When to Share Information: Why Sooner is Better When it Comes to Franchise Development

There was a time when franchise development teams purposely held some of their cards close to the vest, withholding specific and valuable information until later in the sales process. With increasing competition, a plethora of resources available across the internet, and consumers (potential franchisees in this case) wanting to make faster decisions based on easy-to-find information, it’s time to reconsider what franchise opportunity information you are sharing when.

When it comes to your website, make sure you are answering questions that potential franchisees are looking for. The basics include the core values and mission of your franchise brand (although they don’t need to be specifically spelled out using those headings), the services and offerings your business sells, the vetting process, the onboarding process, next steps, etc. Don’t make users hunt for the information that you know they are going to want; clearly organize and present it.

When it comes to finances, the more transparent you are, the better. Franchises that share their Item 19s help potential franchisees move along the decision-making process more efficiently. If you find there’s a particular barrier to entry that sales reps making personal calls can’t easily overcome, go ahead and put it out there sooner. The bottom line is that you are looking for qualified leads, so if someone falls off, that’s OK. You want your franchise development team spending time nurturing qualified leads, not weeding out those who aren’t.

And likewise, if you have relevant statistics, such as quartile earning potential, share those, also. If your franchise has a high front-end investment, but many franchisees break even after the first year and then find great financial reward, share that information in a way that will protect you legally but still draw the interested party further down the funnel.

Also consider what other information is available online. Just because you choose not to address something on your website, doesn’t mean the discussion isn’t taking place elsewhere. Do a little research to find out the answers to commonly asked questions that come up on different sites. If needed, update and revise your content so that your franchise brand is driving the conversation on your own website for potential franchisees beginning the exploration process.

Current, successful franchisees are another key part of the franchise development sales process. Bring them in early in the process by including their testimonials on your website to help convert top-of-funnel leads. Then, include them in phone calls and in-person meetings as potential franchisees move closer to signing.

The franchise development process often begins with the website and ends with in-person meetings. Have ongoing communication with your franchise development team to find the types of questions they are running into. The goal is to move helpful and relevant information further up the funnel to ensure that your franchise development team is getting the  most qualified leads.

This blog was written by Curious Jane and previously published on the blog of the International Franchise Association.

Curious Jane team members participated in last week’s Franchise Leadership and Development Conference and enjoyed the coming together of those of us in the franchise industry. There was a great deal of valuable information shared among participants. Here are a few common themes we look forward to exploring with our franchise clients:

Securing the Perfect Franchise Candidate

When looking for ideal candidates to be your next franchisees, think of the big three: resources, acumen and culture. Of course, one of your main qualifiers is that candidates need the financial resources to qualify. There are creative strategies to help potential leads secure financing, but there is a minimum. (Those with other attributes that make them seem like they might be a good fit can be moved to a long-term funnel.)

Next, you need to consider their professional background. A love of baking does not necessarily make a great owner of a cupcake franchise. Candidates who have experience running other franchises or businesses bring a necessary strength to the mix. While you can train people in the intricacies of your business, it’s ideal to connect with candidates who bring a business and leadership skillset with them.

And of course, you also need a good cultural fit. Franchisees and franchisors are in a relationship with each other. Franchisees that believe in the brand and the structure of the company are the most successful. It’s important to clearly communicate the culture of the franchise during the vetting process so that both you and the potential franchisee can see whether the fit will be a good one. There are just as many types of franchise candidates as there are franchise environments. You’re going to be working together for a long time, and a cultural fit needs to be considered as strongly as a financial one.

Using a Mix of Lead Generation Strategies

PR, trade shows, brokers, PPC and portals can all have a place in your franchise development program. PR helps get your brand out there by providing invaluable exposure to a wide audience. Great press about a local store opening supports both local marketing and franchise development efforts by promoting your brand as a healthy and growing one. And opportunities where your owners or CEOs can be on television, radio, print, etc. help establish your brand and promote the thought leadership of those running the business. While PR is considered top of funnel, it’s an important part of the franchise development process.

