My business, Swimtime, is currently the largest independent provider of swimming lessons in the UK.I’ve learnt a lot about franchising along the way, but here are the five most important: 1. Hand over control When you own a business, you are in control; when you franchise your business, you are handing that control over to other people, many of whom you may not have known for very long. This is a much quicker process than, say, if you were succession planning and grooming over time a new MD to take over your business. You can be too reluctant initially to stand back and let people get on with it but you need to trust your model and change your mindset completely. 2. Take the right advice Once you have created your model, you need to get the right documentation in place, from accounts to contracts. A franchised business isn’t the same as a regular business. We didn’t go to a lawyer or accountant with franchise experience initially and this caused a few hiccups in the early days, as one size doesn’t fit all. Instructing professionals with genuine knowledge of franchising protected us, protected the franchisees and enabled us to grow with confidence. It might end up being more expensive but it’s worth so much in the long term, so be prepared to spend money to do things properly. 3. Understand the benefits of the trade associations By getting involved with the British Franchise Association, you get access to advice and networking. The BFA carries out regular accreditations of your operation, which builds credibility and trust with your franchisees and their customers. It’s great brand association and an association that should be utilised. Some franchisors go from a standing start, feel isolated and learn things as they go but associations enable you to meet other franchisees and learn from their experiences. 4. Keep a professional distance As a franchisor, it’s very easy to treat franchisees like family. Not everyone is as honest as you’d like to think they are and getting too involved can cloud your judgment and leave you open to poor practice, brand damage and even deceit. We learned the hard way. The first sign of trouble in a franchise is the last sign you want and it’s easier to react and deal with any issues, in the interest of your entire franchised operation, if you remain professional. 5. Insist on centralized suppliers Franchisees will often tell you that they can source printed marketing material locally at a great price. This may be true but the reality is that working in this fragmented way can cause costly damage to your brand. We tried it both ways and now insist on all franchisees using centrally appointed printers, social media experts, PR services, etc. This maintains consistency across entire franchise, delivers good prices through economies of scale and helps build brand recognition, which benefits everyone in the long term. Barry Price is managing director of Swimtime.
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