The validation period of your journey to owning your own franchise is not only a critical step, but also an exciting learning opportunity. While every person is going to ask different questions, here are a few things to consider when calling franchise owners.
Schedule your call with the franchisee, don’t ambush them. While this is an important part of your process, the franchisee does not have any obligation to speak with you. Have respect for their time – they are busy people! – and schedule a 30 minute window that works for them.
Have prepared questions. Prior to your call, sit down and really think about the big picture questions you want to ask – don’t get mired in the details. Keep in mind that as you continue to talk with additional franchise owners, your questions will likely evolve from the “should I do this” type of questions into more of the “how” questions. Pay attention to when this happens because it usually means you’ve confirmed the business could be a good fit for you, and that you’re ready to move onto the next step.
The most important question. At some point during each validation call I recommend asking, “Would you do it again?” I really believe this is the most important question to ask, because it forces the franchise owner to consider the big picture rather than just what’s going on that particular day, and it somewhat normalizes the diverse personalities you may come across as you make your calls (more on that later). These kinds of questions really have a way of cutting through the clutter to determine whether the business model works or not.
Give yourself permission to hear that things aren’t always perfect. The perfect business doesn’t exist. There, I said it. And I dare you to challenge me on it! All kidding aside, remember that it’s okay to ask about the challenges – in fact, you should ask about the challenges. Understand how the franchisees deal with those challenges, and what tools the franchisor makes available to help franchisees overcome them. Understanding the challenges can help you accurately set your expectations about the business.
Personalities and communication style. Ah, personalities…it’s what makes life fun and so colorful! As you validate the business model with the franchisees, it’s important to remember that people have different personalities and different ways of communicating. No two people are alike in this regard, so it’s best to just focus on what the franchisees say rather than how they say it.
Don’t let one conversation sway you one way or the other. Commit yourself to speaking with 3-5 franchisees before making any decisions. While there is no magic number, at Right at Home we require that you speak with a minimum of three current franchisees before you sign a franchise agreement. But the “right” number is different for every person – we have a current franchisee who talked with 28 of our franchisees before making his final decision! In most franchise systems, you are going to find a bell curve of performance containing three groups: underperformers, overachievers, and average performers. If you speak with five franchisees and one of them gave responses that were completely different than the other four, that’s likely an isolated circumstance. You’re looking for trends and consistency, and you can’t do that after one conversation. If you are hearing the same complaints or about poor results over and over, that’s a red flag. Our goal is for you to be well-informed about the opportunity and for your expectations – of us, of you, and your commitment – to be accurate and reasonable.
Thank each franchisee. As I mentioned before, there is no requirement for current franchisees to answer your questions about the business. By sending a follow up email or thank you note, you not only show your appreciation for the great information they’ve provided, but it also sets the foundation for continuing a relationship with them if you join the system.
No one is going to tell you to do it! I’ve known a lot of people over the years that came from a wide array of backgrounds, personalities, motivations, and financial situations. But, ultimately they had to make a decision, just like you. No one can make the decision for you. You must decide, based on your research, whether or not a particular business is a good fit. But if you follow a logical process, ask good questions, and allow yourself permission to make a decision with the information you’ve gathered, you will make the right choice!
While I think it’s very important to reflect on what is important to you and your business goals when coming up with your questions, here are some topics that can help guide you in what to address during the validation process.
Profit and Breakeven. Understand if this business produces enough income for them to be happy, and how long it took to get them to a place where they were able to replace their corporate income. At the beginning stages of any new business, there is a period where you will be investing in the business, so understanding what that timeline looks like is very important.
Daily activities. Understand how the franchise owners are spending their time on a day-to-day level and see if you are comfortable and interested in those types of duties. Ask what they did in their previous career that can apply to what they are doing now, and how that has helped them be successful. Instead of trying to match up the job titles or industries of the current franchisee, pay attention to the types of activities they were involved with and see if there are any common themes in your background. Things such as managing people, budgets, and departments – as well as marketing and sales, or public speaking are the types of things you’re looking for.
Passion. Figure out deep down what their passion is. For some people it may be working with and providing care for people. For others, it could be purely building a business of their own for them and their family. Find out what got them into the business and what drives them to succeed. This may help you to further understand your own motivation.
How serious are you? The validation process is an essential component that you must “check off your list” when making the decision to open a franchise. You will learn a lot about the business from people who once walked in your shoes. You will also discover how serious you are about becoming a franchisee yourself, based on how much you elevate this research in the list of things that are important to you. Remember, it is not the franchisee’s job to convince you to do it or not do it, but they can provide a unique perspective that will help further guide you to your decision.