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Building Franchise Websites

A look at how to use the web to further your franchise business.

Kay Marie Ainsley

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Websites can be an important addition to any franchise system, providing consumers with information about the company’s products and services as well as introducing potential new franchisees to the opportunity. Similarly, franchisee websites enable franchisees to provide potential customers with basic information like the business’s location, hours of operation and contact information.

Franchisees often provide additional information, such as personnel information, community involvement, awards the franchisee may have won, products and services they have available, and specials the customer may be interested in. Consumers like franchisee websites and are more likely to visit those websites that update their information frequently as they look for specials, new products and other information.

Website Options

Franchisors have several options in establishing websites for each of their locations. They can:

  • Let franchisees establish websites independently and without any specific guidelines.
  • Let franchisees establish websites individually but provide them with templates and guidelines so that the sites have a more uniform appearance and content.
  • Develop and maintain websites for all their locations.

Pros and Cons

There are some advantages and disadvantages to each approach.

1. Independent Websites

Franchisees often develop independent websites for their businesses when their franchisor has not established any policies for the system or provided them with any guidance on methods for establishing websites. In some franchise systems, the lack of leadership from a franchisor in providing methods for franchisee websites has created a vacuum that franchisees feel needs to be filled, and they move independently to get their own consumer message on the Internet.

Websites that are developed by franchisees without any guidelines or controls by the franchisor are the least attractive option for franchisors, for a host of reasons:

  • It can make it difficult for consumers and potential franchisees to find the franchisor’s website since search engines may direct individuals to franchisee sites due to confusion over the use of the franchisor’s trademarks in domain names and metatags.
  • It can make it difficult for franchisors to provide links to and from the system’s main websites due to content and inconsistencies on the franchisee sites.
  • It has the potential to dilute the system’s brand message because of variations in website content.
  • It has the potential to negatively impact the business at the system’s brick-and-mortar location due to poor e-commerce activities conducted by the individual locations.
  • If franchisees are not careful, independent websites may contain information that jeopardises trade secrets and copyrighted material. Also, the use of customer information can cause privacy concerns.
  • Independent websites may contain unexpected links or advertising that could include information about competitors or other service providers that may be inappropriate. These could include auction sites, discounters, consolidators or even competitive web directories.

Overall, independent websites that are developed without any guidelines or control can be problematic for both franchisors and each of the franchisees. Should franchisees choose to provide information that truly differentiates them from others in the system based on price or services, there is the risk of intrabrand competition that can be very damaging to the brand consistency that franchisors work hard to maintain. Also, if franchisees begin to offer unrestricted Internet sales there is an increase in the risk of territorial disputes between franchisees since sales from one location may take place in another franchisee’s territory. Also, research shows that poorly performing Internet sales activity has a negative impact on how the brick-and-mortar locations are viewed by the public — and this can impact overall system sales.

When they have the ability, franchisors are likely to avoid franchisee independent sites that are set up without any policies or controls and will use one of the other methods available.

2. Websites Developed by Franchisees Using Templates

Franchisee-developed websites that use franchisor-provided templates and content guidelines solve many of the problems that can be found in independent websites while securing most of the benefits for the franchisor and franchisee. Unfortunately, since these sites are still developed and maintained by each franchisee, there are still some issues that franchisors and franchisees need to address.

  • Since each site is developed and maintained individually, and given the potential number of sites that have to be monitored by a franchisor, there is a high cost of reviewing each site and monitoring changes made by franchisees to the content, format, scripts and even spelling that may appear on the site.
  • With the number of sites that need to be monitored and the ability of franchisees to make frequent changes to their sites, the risk that the franchisor may miss errors and the potential that problems will not be identified is high.
  • Personalisation of the site by the franchisee, even using a uniform template, can still cause conflict with the brand’s consistency and chain image.
  • Monitoring franchisee sites can also cause relationship problems with franchisees. Because franchisees will be in control of the content and frequency of changes to the websites, there are likely to be frequent discussions and often negotiations with franchisees over the format and content of their sites. This is unlikely to be the best use of either of their time. Also, many of the other risks associated with trade secrets, metatags, consumer privacy, intra-brand competition and Internet sales can still cause problems for the system.

3. Websites Developed by Franchisor

For most franchisors and franchisees, the best option is likely to be for the franchisor to develop and maintain sites centrally for each of its locations since this provides the best control over the format and look of the sites and their content. The advantages:

  • By developing and maintaining sites for the entire system, the franchisor and franchisees can be assured that each site will have a consistent look and feel. The brand messages are protected.
  • The websites will contain information about each location, and franchisees will be able to update their information periodically by providing changes to the franchisor.
  • Consumers will be able to access the franchisee’s site through links on the franchisor’s site because of consistent  use of domain names and metatags.
  • Potential franchisees will be able to access information about the system quickly.
  • Linkage to and from franchisee sites will be uniform and consistent, as will on-site links and advertising.
  • Franchisees are protected from the risk of online activities of other franchisees, and there is a reduced risk of territorial risks from e-commerce.
  • Trade secrets, copyrighted material and trademarks are protected, and there is a reduction in the risks associated with consumer privacy and other issues.
  • Consumer feedback to the system can be facilitated.

