Award-winning entrepreneur and franchisor Jo Middleton talks about the pitfalls of franchising your own business and the lessons she learned while “walking the walk”
There is no shortcut to success when it comes to running your business. Jo Middleton, an experienced franchise expert and entrepreneur, knows it first-hand.
Having fled an abusive relationship, Jo found herself homeless with two young children in 2007. After sofa surfing with a friend for a while, Jo’s determination helped her overcome the trials and tribulations of life and quickly get back on her feet. Apart from her own business endeavours, the keen expert launched and has grown multiple six-figure businesses from scratch – all while being a single mum.
Now Jo’s goal is to help franchisors expand their business through her Franchise Business School.
Back to the beginning
Jo’s very own experience with franchising wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worthwhile. Her business, Dog First Aid, had a network of 17 franchisees right before she sold it back in 2020.
As everything happens for the best, the idea for the training courses came together by accident.
“One of my dogs came back from a walk covered in blood and even though I have done a lot of first aid I couldn’t translate my human first aid skill to my dog so I didn’t do anything I should have,” shared Jo. “I raced down to the vet’s hoping there would be one there.
“I went on a dog first aid course and it was really hard to find one. When I did, it was about an hour and a half away.”
But when she left the course, Jo didn’t feel like she had the confidence to react in case of an emergency.
“I thought every single dog professional – groomer or trainer – needs to know these skills if they are looking after other people’s dogs,” she said.
Taking the plunge
Jo found a gap in the market and Dog First Aid continued to grow.
But taking the decision to franchise it was something “that was never done before”. She explained: “I thought ‘If no one had done it before it cannot be done’. It costs thousands of pounds to franchise a business so I thought ‘How on earth are you going to pay for it being a single mum of two?’.
At the time Jo was also running a pet care business. She added: “I might have had two good businesses but things were stretched. I thought ‘Where is the money going to come from to franchise Dog First Aid? Do I actually want to do it? What does it involve?’
“I didn’t know any franchisors and I had no clue.”
Testing the model
With the operations manual already good to go, Jo had to face one of the most challenging moments in her life. “I had gone through the whole process; I had written all the training materials and recorded all the videos and I was nearly ready to launch the franchise website and my dad got a terminal diagnosis and I literally had to drop everything,” she explained.
“I passed it to my assistant and said ‘You are in charge, you run the business, I’ve got to go and sit with my dad’.
“It was a great test of the model before I had the first pilot franchisees on board.”
The road to success
Going back in time, Jo remembered the difficulties she met when she franchised her business. What she wanted to know was if it was the “right decision” before committing to anything.
“I wish I was able to have a frank conversation with someone who had already walked the walk rather than just reading stuff off the internet or having to pay thousands of pounds to a consultant straight out,” she said. “I wanted someone to introduce me to franchising without the pressure of having committed to it.”
Finding the right help in the face of a franchise consultant was one of her stumbling blocks.
“There was one consultant I worked with who did cash flow forecasts,” she shared. “There was no way at all I could have used them because they were misleading and they were implying a Dog First Aid franchisee could earn six figures from owning a franchise which wasn’t viable.”
A star (company) is born
Jo’s own struggles with finding the right information were what motivated her to start Franchise Business School. She added: “I have always built businesses and sold them. I love the building bit. I love figuring out what is working and what isn’t and systemising and processing everything.
“I love that buzz of starting a business. When I was ready to sell Dog First Aid, it seemed a natural progression to start Franchise Business School to help others.”
Using her innovative platform, Jo’s services are now helping both the franchisor and their franchisees. Her strategy is to learn more about the business and work together with the customer on a strategy call to make sure that franchising is the right fit.
Talking about the importance of Franchise Business School, Jo said: “Being a franchisor can be a really lonely road.
“When something is keeping you up at 2.00 am, to be able to have that membership and support of peers and like-minded people with a mix of education and accountability would have been invaluable to me back then.”
Nothing beats a clear perspective
According to Jo, having a clear mission of the brand could be beneficial to both the franchisor and the franchisee.
“I always recommend that my clients have a vision for their franchise business with a mission statement and a value,” she explained. “I feel then that the franchisee has something almost tangible to be able to relate to and say ‘No, I actually don’t buy into that mission, that’s not what I believe in, those values don’t sit right with me’ or actually read it and go ‘That completely resonates and that’s the line I want to go down’.
Jo is confident that understanding could also help both sides.
“If that franchisee doesn’t understand what they are signing up for, they don’t understand what their day-to-day is going to be like,” she added. “And they don’t really understand the implications of the legal documents they have signed. That is potentially a mismatch that is going to be like a festering wound.”
Growth takes time
When it comes to growing your business, Jo’s top tip is not to be tempted to hurry your company’s growth through franchising. “Don’t rush into it,” she advised. “Make sure that you work carefully with your pilot territories and make sure you have regular meetings with your pilot franchisees. Take their feedback onboard.”
What could also make the whole process easier is ensuring the operations manual is suitable for every learning style. Jo explained: “Make sure you have visuals, audio in there as well as the text so it is broken down rather than just a block of text that has to be read.
“It needs to be taken into account that not everyone learns like that so I think it definitely benefits the franchisor to have franchisees that are implementing the model how they want it to be implemented.
“It is the same with the onboarding process, the training and support. All the different learning styles need to be met and ticked off.”
Extra pair of hands
Jo also highlighted the positive impact a franchise development manager could have on a business.
“Up until 10 franchisees, it is very much a family feel in a network and the franchisor has got more time to dedicate to their franchisees,” she explained. “But around 10 to 12, there is a tipping point.
“The franchisor cannot be physically present at all places at all times. So around that time, it is quite useful to get a franchise development manager to be the buffer between the franchisor and the franchisees to free the franchisor to work more on their strategy.”
Reaping the benefits
Jo’s thorough knowledge of the franchising industry has earned her numerous awards, including New Woman Franchisor EWIF 2018 and Best Franchise Support 2019 at the prestigious Approved Franchise Association awards.
Talking about her recognition, she shared: “I associated my franchise to my dad dying so I couldn’t get my head back into the game properly.
“And to win those awards I knew he would have been so proud of me and that really meant an awful lot.”
Now Jo is looking forward to helping more small business owners experience big business growth. She is also focused on her Wizziwoos Kids Clubs business, which aims to make finance fun for kids by incorporating movement, music and creativity.
Image: Jo Middleton Pictures copyright: Rosie Parsons Photography
Viktoria Yordanova is a content writer for What Franchise.
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