To successfully run a franchise, franchisors must possess not only the right leadership skills but also a healthy dose of bravery
Corporate chieftains like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Steve Jobs have all proven how important strong leadership is in business. But successfully mimicking these entrepreneurial icons and spearheading your own enterprise isn’t without difficulties – especially if you’re running a franchise. “Franchisors face huge challenges,” says Adrian Knight, CEO and founder of Knight Franchises, the franchise broker. “Not only do they have to lead their internal team but they also have to inspire a network of franchisees who are independent business owners. And given that some of these systems include over 500 people, that’s an incredible task.” So anybody considering franchising their business must make sure they’re up to the job.
The size of the undertaking also means that being a franchisor isn’t for the faint of heart. “You need to have courage to lead,” says Robert Allison, managing director at Expense Reduction Analysts, the procurement franchise. While this advice may seem rather self-evident, any franchisor who’s come up against opposition from franchisees knows that demonstrating grit is easier said than done. However, Allison advises that when faced with dissent, franchisors have to remember why franchisees signed up to the network in the first place. “They have a desire to be steered by some sort of central leadership,” says Allison. “So you can’t be too subservient to your franchisees because then you may end up with the tail wagging the dog.”
There may even be times when the company’s head honcho has to remind franchisees who the leader of the business is. “The franchisor will often be accused of sitting in an ivory tower and not understanding the coalface of the business,” says Allison. Franchisors are advised to accept the criticism when offered but not to let it discourage them from leading the business. “If your organisation lacks the conviction to lead from the top down and provide direction, you’ll find your franchisees filling that void,” says Allison. “When the franchisor isn’t leading, franchisees will start to wonder what they’re actually getting for their money. When that happens, you know the franchise is heading for trouble.”
The trick to acquiring the courage to lead lies in a second important skill: knowing where you want to take the business. “Unless you’ve got a strong vision for your franchise you probably shouldn’t be running it,” says Paul Callow, CEO of Cartridge World UK and Ireland, the ink-cartridge franchise. And intimately linked to being able to envision a brighter future for the business is having an ability to make it a reality. “The last thing I want to do as a leader is to present my people with a vision that may sound great but that my franchisees don’t know how to achieve,” says Callow. “If I do that, they’ll quickly become demotivated.”
But it’s not always what a franchisor says that counts: being able to listen is just as important. “I would be mad not to listen to my franchisees,” says Callow. Failing to take franchisee concerns into consideration may have negative effects on the network as a whole. “If they can’t give feedback, you risk ending up with disengaged franchisees who don’t buy into your vision because they don’t feel like they’re a part of it,” says Callow. “The flipside is that franchisees have a responsibility to contribute to the vision and to help shape the strategy.” Of course taking advice is not the same as having franchisees leading the business but there are clear benefits to being open to receiving input.
Strong leaders also recognise that franchisees should have some autonomy to lead their own businesses. “Striking the right balance with franchisees is hard because on the one hand you want them to be leaders and entrepreneurs in their own right but on the other you need them to follow the franchise model,” says Knight. While training can certainly sharpen whatever leadership skills franchisees have, Knight advises franchisors to ensure that franchisees have most of those skills when they’re being recruited. “Look at their careers to see if they’ve spearheaded projects that have proven to be successful,” says Knight. “You want to see evidence that they’ve taken the initiative and demonstrated that they have the energy to make a business successful. If they’re only used to taking orders then I’d seriously question if they really understand the realities of business ownership.”
However, franchisees aren’t the only people a franchisor should rely on to ensure the network’s profitability. It’s equally important for franchisors to seek guidance from people who have found themselves in similar situations. “Luckily, the UK has a strong franchising community,” says Allison. Organisations like the bfa provide business bosses with plenty of opportunities to hear from their peers. By hearing how other franchisors have dealt with their leadership challenges, newer leaders can learn to spot perils and pitfalls.
But even if they take all of this on board, business leaders should recognise one vital truth: no one is perfect. “Successful franchisors are aware that they don’t have all the skills that they need to run the business,” says Knight. “What they should do is recognise the three or four things they’re exceptionally good at and then make sure they establish a team who can deal with the rest.” In the end, all businesses are about people working together. So while a franchisor is tasked with the burden of running the network, daring to rely on their team and franchisees may be the most important skill they can learn.