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Lynne Lister: The key ingredients to successful franchise leadership

Lynne Lister: The key ingredients to successful franchise leadership

The MD of X-Press Legal Services explains why human connection and partnership is crucial to operating within a successful franchise

I didn’t go to university. I fell into my first role in franchising many years ago when I met Colin Bradbury. He ran a magazine called Business Franchise. At the time, I was a youngish mum with three kids and just needed a part-time job, so I went to work for the publishing company.

Franchising was still really in the dark ages, it was still very much lumped in with multi-level marketing. I ended up becoming the editor of Business Franchise and I did it for 10 years.

I had no experience, so the imposter syndrome was huge, especially when mixing with very professional people, but I just cracked on and enjoyed every minute.

I spoke to a lot of franchisors, discussing their businesses, and how they put things together, and I also talked to a lot of franchisees. It was an absolute classic education in franchising. I had never run a business, but I knew all the theory because I was writing about it every day.

A decade on, I got to the stage where I was ready for a new challenge and so was my eldest son. One day I spoke to my friend who was a conveyancer, and we then decided to train as conveyancers.

From there, my son and I started very small as X-Press Legal Services and we’ve since built from there. All my children, my husband, and my daughter-in-law are now part of our executive team. I’m one of the luckiest people you’re ever going to meet, the right people seem to appear when I’m ready for a change.

What have you found most fulfilling about your latest role?

Like any business, it has its ups and downs, but it has been really fulfilling and I’m delighted to say we have sold all our territories. We’ve got franchisees that have been with us since the franchise’s inception, and quite a few people who have been here for 17 years or more.

They’ve come to us from different walks of life, some not knowing about our business or about franchising. It’s just wonderful to see how they’ve grown very successful companies in their own right, under our umbrella.

We’re a very sociable group. I’ve just come back from a weekend in the Cotswolds with what we call our ‘Excellence Club’. So that’s our four or five top franchisees with best turnover and those with most improvement.

We also put together roadshows where we bring everybody together. We have our own academy, where our franchisees are invited to workshops in-person and online. I also still run our own original business which is now our North Cheshire, Merseyside, and Manchester territory.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve encountered?

The biggest challenges are always ones that are outside of your control. When the government introduces legislation that affects housing, it affects mortgages, stamp duty, and other things like that.

The pandemic was difficult for everyone, and in times like those we really do our best to gang together. Everybody was worried because people couldn’t go and view houses, so all our solicitors and conveyancers were treading water for a good few weeks.

In this country, properties are key to all financial institutions, including banks and mortgage companies. Everything revolves around homeownership.

Our industry was one of the first to open, which felt odd because you still couldn’t get a haircut, but the industry is key to the prosperity of this country.

What’s your best advice for aspiring business leaders in franchising?

I think of franchising as a business partnership, and if you can’t see yourself being in business with your potential franchisees for the next five to 10 years then that’s where you need to both consider if this is right to go ahead.

People are putting a lot into becoming a franchisee (their future, pension funds, and inheritances) to come into business with you, so it’s vital both parties feel they are the right match for each other.

As a franchisor, make sure your business is something you can replicate easily. Don’t ever underestimate the time, the money, and effort that you must put in to get your franchisees up and running.

There’s a lot of hand-holding, talking, and keeping people calm because sometimes in the early days they can wonder what they’ve let themselves in for.

For franchisees, definitely do your due diligence and be thorough with your homework. See how you’re treated when you go to your initial meeting.

Are they talking to you as a prospective business partner? Could you see yourself working with the franchisor? Could you sign on the dotted line to commit to the next five years? Are you going to be able to get up every morning, self-motivated, and drive your franchise forward?

Build the business you’re looking at building and work with the franchisor, because they’ll be key to your success. What’s the support? How’s it going to help you? All of that is key. And you’ve got to look at each other as business partners, not an ‘us and them’ situation, which I always feel is wrong. You must be able to work together and have a similar passion for the business you are all a part of.

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