Here are six ways a franchise can help you survive the peaks and troughs of being your own boss
Going into business is exciting, but it’s never going to be plain sailing all the way. Any business has its ups and downs, but being a franchisee, rather than going into business by yourself, can help you cope with the low points.
Here are six reasons why a franchise can help you overcome the risks that inevitably come when business collides with life events:
1. Franchisors have weathered storms before
An established franchise with a few years under its belt will have survived some business booms and busts. Its head office will know what worked - and what didn’t - to keep franchisees’ businesses afloat during economic depressions and recessions.
Check how franchises in which you’re interested fared during the recession of 2008-09. Good franchisors will have learnt from this and amended their franchise model to strengthen it, if necessary. Their franchisees will benefit from that, so don’t be afraid to ask about it.
2. You cut the chances of making a business mistake
Ken Rostron from The Franchise Company says: “With a good franchise, you’re in business for yourself, but not by yourself. In practice, that means your franchise investment brings the benefit of learning from the franchisor’s experience and mistakes, so you reduce the risk of making mistakes yourself. The business model has been tried and tested already.”
3. You have a whole network of franchisees to call on
You are not alone. An established franchise will have a network of franchisees and it will usually encourage them to talk to each other. This way you not only have the help of the franchisor, but also other franchisees.
The network can be crucial when it comes to heading off potentially critical business problems - faced with a troubling business issue, it pays to ask other franchisees about how they dealt with it. This way you can prevent problems growing into issues that could be big enough to seriously impact your business.
Ken says: “If you’re struggling with a business problem, usually one of the other franchisees will have faced the issue before, so if you ask them for advice they will share the benefit of their experience.” The franchisee network can also chip in with help when a personal problem arises.
Many established franchisors have stories to tell about how they have helped franchisees deal with personal health issues - from taking time off to have a child and being involved in accidents, to being diagnosed with serious diseases. It helps that because all franchisees use the same business model, each one knows what needs to be done.
Rachel Stewart, managing director of the Barking Mad dog-sitting franchise, says: “We have helped our franchisees with all kinds of crises in the 20 years we have been in operation, so we have experience and skills in place to help franchisees deal with them without their businesses suffering.”
Barking Mad is also developing its services for its franchise network - its head office team now includes members who have been trained in mental health first aid.
The most common problem is franchisees being diagnosed with serious diseases, according to Rachel: “For instance, we have had two franchisees who have been diagnosed with cancer - fortunately, both of them recovered - and a franchisee who was taken into hospital with an unknown disease and kept in for six weeks.”
These are things that could easily spell the end of a business run by a lone entrepreneur.
However, Rachel says: “The combination of an experienced head office team and a network of franchisees who can help each other out means it’s possible for us to help you keep your business ticking over while you get back on your feet.”
4. Reducing the burden of having to do everything
If you’re in business alone, you have to be a jack of all trades, which can mean your business suffers because you lack the time to work on the business as well as in it. Franchisors can provide services that an individual franchisee might struggle to supply alone.
Franchisees with web design agency Spoton.net sell it’seeze websites and associated services to small firms, but the franchise has a team at head office who create the sites that franchisees sell, so they’re free to expand their businesses steadily without the need to take time out to develop websites themselves.
Alex Brook, franchise development manager at Spoton.net, says: “Our franchisees include some who have previously run their own independent web design agencies, but they’ve joined Spoton.net because it enables them to grow their business faster and easier than going it alone.”
Tim Harris, managing director of Franchise Brands’ business to consumer division, which includes drain care franchise Metro Rod, vehicle paintwork repair franchise ChipsAway, oven cleaning service Ovenclean and dog sitting franchise Barking Mad, says: “Our franchises benefit from our group systems, practices and resources, particularly in IT, marketing and finance, all of which provide an extra layer of support and security for franchisees.
“Sharing central resources frees up the management of our individual brands to focus on supporting their franchisees in growing their businesses.”
5. Tackling seasonal ebbs and flows
Ed Mauleverer, founder of Ed’s Garden Services, counsels new franchisees to build a good customer base so they can suggest tasks that can be carried out in the quieter winter months, such as pressure washing patios, mulching beds or winter pruning. “There’s a lot to be said for getting started with our franchise in winter, as it gives you time to get trained and then build your business over the warmer months, so you have 30-40 customers to whom you can cross-sell winter services,” he explains.
That said, Ed says many of his 42 franchisees also use January and February to rest or get some winter sun abroad.
6. Dealing with sudden booms
Ken points out: “There are times when a franchisee or the head office gets a big contract that is more than one franchisee can handle.
