How small franchises can make a huge impact

While it's easy to feel like it's impossible to beat the big brands, small really can be beautiful for franchisors

How small franchises can make a huge impact

It’s no secret that it’s tough for franchisors to grow from acorns to oaks. Attracting and supporting franchisees while driving the core business – and usually on a small budget – presents many challenges. But while it’s tempting to look at the other national networks out there with an envious eye – with their seemingly bottomless pockets, regular stream of leads and teams of people looking after every aspect of the business – instead emerging franchisors should be celebrating their comparatively diminutive stature and getting excited about being on the first floor, going up.

The personal touch

What’s the biggest differentiator your franchise model has in its formative years? You. Whether you’re entirely on your own or have a small team around you, everything revolves around you and that gives you power to wield a significant advantage over the bigger brands when it comes to truly connecting with people.

In the early days, people are buying into you as much as your model. You have unbounded passion, a vision and the drive to achieve it; use those weapons wisely and people will gravitate towards your franchise. If you give people a reason to get excited, they’ll want to emulate your success.

Make sure you’re telling the story of your business and how you’ve built it from the ground up. Humans are emotional beings and we want to be inspired; we respond when others are passionate about something. Showcase your story well in your marketing mix – you’ve grown a business to the point of franchising it, which is an amazing accomplishment. Your excitement at what you’ve done and what you’re yet to do should be leaping off the pages of your website and the frames in your videos. If someone is going to be one of your earliest franchisees, they will want – no, need – to see that.
At the same time, they will want to know that you’re going to help them too. That you’ll be there when they have a problem, that you’ll be available and ready to guide them to success. When you meet them, make sure your prospects understand how important it is to you that they’re successful and that you’ll be personally supporting them closely – something they can’t get in a lot of other franchises out there.

And as they become franchisees, your direct connection with them should drive a virtuous circle when it comes to business development and network growth. You have the ultimate business development tool: a group that wants to help you make your brand stronger. You have a relationship with your early franchisees that you just can’t have later down the line when you have 100 or more to support. Where larger networks have councils and committees, you have a telephone or a field visit, which is a more direct link to a hotbed of ideas and initiatives. Listen to their perspectives, from business ideas to personal motivations and you’ll benefit not only from their experience but you’ll also find the triggers you need to appeal to the right prospects. Really get to know your franchisees and you’ll start to understand their fears and aspirations, what they watch and read, what their drivers are; you can then distil that goldmine of information into your messaging to attract more of them cost-effectively.

The personal touch also lets you develop strong links with journalists if PR is important to you because you can express an opinion rather than a soundbite. You can make yourself available to them through a call or email in a way that a corporate CEO never could.

Get stuff done

A significant advantage you enjoy over larger counterparts is agility: the ability to simply get stuff done. Want to tweak your website, business management system or marketing? No problem. There’s no compliance department, politics or committee meetings to get in the way. In a lean structure you can be reactive and proactive in equal measures, responding to challenges as they arise and developing new initiatives whenever inspiration strikes. You have your finger directly on the pulse of everything that’s going on in your business – from invoicing to what your franchisee in Chelmsford’s doing this month – and can act in an instant while still seeing the bigger picture. That also lets you leverage the perspective of others, say your family and friends – when was the last time you asked someone to look over your website to see how a prospect sees it for the first time?

The emerging franchisors who have made leaps and bounds in recent years – award winners like Julie Clabby at Busylizzy, Michelle Fenwick at Heritage Healthcare or Rachel Ray at Bright & Beautiful – powered their growth by never standing still and always evolving. Of course, moving quickly is possible only as long as you’re able to enact changes. Time, that most elusive of resources, is a limiting factor when it’s all up to you but not having enough of it will hinder your development. Make sure you take the chance to switch off and get outside of your usual routine once in a while, giving you fresh eyes on problems and a chance for new ideas to emerge.

Be a sponge

Whether by formally engaging a mentor or simply through conversations at franchising events, being smaller means there are bigger names with plenty of experience to share. One of the best things about working in franchising is how close-knit the community is and that offers major opportunities to skip a few hurdles that have tripped others. Events such as the bfa’s regional forums are superb for any new franchisor who wants to jump a few rungs on the ladder, with a room full of suggestions and ideas from people who have walked the franchising path before you. From marketing to operations, there’s a mass of lessons to be learned and mistakes to be avoided from the larger brands whose growth you’re looking to emulate.

For example, by understanding the importance of pinpointing your messages more accurately to your prospects and by setting up a professional and efficient lead-handling system, you can already put your franchise ahead of many of the other emerging brands competing for eyeballs and attention. Learning the nuances behind both and adapting the ideas of others to your own business, you’ll save time and money, increase prospect engagement and enjoy better lead generation and conversion rates.

Good things really do come in small packages, so never feel like you can’t compete with the franchising giants – just know your advantages and use them well. Any early-stage franchisor who’s seen The Founder, Hollywood’s take on the formative franchising years of McDonald’s, will surely have seen some of the issues they themselves face or have faced. Even that mightiest of franchise brands was once just an acorn itself.

Paul Stafford
Paul Stafford