As a franchise grows, those at the top must work harder to ensure they keep talking to everyone in their network. Fortunately, there are a number of tools to help franchises stay on top of their internal comms
Communication in a small business is relatively straightforward. When the entire company is in the same building, company meetings are easy to organise and ensuring everyone is on the same page doesn’t take too long. But as companies grow – and particularly as new sites and outlets are added – internal communications have further to travel. Given franchising entails the operation of multiple sites, this becomes a key challenge as a franchise network starts to grow.
Franchisors need to maintain contact with their franchisees at all times and support them with their day-to-day issues. One way to do this is to create online resources and make them available via cloud-based programmes such as Dropbox, Boxnet and Google Docs. This enables large amounts of information to be constantly available. It should also take the strain off the company’s email system and helpdesk lines. But such an approach needs to be carefully planned and overseen.
Karl Sandall is the group chief executive of TaxAssist Accountants, a franchised network of 250 offices that services the needs of small business owners across the UK. Sandall says his franchisees want to focus on the needs of customers during the day; understandably, this is something he doesn’t want to interrupt. This is why TaxAssist launched a bespoke online resource that contains useful information and tools for the company’s franchisees and can be accessed at any time. “We have a custom-built intranet, which has been in place for the last ten years and is developed and maintained by an in-house web developer,” he says. “We feel our support content and facilities should be there when the accountants need it. If we interrupt their working day then it’s time lost helping clients. They only have their time to sell.”
But creating such a site has not been easy. As Sandall points out, the company employs an in-house developer to run and maintain it. Furthermore, it recently had to recode it from scratch following ten years of heavy use, in part because the company needed it to be ready for its international expansion. “The end user didn’t really notice but we needed to knock it all down and start again in order to keep building more facilities for the network to use,” he says. “We also needed to make core changes to allow master franchisees to have their own support sites in their respective countries. The near future will involve communicating with our counterparts in Australia and Canada. It’s been a massive investment in time but well worth it.”
But some communications and messages require a more direct approach. To achieve this, the company sends out a weekly global email. This is always approved at director level and the company tracks open rates to ensure it has been seen by all. “An important communication needs to be repeated to ensure the message has been received,” says Sandall. “Our support site provides us with effective tracking so we can contact an office if that weekly email hasn’t been read.”
Online resources can be very useful but Sandall says communications need to take place across a variety of channels, including more traditional routes. “Internal, transparent and honest communication with our franchisees is vital,’ he says. “We ensure this happens in many different ways but the most important way is always face to face.”
Other franchise owners tend to agree. Craig Brown is the managing director of Signs Express, a signs and graphics company that runs over 65 centres in the UK and Ireland. He says that businesses need to be careful not to overdo their online communications, particularly email, and insists that traditional methods are still essential nowadays.
“Over the years, we have learnt that too much information going out too quickly can sometimes be lost in the masses of emails that our franchisees receive and can make them feel as if they are being bombarded,” says Brown. “We have made our communications to the group consistent by sending them out every Friday, which has solved this problem.”
Brown also rates face-to-face encounters; the company organises biannual regional events and an annual nationwide meet-up. “We’ve also learnt that there is no replacement for face-to-face interaction and that franchisees enjoy sharing their experiences with other members of the network,” says Brown.
Good internal communications needs to be multi-channel but the nature of the message is also key. Franchisees need to be continually reminded of the company’s core brand values. Brown feels internal communications and brand consistency go hand-in-hand as they enable individual franchisees to work together. “Consistency in the brand is only achieved through positive communication,” he says. “Additionally, one of the real advantages of being a franchisee is that you have the support of the entire group. We’re able to use our internal communication to facilitate the sharing of knowledge between all of our franchisees.”
Positivity and encouragement help create a stronger working culture, suggests Richard Ilsley, managing partner at the Sales and Marketing Consulting Group, which advises growing businesses on their communications. He says internal communications are too often negative as they tend to be used when something has gone wrong. “A very common occurrence is that managers only ever talk to their colleagues from other sites or departments when there is a problem or when they want something,” he says. “So communications very quickly become associated with bad news or more work.”
Without a doubt, taking a positive approach to internal communications – and utilising the most appropriate tools – can ensure the smooth running of any franchise business.
Tailor the message
Once it’s sent, it’s seen, so prepare your internal communications with care with these five steps:
1 Don’t overdo email: Only send global emails weekly and ensure they are error-free, carefully planned and scheduled.
2 Create shared online resources: Cloud-based platforms offer many options for multi-site businesses.
3 Encourage interaction: Message boards and private groups on social media networks can be used to great effect.
4 Repeat core messages: The brand ethos and message should shine throughout your communications so they are seen and felt by all.
5 Be positive: Offer support more than criticism and ensure communications are associated with good news more than bad.