Trade shows, brokers and portals still have their place in connecting with potential leads, although it’s important to evaluate the types of leads they are providing and the cost per lead. All three try to attract those already interested in franchising, so make sure that you have clearly differentiated yourself within your franchise sector, as you’ll be competing against other brands in the same space. Potential franchisees at trade shows and using brokers are at least expressing an interest in owning a franchisee, although the financial, culture and experience fit will also need to be considered.

PPC and digital advertising are great because they’re very targeted and data-driven. You can spend in markets with open territories instead of blanketing advertising across the nation, where some opportunities might be closed. Geofencing, demographic and behavioral targeting all help you zero in on ideal candidates in the right place. Digital advertising also allows for continual optimization. Content, design, targeting, budgets, etc. can all be adjusted as campaigns continue.

 Tracking Lead Generation

With consumers doing more of their own research, it’s increasingly challenging to determine where leads actually originate. They’ve visited your website and converted, but what happened before that step? Did they interact with the brand as consumers years ago? Did they see a spot on their local news? Did they conduct their own research on franchise brands in your vertical? You’ll be able to track digital conversions, and that’s very important. However, it’s equally important to note that a lot happens with the franchisee journey before they visit your website, download your lead magnet or click on your ad. Franchise development relies on brand awareness, which is harder to track, and targeted digital campaigns, which provide strong data and optimization opportunities.

One initiative within your overall franchise development plan likely includes a digital campaign to generate leads. Your lead magnet – the downloadable content, online quiz, audit, etc. that users provide their information in exchange for – is a key part of this plan. When it comes to leads, quality always trumps quantity. Generating qualified leads is imperative for your franchise development team’s success. Consider these six tips when creating your next franchise development lead generation magnet.

Single out each persona. Persona development is marketing at its core. Who is your target audience? If you have more than one that’s fine, but pick one — and only one — target for each piece. You can’t easily talk to second-career educators and entrepreneurial millennials in the same magnet.

Consider the format your persona uses. Lead magnets take many forms. Is your target market more likely to take a quiz or download a guide? There are a multitude of options when it comes to lead magnets — tutorials, checklists, infographics, etc. Choose the format that is most likely to attract your target audience.

Make sure your content solves a problem. The primary message in your magnet needs to solve a problem for a potential lead. In franchise development, that might be providing steps to help a person become their own boss or offering a guide on how to gain financial independence by becoming a franchisee with your business. Most users know that if they provide their email address, they will be remarketed to. The more valuable the lead magnet content, the more likely they are to engage and eventually buy from you.

Call to action. The potential franchisee has given you their contact information in exchange for the valuable, free content. Your franchise development team can cultivate leads through remarketing and sales calls, but what do you want the reader/user to do after they have read or viewed your lead magnet? Whether it’s an invitation to request a consultation, a reminder to visit the website for more information or an offer to sign up for a webinar, always include a call to action at the end of any magnet. Also, consider where the lead magnet falls in the sales funnel. If these are top-of-funnel audiences, a “how-to” or “best-tips” guide is probably best because that audience is merely exploring and gathering information. If this is an audience that has already downloaded your magnet or engaged with your company before, a free audit might work better.

Evergreen. It’s always good to provide content that is timely and relevant, but consider creating pieces with a little more staying power. While articles, blogs and social media post calendars range from monthly to hourly, lead magnets can be produced every few months, and only need to be changed when data or offerings change or conversions drop. They can be a big investment, but at least they don’t need to be created every month.

Complete A/B testing. In a matter of seconds, consumers will decide whether to click on your ad or link for your lead magnet. Readers will base their decisions to click on both the visual layout of the ad and the title of the magnet. Run an A/B test to see which ad or link title has the highest conversion rate.

Lead magnets are important pieces of your digital franchise development campaigns. Use these strategies to develop magnets that convert, and then coordinate with optimized ads, landing pages and follow-up emails to complete the franchise development campaign.

Looking for strong franchisee candidates? If you want someone with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, who is tech-savvy, enjoys collaboration and desires a proven business model, your perfect candidate is a millennial.

