Gone are the days when people need to strap themselves to an office desk for eight hours to run a business: entrepreneurs can now operate a business whenever and wherever they like. But whilst flexible working is still considered a fad by many companies, the world of franchising has truly taken the trend to heart. So how are franchises making the most of flexible working patterns? And why are they so far ahead of the curve?
Piece of cake
Flexibility is baked into the model of Oast House Farm Snacks, the snack box franchise that raises funds for local hospices. Whilst the franchise’s full-time offering involves the merchandising of 300 snack boxes, it also offers a much more granular opportunity, enabling franchisees to scale the level of investment and workload to better suit their needs. “They might not want something full-time,” says Matthew Simmonds, franchise director at Oast House Farm Snacks. “They might want to do it between the hours of 10am and 2pm, in which case they would have a 150-box franchise.”
In Simmonds’ eyes, there are certain sectors better suited to flexible working than others. “There are certain franchises that offer a lifestyle solution that allows flexibility for people with time restraints,” he says. Conversely there are other verticals in which flexibility isn’t really an option. In areas like retail or food service, not only does the business need to be open the same core hours each day but even if the person investing intends to be more hands-off in terms of day-to-day operations, they will still be taking on a lot of responsibility. “You might be able to spend part of your time in the business but you’ve got a full-time headache in terms of running it,” Simmonds continues.
Despite this, Simmonds feels that the franchising sector as a whole is far ahead of the curve when it comes to embracing flexible working. “The general business market outside of franchising still doesn’t really recognise it,” he says. Part of the reason for this is that franchisors by necessity need to actively court the investment of franchisees and this entails offering ways of working that suit their requirements. “We have to listen to what’s going on,” says Simmonds. “We’re monitoring trends and looking at the reasons why people are looking to run their own business.”
Get up and go
Raring2go!, the print and digital magazine covering local kids activities, also offers flexible working arrangements. However, Freddie St. George, managing director of Mojo Publishing, the publisher that owns Raring2go!, insists this doesn’t make it a pushover. “One of the central tenets of our business is that we’re not part-time but we are flexible,” he says. The fact that franchisees are working toward delivering four quarterly magazines a year and can structure their own working arrangements makes it a very suitable option for parents looking to fit their work around the school day or term time. “They can effectively enjoy the full 13 weeks of the school holidays every year by working our system and model flexibly,” St. George says. “It genuinely does provide for a very flexible working relationship.”
When putting flexible arrangements at the heart of a franchise offering, it’s important to remember that franchisees are forgoing a traditional working pattern and may need additional support. “They’re working in isolation,” St. George says. “Suddenly you’re taken from a traditional environment and you’re working from your back bedroom at home.” For this reason, Raring2go! holds regular regional meetings and buddies franchisees up with each other to ensure they feel connected to the wider network. “When there’s a question that they want to ask a peer, they can ask one of the network’s franchisees,” says St. George.
But beyond putting in place the right support network, St. George believes one of the most important things for any franchise embracing flexible working is judicious use of technology. Raring2go! has invested heavily in both a cloud CRM and magazine management tool, which help franchisees work whenever and wherever they need. “As long as they’ve got a wifi or a 3G signal, they can be sitting in a Costa coffee and catching up with their accounts, doing their invoicing, checking their flatplan and communicating with their clients,” says St. George.
A whole new ball game
It’s safe to say that Carly Poyser, owner and director of children’s rugby franchise Little Scrummers Rugby, is an advocate of the benefits of flexible working. “Even if you can’t do a full-time, nine-to-five job, you can still build your own business and be successful,” she says. Poyser herself is evidence of this: having set up her business when her sons were just three and four-years-old, she has had to embrace flexible working patterns. “As a franchisor I’m quite flexible when I work,” she says. “Sometimes it is 7am, other times it is 11pm.”
As many of Little Scrummers’ franchisees have families of their own, it made perfect sense to build flexible arrangements into its model. “Whilst they’ve got to work at the weekend because that’s what the classes dictate, the rest of the admin behind that can be handled at any time,” says Poyser. For example, one Little Scrummers franchisee doesn’t work during the hours her baby is awake but then uses the evenings to run her social media and catch up on her admin. Being their own boss effectively means that it’s easier for franchisees to tailor their working patterns to suit their personal circumstances. “You can fit it in much more with your life,” says Poyser.
And whilst businesses with a B2B focus might find that they need to be most available during traditional working hours, franchises that work with families actually benefit vastly from working slightly more negotiable hours. “As a parent, not everything works nine-to-five, Monday to Friday,” says Poyser. One example she gives is a parent getting in contact at 7am the morning of a class because they’ve realised they’ve forgotten to pay; a franchisee working flexibly can more easily deal with these issues as and when they arise. “When you’re working with children, being available outside of the nine-to-five benefits everyone,” she says.
All in all, it’s clear that flexible working is something that many franchises can’t afford to ignore. “That’s modern life,” Poyser concludes. “People don’t all work nine-to-five and if you can capitalise on that then you’re going to have far more success.””