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The right path

on Monday, 04 February 2013. Posted in Analysis

It was a no-brainer to choose flexibility over a staid, old, top-down franchise model, says Extra Help co-founder Sarah Jackson

The right path

I might be paraphrasing slightly here but it was Alexander the Great who succinctly said the fate of all depends on the conduct of each and I couldn’t agree more. Before I set up the Extra Help franchise, I was a franchisee myself and learned there are two ways to run a franchise operation – one, with the franchisor as an omnipotent, all-knowing leadership figure, offering dictates and instructions but not taking feedback in return, or two, as I have realised, the ‘other’ way.  

I chose to do it the ‘other’ way. The whole point of the other way is that there isn’t a cookie-cutter franchise model to work from, but rather it’s a business plan that encompasses the idea that each franchise is unique, and the direction, growth and success of a franchise can be positively influenced through input from the bottom up instead of just from the top down.

 

Flexibility in what you offer your customers

In this day and age, with a constantly shifting marketplace and an economy struggling to limp to its feet again, franchisors can’t afford to be complacent and stick to the nice, neat business model they dreamed up at the start of their adventure. While it’s always useful to have a map to guide you, once you’re functioning in the commercial world chances are you’ll find out the terrain is very different from what you expected and you need to adapt if the business is to keep moving in the direction you want.

In my experience, a lot of franchisors miss the point by stubbornly refusing to adapt or react to feedback, when actually the most valuable resource you have as a franchisor are the franchisees who are on the ground, dealing with the customers on a daily basis and experiencing the subtle shifts in the marketplace, customer’s budgets and expectations. 

Extra Help is living proof that adapting your business model is a positive step, not one to be shied away from. When we first launched, our remit was to provide domestic help for elderly people – those tasks that so many people need help with, such as changing a light bulb, cooking a hot meal and going to the supermarket to do shopping. Within a few months of launching Extra Help For The Elderly, the feedback we were getting told us that actually, the market for this kind of support is far wider. Professional people, who were working long hours and didn’t have time to do the little jobs around the house asked if we could cater for them, and new mothers with small children who just wanted a hand with the tasks that fell off the bottom of their to-do lists wanted to know if we could provide a service for them. Based on that feedback Extra Help For Everyone (aimed at professionals) launched six months later, shortly followed by Mother’s Help in 2011.

Being flexible in what you offer your customers makes perfect sense in the current economic climate because it helps make your business recession proof. The more services you can offer – and know there is a market for – the more areas you can look to for growth and continued business. We deliberately expanded our business plan to beat the economic downturn by listening to input from franchisees, those at the coalface, who are ideally placed to tell us what customers want and help us to build the business model as they believe it should be. This not only gives them a sense of being able to influence and contribute to the business, but it gives us invaluable insight we wouldn’t otherwise have. 

 

Flexibility in what you offer your franchisees 

To extend the idea of letting franchisees have their say in what they need, I believe the franchisors also need to be open to the idea of flexibility in what they offer.

Research shows that a lot of franchise models fail because franchisees don’t have the skills they need to run their businesses – a situation which benefits no one – so I would urge franchisors to let franchisees tell you what it is they need. Instead of one overwhelming training session at the start of a franchisee’s involvement with Extra Help, we train for two days initially, then offer quarterly top-up sessions where franchisees can tell us what they feel they need to learn more about and we arrange external trainers to come and speak. Previous training sessions have covered subjects such as marketing strategies, social media training, running a small business, managing your accounts and adapting your sales techniques. These are the skills our franchisees feel would benefit them as they run their business so it’s in everybody’s best interests to make sure these skills are covered.

There is a group vote after training sessions to gather feedback on where further training would be beneficial and a closed group on Facebook allows franchisees to share their views easily and openly and state where they feel coaching would help. We’ve deliberately made it easy for franchisees to share their feedback and we actively encourage it.

I’m not sure why so many franchisors fail to see the importance of being adaptable enough to change your business model if feedback tells you it’s a positive step. The only reasons I can think of are either misplaced pride or good old-fashioned stubbornness. From my point of view, it’s a win-win situation: the franchisees want the franchise to be a success just as much as the franchisors do. So, to go back to Alexander the Great, the fate of all does depend on the conduct – the feedback, the input and the ideas – of each. In my experience, that’s how you build a successful franchise. 

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