Choosing a franchise consultant

A recent, but by no means isolated, incident brought it home to me how fortunate we were in choosing our professional partners when developing our franchise model and launching it to the market.

Choosing a franchise consultant

A recent, but by no means isolated, incident brought it home to me how fortunate we were in choosing our professional partners when developing our franchise model and launching it to the market. I was shown an operations manual, written by a franchise consultant, that was a very ugly cut and paste, ‘generic’ manual. In many places the company name had not been changed and it referred to aspects of the business that the franchise didn’t do.

When you distil the essence of a business, it is a product, and or service offering, being sold to someone else. But the nuances of that business – the values and the processes are the difference. And those differences should be captured, recorded and passed on.

Broadly speaking, a franchise consultant should be able to take a non-franchised business and evaluate it’s proposition as a franchise. If it’s found to be fit for purpose – and usually there will be adaptations to be made and tested – they will then develop a plan, a model and the associated processes and documentation for the franchised business – working with the franchisor to understand the nuances. The relationship can be in depth – with the consultant delivering on every aspect of the model – through to simply setting a prospect franchisor on a guided journey of development.

There are many books written on how to franchise and intensive web research could undoubtedly guide a time-rich individual in the right direction. A consultant, chosen correctly, will add significant value when setting up – helping to reduce wasted time, avoid major pitfalls, position the franchise business well, ensure legal compliance, ask the right questions and help the franchisor make the right connections to develop the business.

I want to be clear. It is unlikely that an experienced consultant won’t have a set of processes and documents already in place that they will reproduce for a franchisor – none would write from scratch and nor should they. They build know-how and utilise it time and time again. In principle there is nothing wrong with this, provided the material is reviewed with the client in mind – and delivered appropriately. By someone who fully understands, and is up to date with, current franchise practice and law.

Choosing a consultant is a bit like choosing a mate. You’re going to lay your business wide open – warts and all – and some parts may not stand the scrutiny. You’ll have to trust the mate to be honest in their appraisal and take it that they have your best interests at heart. They should tell you when things are wrong – and when things are great. We had some feisty conversations with both our consultant and our lawyer – where we won, it was usually a short-lived victory as we realised that, in hindsight, they may have known what they were talking about after all.

Shop around. We identified 14 consultants who might work with us. We contacted them all – not all responded. We interviewed five on the phone and I judged them by that call and subsequent written correspondence – they needed to share the same business values and standards as us.

We met and interviewed four consultants. We knew we needed someone who would challenge us but love what we do. Someone who believed in us – but also importantly – would tell us if franchising was not the right option, or we were making wrong choices.

Once we had whittled down the options to three, I called the franchise banks to see if they had a view. They aren’t allowed to have a view, but did say who they knew already and without exception you could tell if that consultant had a good relationship and/or reputation in the industry – this meant that the consultant could open doors for us and, perhaps more importantly, our franchsiees.

We also approached several franchise lawyers and did the same. We liked the idea that our lawyer would work well with our franchise consultant and, since they are human too (yes, really!) they couldn’t help but enthuse when they knew and liked a person whose name we mentioned.

So we narrowed down our choice.

A word here too about the British Franchise Association (BFA). Using a BFA affiliate will give a level of confidence that someone else has vetted the consultant. It does not necessarily mean that they are the right person for your business, but it does mean that they know and understand ethical franchising, have experience in the market, and can help your business if the BFA kitemark is part of your plan – as I believe it should be.

Our consultant challenged us, argued with us, strongly recommended things, opened doors for us with potential suppliers, made us think about things we had not considered. He modelled our business financially (and conservatively) and told us the difficulties and challenges we might face. His starting point was to identify whether the business was right as a franchise…his end point was putting it all together with us.

He did use templates. Of course, he did. I’d have been upset if we’d had to wait for him to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes he gave us the template to complete and sometimes he completed his own. But we never received something that was not specific or relevant to our business. 

Don’t choose cheap. You don’t have to go beyond your budget – but cheap will be because you’re being given pre-written, un-adapted, non-specific material that will not protect your business and you’ll spend longer and more money unwinding  the problems, if you don’t throw in the towel first.

Louise Harris
Louise Harris