You literally have millions to choose from. The millennial generation comprises 83 million people, ages 18 to 34. Millennials make up the largest American generation, exceeding baby boomers, who number 75.4 million. The best news for franchises is that nearly three-fourths of millennials want to own their own businesses.

Entrepreneurship is extremely popular right now, especially among millennials. And although it may be easier than ever to start your own business, it is difficult to be successful without a solid business plan, adequate funding and support. That’s where franchises have an edge in attracting millennials. With infrastructure, branding, HR assistance, a network of franchisees and possibly financing help in place, millennial franchisees can launch their own businesses much more quickly than if they were starting from scratch, and they can be set up to succeed.

Millennials have strengths that can make them attractive franchisee candidates:

  • They are more interested in working for themselves than in traditional corporate settings, but they do not have a lot of experience. They will appreciate that franchises offer the benefits of owning their own business with the security of built-in structure.
  • They are extremely comfortable with technology and especially social media, a big plus when starting to promote a new business.
  • They are comfortable asking for help and actively seek out mentors, which would make franchise networks a natural fit.

To target millennials for franchise development, you should increase brand awareness efforts and advertise opportunities on multiple platforms.

Strong branding is key. Millennials value brand engagement and authenticity, so be sure that your franchise is relevant, transparent and engaging on social media and elsewhere. Millennials most certainly will check out your brand on multiple platforms before deciding to explore franchising opportunities.

Likewise, you are more likely to reach millennials through digital marketing as well as franchise brokers and public relations. Digital platforms allow you to hypertarget by demographic so you can tailor messaging to that group.

Messaging should be consistent and stress that franchising offers the freedom of owning your own business with a support system that can make launching a business quicker and simpler. Because millennials are younger than typical franchisees, you also may want to talk about your relationship with franchise-specific lenders who can help young business owners secure financing. Emphasize how entrepreneurial ventures, and franchising specifically, enable work-life balance and a flexible schedule, two highly desirable concepts among this demographic.

This is a prime time to market your franchise to millennials. As this huge generation of American workers begins to flood the work force and embark on their careers, show them how they can be successful and achieve their goals with your company. In doing so, you can grow your franchise’s next generation of entrepreneurs.

At this year’s Franchise Consumer Marketing Conference, the conversations among franchisors repeatedly turned to a huge opportunity: How can franchisors cultivate supportive relationships with their franchisees?

Building a strong relationship is an important goal. Franchisees with strong franchisor connections do better locally, which helps the brand as a whole. But what are the smartest strategies for growing productive, lasting and trusting partnerships between franchisors and franchisees?

Start with these three steps:

1.) Foster a common culture.

Every business has a specific culture that’s based around its overarching principles, ethics and values. Franchisors should ensure that franchisees not only understand that culture, but also buy into it completely. Each franchisee will be responsible, after all, for introducing new employees to that culture, so the franchisee must thoroughly embrace and represent it.

Spreading a brand’s message through training and internal transparency is key. From that point, franchisors can provide franchisees with informative and motivational content, such as videos or franchisee testimonials, to help them share the culture with their employees.

Over time, trust and loyalty will strengthen; franchisees will become more deeply invested in the brand, and franchisees will begin to promote the brand’s narrative. Although customers might not consciously recognize this link, they will experience greater consistency and positivity from it. What better way to ensure repeat business and a constant flow of referrals than consumers who are excited by a good experience

2.) Communicate effectively and sincerely.

Franchisors must view themselves and the franchisees as one team — think “we” instead of “us and them” — and the best way to build that mindset is through open communication. Regardless of how geographically distant a franchisee might be from the franchisor, the franchisor must institute channels where seamless ongoing dialogue takes place.

The franchisor must initiate communication if it is to flow naturally between the two. For instance, the franchisor might want to set up weekly calls at the start of the relationship. Subsequent emails, newsletters, conferences and content avenues will bond franchisors and franchisees together, leaving franchisees feeling “in the know” every step of the way.

