Why services leavers are taking their skills into franchising
Forces personnel are leaving the services in their thousands, with 17,230 regulars departing the armed forces in 2015 alone. The MOD is reducing forces numbers by over 30,000 by 2020 and people are leaving on top of those being made redundant.
Not surprisingly, franchisors are trying to attract some of this army of skilled people as franchisees. But what do franchisors see in them and what does franchising offer ex-services personnel?
Drive and ambition
Berkeley Harris knows about the forces to franchising route from both sides. The former Royal Marine used to recruit franchisees as director of franchise sales for UK health insurer, WPA. Now he’s a franchisee himself, as owner of Sandler Training Systems, Bristol, which provides training to businesses.
Berkeley says: “Ex-service personnel who have climbed through the ranks and got involved with everything available to them often have drive and ambition and constantly want to achieve more, so they make great franchisees where marketing and building a business is a big part of the franchise model.”
Others, he says, simply enjoyed the military life and happily remained in an entry level position: “These people can make classic man-in-a-van franchisees, offering a reliable pair of hands and brushing off adversity to keep going.”
When recruiting franchises, Berkeley looked forward to meeting ex-service personnel.
“I hoped to see ambition, drive, adaptability, ability to follow structured processes and good communication skills,” he says. “These traits make them a great fit for many franchise models, provided they understand what will best suit them.”
Ian Christelow, co-founder of business coaching franchise ActionCOACH UK, says the business targets services leavers, usually at officer level and above.
“As an Action Coach, they become a leader in their local business community and as they already have leadership experience this works well,” he says. “They’re good communicators, with groups and in one-to-one dialogues, which is a useful skill because our coaching is available in either group or one-toone environments.
“They are also good at getting the best out of individuals and good at following processes.”
Ian would like to attract more exforces franchisees: “ActionCOACH only has a handful of ex-military franchise owners out of 160 in total, so we haven’t done enough to encourage applicants.”
What’s the attraction?
So what’s the attraction of franchising for forces leavers?
Former RAF chief technician Graham Orange, who recently won the 2016 Nationwide Resettlement Award for Service Leaver Franchisee of the Year, says: “I left the forces to become a franchisee with ActionCOACH.
“I wanted to control more of my own destiny, as the forces has been restrictive in that sense. I felt ActionCOACH would give me financial freedom and control over my time - and it has.”
The structured nature of the franchise model also attracts ex-forces personnel. Graham says: “Franchises offer a structure and framework, which is similar to the experience of being in the forces.”
Some forces leavers complain they are stereotyped by people with no forces experience, so the presence of other forces leavers in a franchise attracts them, as they feel they’re better understood.
Graham adds: “I found there’s an element of being stereotyped, including by potential clients, but the support from ActionCOACH was very good, as they have previous forces leavers in the network.”
One of them is former army captain Steve Gaskell. “The franchise had integrated the knowledge from its other forces leavers, which helped it work well for me,” he says.
Forces leavers - and franchisors - also like the fact franchising offers a chance to use their transferable skills. Graham, formerly a chief technician in the structures bay at RAF Marham in Norfolk, says: “Dealing with people is one skill I got from the forces I now find useful as a business coach.
“Another is experience in maintaining motivation - it’s important to have resilience when building your own business. You also need to be fairly courageous. There’s a lot of new ground involved in leaving the military and setting up in business.”
However, many services leavers find it hard to identify and sell their transferable skills to Civvy Street businesses.
Group captain Keith Spencer, assistant head of resettlement at the MOD says: “Service leavers may sometimes struggle to identify qualities in themselves and may not fully understand how to promote themselves to employers.”
Forces leavers are urged to make use of the resettlement help they’re offered, which includes careers counselling and workshops, to help them identify skills and write a CV focusing on them.
Ian says: “Steve Gaskell was very strong on highlighting his transferable skills during his application to ActionCOACH. It made our job much easier when deciding on awarding the franchise.”
However, transitioning from the military to business can be hard because they have different cultures.
Berkeley says: “I certainly suffered with this. As an active Royal Marine, I was constantly around upbeat, energetic colleagues, but in Civvy Street I found not everyone is like this.
“At Sandler Training, one of the things we teach is how to identify people’s behavioural styles and how to use this insight to communicate with them. I wish I had studied this skill before leaving the military.”
Day-to-day behaviour is also different. Berkeley says: “Typical military behaviours, such as standing to attention, marching everywhere and answering questions in a loud and bold way, all make for good discipline when serving, but do not suit many civilian environments.”
He advises: “Anyone looking to leave the forces should spend time with as many businesses and business people as possible - drop the military behaviours and learn how to fit in.
“Otherwise your engagement with the outside world will take longer, which can affect earning potential when running your own franchise business.
“The franchising community provides seminars, workshops, talks, exhibitions, discovery days, conferences and useful media content, mostly free, so take full advantage.”