer and coach rolled into one and make the best of the time they spend with you. Raise any problems you are experiencing and ask for help in finding a solution. It’s your right –- that’s what you pay management services fees for.

Participate in network-wide activitiesteam meeting

To be successful as a franchisee, you need to be a team player. The activities franchisors arrange are usually carefully thought through, often with input from senior franchisee representatives. The franchisor’s expectation is that you participate with enthusiasm. Should you have misgivings, put them aside for the moment. Do your best to make the initiative work but monitor its impact on your business. Present the results to your FSC – no sensible franchisor will expect franchisees to participate in unprofitable activities.

Stay positive and ethical

It’s easy to criticise, but it rarely generates worthwhile results. Staying positive – even in the face of adversity – will help you cope with the occasional setback and help you regain any lost ground. Your franchisor will be by your side every step of the way.

Ethical behaviour is  non-negotiable. If you don’t like something, try to negotiate a solution – but don’t attempt to get around it “through the back door”. And never ever try to get your own back by under-declaring sales or buying goods from unauthorised sources. Your franchisor will find out and the resulting discussion will not be one you will fondly remember.

So where is the pot of gold?

For the first year or two, your income may be modest but this should change as soon as your business establishes itself.

Remain steadfast in your belief that there is a pot of gold to be found, and chances are excellent that you will get your hands on it at some point. However, patience is required. For the first year or two, your income may be modest but this should change as soon as your business establishes itself. In addition to drawing a market-related salary, profits will be yours to keep and when you are ready to quit, you have several attractive options. For example, you can sell the business and retire with a financial windfall, or you can take on a business partner and retire in stages. None of these options would have been available to you had you remained an employee for the rest of your life.

*Kurt Illetschko is a prolific writer on entrepreneurship and franchising. He can be contacted at franchise@intekom.co.za.