Of course, conversations are not one-way streets; franchisees must be comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns with franchisors, who must then act on the information they receive. Franchisees provide valuable on-the-ground viewpoints that franchises need to successfully grow and scale.

3.) Lead with focus.

If franchisors can demonstrate exceptional leadership principles, franchisees will be more engaged in their roles. Talented leaders hold people accountable, but they also help people spread their wings. Thus, franchisors must walk a fine line between providing guidance and accepting honest feedback.

This requires tremendous focus as well as a willingness to be innovative and responsive. That focus may be shared with franchisees through consistency and strength at the top. Both franchisors and franchisees should have clear, attainable goals to work toward, and each one’s progress toward those goals should be transparent.

Ideally, franchisees and franchisors can work together to boost their brand. The closer their relationship, the better chance they have of building wealth, community and customer loyalty.

Taziki’s Mediterranean Café is quickly becoming a well-known restaurant chain. The casual eatery has 63 locations in 15 states in the Southeast and Midwest. The restaurant’s story often begins with Keith Richards’ trip to Greece with his wife, Amy, where they say they fell in love with the food and culture.

While it’s true that the Greek vacation served as an inspiration for the restaurant’s menu, the work necessary to operate a successful restaurant began decades before that, when 18-year-old Richards first entered the restaurant business. He went on to work in various restaurants before landing at Bottega, the restaurant of the James Beard Award-winning chef Frank Stitt, in 1988. Ten years later, Richards purchased a closed hot dog joint and transformed it into the first Taziki’s Mediterranean Café.

Richards’ business was clearly built on hard work and passion. Similarly, anyone looking to grow a franchise must love what he’s doing and be willing to put in long days and lots of effort to make it work. In addition to passion and hard work, however, there are a few additional steps that emerging franchisors should consider if they want to grow quickly and become household names:

1. Define your brand and its values.

The first key to successful growth is clear branding: determining your core values, creating brand guidelines and establishing national and local marketing plans. You also must zero in on what makes your brand different. Use all of these to craft the story of your brand across multiple channels.

Confusing brands are not successful brands. If you don’t define your brand — who you are and who you’re not — from the franchisor level, you won’t be able to expand across national and international markets.

2. Build relationships with top franchisees.

Franchisees need guidance and support, and potential franchisees look for businesses with strong leadership networks. Ask your franchisees what they’re doing locally and learn from their experiences, taking note of what works for each and what doesn’t.

Position your top franchisees as leaders and resources for your entire system. Franchisees can serve as ambassadors for your brand and provide strong leadership, serving as resources for other franchisees.

3. Look at the big picture.

If you want to rapidly expand into multiple markets, you need to consider the logistics. Do your vendors have the capacity to handle your growth? Do your vendors really understand franchises? Can they help you grow nationally and locally?

We recently spoke with an emerging fitness franchise with fewer than 25 locations. Its leaders said they wanted to operate their marketing and branding as if they had 100 locations to make sure they were on the right path as they continued to expand rapidly. We know this brand will see long-term success with that mindset. Other times, though, we’ve seen franchisors so focused on expansion that they overlook some of the gritty details of their company’s infrastructure — a recipe for trouble.

4. Think nationally and locally.

As a franchise, your goal is always growth. But that doesn’t mean your marketing focus should just be on national efforts: You should give equal weight to local campaigns, too. Determine what your national brand will handle best and what your franchisees or co-ops would be better at rolling out. As you expand, make sure both corporate and franchise locations are clear on their marketing roles and expectations.

The top complaint we hear from franchisees who pay into national ad funds is they don’t feel the impact locally. The right marketing partners can help structure the campaign to be a win-win for franchisors and franchisees, maintaining brand standards while giving franchisees some local control. Without local success, your national brand will struggle with long-term success.

For franchisors looking to become as successful as Taziki’s, success will be determined by factors ranging from the strength of a brand’s story to scalable plans to local and national marketing. The task of growing your business might be daunting, but if you keep these four steps in mind, you’ll be on the path to becoming a household name.

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