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Ongoing Support

Now that you have your franchise unit up and running, how do you keep it from stumbling during its first months and years? After all, most small businesses need time to learn the ropes and turn a profit.

That's where franchisor support comes in. Your franchisor wants you to succeed, and has allocated corporate resources and specialists to provide you with help beyond the initial training you've received in the operating system, financial management, and any technical aspects required to run the business. It goes beyond the lessons in how to hire, train, and retain employees. You cannot run a successful operation without competence in all of these areas, but there's more to support than this.

Your field support representative (or whatever your franchisor chooses to call its corporate support staff) also serves as coach, big brother or sister, and mentor, providing emotional and psychological support as well as business savvy. At least the good ones do. Because there's more to running a franchise operation than following the manual, keeping the books, and hiring staff.

For your first months you'll be struggling to master the system, operations, technology, and how to manage employees. You'll be out in the community building relationships, making sales, and getting involved in local causes, teams, charities, and other community organizations.

You'll also be learning how to be a leader. This means teaching by example, setting a tone, creating an attitude and culture for your employees that goes beyond their showing up and punching the clock. Whether fast food or service, your employees are the front line of your business, the face you present to the public. If they show eagerness and enthusiasm in addition to basic competence, you've "aced" the customer service test and are on your way. If your employees look as if they'd rather be anywhere else, your customers will follow their example!

So your first task is master the fundamentals: customer service, the operating system, and the technology or tools you need to deliver your services or products. Your field support representative is there to help you. Don't be shy about asking for help or looking foolish. It's better to ask for help and get it correct right from the start than to guess wrong and head down the wrong path.

You're not the first newbie on the franchise block. Your franchisor and field support rep have seen it all before. They not only can help you avoid mistakes, they want to: the faster you grow, the more royalties they receive.

As you begin, your job also is to master the numbers: the daily, weekly, and monthly flow of cash in and cash out. Keep careful track of your sales and expenses, every penny. If your franchisor doesn't provide a POS (point of sale) system with the reporting capabilities you need, hire someone who can, and/or purchase a reporting system of your own. Learn how to read a P&L, and how to project your current numbers into the future. As the saying goes, "You can't improve what you can't measure." Again, ask your field rep for help and support.

Beyond this, your task is to learn how to lead and manage the people you employ. Leadership can be learned, as can management skills. Some franchisors are now working with outside coaching firms to provide this level of support. Startup can be a tough slog. Your goal is to run the business, not to let the business run you. If your field support rep or franchisor does not provide this type of support, you can find it on your own. There are many reputable coaching firms that specialize in franchising.

Another good source of support is mentors, more experienced franchisees who are on the other side of the hill (or mountain) you've just begun to climb. Attending your brand's franchisee conventions, volunteering for franchisee associations, and using the company's intranet to stay in touch with other franchisees and ask your questions are all great ways to find the support you need. And you'll need it.

Everybody's a rookie at some point in their business life. Finding the "old pros" to offer a bit of advice and a helping hand can go a long way to smoothing out the bumps on the road to success… and toward becoming an old pro yourself!

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