“Instead of turning the work away, it can be shared among franchisees, so it smoothes out the path of the business.”
How a franchise solved my business growth problem
Nick Templeton’s business was suffering from growth problems. He had founded Rage Web Design in Ashford, Kent in 2010 and was proud of the high-quality sites he had created for his customers. But he couldn’t find the time to create websites and work on selling his services to new clients.
Nick says: “I wanted to scale up, but even using IT and automation to make my agency as efficient as possible, I still couldn’t do everything it took to run my business and grow it at the same time.”
Desperate to learn the secret of growth, he even took a job at a bigger agency while still running his own business.
“I ended up working 14-hour days, but still didn’t discover how to effectively scale up my business,” Nick says.
When he heard about the Spoton.net franchise, which involves selling it’seeze website creation and maintenance services to local businesses, he contacted them “out of sheer frustration”.
Spoton.net franchisees get access to its team of expert website designers, who create professional sites fast.
“Instead of spending time creating sites myself, I could go out and sell the it’seeze website service - giving me time to work on growing the business,” Nick says.
He invested in the Spoton.net franchise and in his first year supplied 40 new websites, doubling his client base.
“Going live on one site used to take me about a day working alone, but now the head office team handles that, giving me extra time to market my business,” Nick says.
Ask yourself - And franchisors - What happens in an emergency
It’s natural to be full of hope when you start a business, whether it’s a franchise or not. But that’s no reason not to consider what would happen if you needed to take time out from it. Remember, you’re not invincible or immune to the ups and downs life presents to you.
Rachel Stewart, managing director of the Barking Mad dog sitting franchise, says: “Often, prospective franchisees do not consider what might happen if for some reason they cannot operate their business.”
Regardless of the franchise you’re considering, Rachel advises would-be franchisees: “Don’t be afraid to ask the franchisor about this. In our case, we introduce the subject anyway because we know some people might be reluctant to talk about it.”
My franchise stopped a personal crisis becoming a business disaster
Caroline Temple knew that dog sitting franchise Barking Mad was adept at dealing with life’s unexpected events, after falling pregnant with baby Evelyn a week before starting her franchise in 2017.
“That could have ended the business before it started, but the franchisee support centre was unfazed,” Caroline says. “Many of them were parents too and we made contingency plans for managing the business after I had the baby.”
Then she had an emergency that could not be anticipated. “Last autumn, my second baby, Edward, was rushed to hospital with suspected meningitis and needed to stay there at least 48 hours for tests,” Caroline explains. “It was a Friday afternoon and I had lots of dogs on holiday with host families. If I had been in business alone, it would have added an extra layer to the worry I felt about Edward.
“I called my neighbouring franchisee, Tim, and asked if he could cover for me. He agreed and I sent him my list of dogs on holiday. Being part of the same franchise, we all do much the same things so he knew what to do.
“The customer support centre explained to my clients and hosts that Tim was looking after them temporarily.”
Five days later, Edward was discharged, having been diagnosed with viral meningitis, which can usually be treated at home. A few days later, it happened again.
“The support from the franchise and Tim was a lifesaver and it’s good to know that everyone at Barking Mad will show the same level of professionalism that I expect of myself,” Caroline says.
“I’m so glad I started a business as a Barking Mad franchisee, rather than setting up alone.”
Customers all year round
When former sales and marketing manager Marcus Phillips decided he wanted a garden services franchise, he realised seasonal changes might mean less work in the winter.
“It was something I asked about, but when I met Ed Mauleverer, founder of Ed’s Garden Services, I was reassured,” Marcus says. “He specifically talked about how to go about increasing winter work.”
Now the Ed’s Garden Services franchisee for south west and south east London, Marcus says: “In the two winters I’ve been a franchisee, I’ve learnt how to build up a pile of work that can be done during the winter.
“If you develop a good relationship with your clients, they trust you to suggest what needs doing. Often, I’m too busy with other jobs in their gardens during the growing season, so I advise them that things like building or cleaning patios, erecting fences or small landscaping projects can be scheduled for the winter. Usually they’re happy to wait for me to be free to do it.
“One customer flies me to his villa in the Dordogne, France each October to do maintenance in his garden there. That’s a nice winter job.”
Overall, Marcus says: “It’s up to you to schedule work for the winter and set aside some of the money you earn during the busy summer season to cover your outgoings in the winter months - but that’s not difficult.”
Linda Whitney writes about franchising for the Daily Mail, What Franchise and many other publications