Wrong fit? In franchising, it can be a fatal mistake
“If you’re the kind of guy who likes to go to sleep early, don’t buy a restaurant franchise,” says Jeremy Lang, regional general manager of Business Partners.
Stating the obvious? Perhaps, but you’ll be surprised how many first-time franchisees make the mistake of buying a franchise that simply does not fit their lifestyles, he says.
In the world of start-up franchising, it can easily be a fatal mistake to make, because there is so little room for error. Very few people who buy their first franchise have the resources for a second chance once they’ve found out that the franchise they had set their heart on is actually not the right fit.
Lang says lifestyle preference is only one of three pillars which prospective franchisees must consider to make sure that the franchise they choose is the right fit for them. The other two are skills and personality.
The skills set of the entrepreneur is the most important. First, says Lang, there is the technical know-how related to the specific industry, such as a beauty salon or a service station. “You’ve got to be able to choose a franchise for which you either have a natural skills set, or one in which you’ve had previous experience in.”
Irrespective of the industry, a franchisee will always have to be a jack-of-all-trades to a certain extent: “the HR person, the salesperson, the office-manager person and the tea lady”, says Lang, “so you’ve really got to have a good general hybrid of skills,” such as:
- Good management ability, which is the core of what the franchisee is signing up for,
- Sales skills, “because your whole enterprise revolves around your ability to secure business”,
- An eye for detail and practical problem solving skills. Because you will be fulfilling multiple tasks in your business, you have to know as much about all the different systems as possible,
- Networking and relationship-building skills for forging ties with your clients, staff, suppliers and franchisor, and
- Practical problem-solving skills. “You are going to be faced with many challenges every day. You will have to be decisive, and think quickly to find solutions to problems.”
This list is true for any start-up business, franchised or not, says Lang, but there is one set of skills particular to franchising: the ability to follow the rules of the concept. Franchising is a recipe that requires strict adherence by franchisees, otherwise the service or product will start differing from branch to branch, and the collective power of the brand will suffer. “If you are not somebody who likes to operate your business under a strict set of rules that you have not created, then franchising may not be for you,” says Lang.
Being a successful franchisee not only has to do with skills, but also with personality. Lang says prospective franchisees need to be honest with themselves about their personality. A generally introverted person should shy from retail or service-heavy businesses such as restaurants. Similarly, a sociable, outgoing personality will become frustrated in a desk-bound business where there is little interaction with clients.
Although nothing can replace common-sense self-knowledge, Lange suggests doing a personality test such as the Myers Briggs test, more to help you think through what you already know about yourself rather than teach you about aspects of your personality that you didn’t know.
The unknown usually lies on the side of the franchise. A first-time franchisee who knows himself well could still be in for a nasty surprise when it turns out that the franchise requires an approach, attitude or trait that he simply isn’t comfortable with.
Lang suggests two complementary methods of avoiding this mistake. First, speak to the franchisor that you have your eye on. A reputable, established franchise group will have a very clear idea of what kind of personality and skills set are required to make a success of their concept. Some will have formal descriptions and even tests as part of their assessment process.
Most importantly, speak to the franchisees in the group that you want to join. If possible, work-shadow franchisees who are hands-on involved in the management of their businesses for a week or two. The exercise should leave you under few illusions about whether you are up to the task, and whether the work and lifestyle suit you.