One of the negative issues associated with a franchisor developing individual sites for franchisees is that they are expensive to set up and maintain. Additionally, franchisees may wish to personalise and localise the content of their web pages to a greater extent than allowed by the franchisor. Finally, because of the volume of changes to franchisee sites, the franchisor’s ability to modify the sites will be slower than if each franchisee were making their own modifications.

Customers First

While many of the older franchise agreements may not clearly provide franchisors and franchisees with specific information about each party’s rights, it is important for franchisors and franchisees to keep the customer in focus. Websites should serve customers first by understanding how consumers want to shop and what information consumers need to make their buying decisions. Disputes that impact what has traditionally been the backbone of franchising’s success – brand consistency – need to be avoided. What we have learned from some of the recent disputes in franchising regarding franchisee and franchisor rights in e-commerce activities is that the only party that wins from these kinds of disputes is the competitor.

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Franchisors

Get Your Franchise Running Smoothly – Even When You’re Not There

Does the thought of taking time off from your franchise outlet make you nervous? Then you have to learn to run your business instead of letting it run you.

Diana Albertyn

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“A sign of a successful business is one that can operate without your physical presence 24/7,” says Brad Sugars, start-up expert, author and founder of ActionCOACH. While your franchise systems and operations are designed to run smoothly and consistently, is your staff trained to be productive in your absence?

“Franchises are already by nature systematised operations, so it boils down to how you as a business owner hire and train people to get the necessary jobs done,” says Sugars.

If you know a sick day will cause havoc in your store, an assessment of how you’re running your business is needed. Are you really running a successful franchise if things fall about without your supervision? Take a step back and consider the following steps to manage your franchise without it controlling your life. Pretty soon you could book that vacation.

Determine your role in the franchise

Are you managing the franchise, taking orders, doing admin and handling every other aspect of the business? Then you’re not hiring the right people, because those roles should be filled by people who can be left to carry them out unsupervised.

Related: How To Write An Operations Manual For Your Franchise

“And if you don’t have the right people for the job then it might be time to start hiring, so you can free up your franchise’s most valuable resource – you,” says Pieter Scholtz, co-Master Licensee for ActionCOACH in Southern Africa.

“You need to get an idea of how you can hire people to take repetitive or administrative tasks away from you. Ask yourself: ‘Do I really need to be doing this?’” says Sugars. Your business cannot run optimally if you’re the single most-knowledgeable and capable person there.

Lead with clarity

You have long-term goals for your business, perhaps even acquiring more locations and running multiple units. While growth is good, you need to share the load and ensure everyone employed in your business is working towards the same goals, otherwise, it’ll be difficult to get there. Sugars suggests asking yourself the following:

  • How will you make your vision a reality?
  • What makes you different from other franchisees and business owners?
  • What kind of team do you want to recruit and create?
  • How does all of this deliver value to your customer?

Conveying your vision can help ensure employees know how to get to the end-goal faster and more efficiently.

Related: 3 Steps To Ensure Your Franchisees Flourish Your Support System

Plan for long-term cash flow

Loyal customers ensure a constant flow of cash through the franchise and this requires exceptional service and the building of strong relationships. “Target your top-spending customers and establish a good relationship with them for long-term cash flow,” Sugars suggests.

Although the broader campaigns are covered by the marketing fee you’re paying to your franchisor, it’s wise to focus on your local’s tastes and suggestions when looking to deliver an experience worth returning for.

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Franchisors

Are Your Employees On Board With Your Franchise’s Brand Promise?

You cannot run a successful franchise if your staff isn’t aligned to the brand’s values.

Diana Albertyn

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Are the people who work in your franchise outlet familiar with the franchise’s brand promise? As a franchisee, you’re required to deliver a uniform experience, so any customer who walks through your door feels like they’re at the same store the franchisor has across multiple locations. If your employees aren’t able to embody the franchise’s brand promise at every interaction, you have a challenge on hand.

“If your company’s brand promise is a warm and friendly atmosphere, you can’t deliver that if your employees aren’t warm and friendly,” says Robin William, Senior Practice Consultant at Gallup.

“Selecting the right employees is essential to providing the right brand service. Hiring people who can’t behave the way the brand wants them to will doom a service initiative.”

Related: How To Write An Operations Manual For Your Franchise

When employees know what’s expected of them, they’re able to keep the promise the franchise makes to customers – leading to higher customer and employee engagement, trust, and revenue.

More than a mission statement

Even if you’ve ensured every one of your staff members know the brand’s mission statement, how can you be sure they’re able to exemplify it in their behaviour every day? William suggests that you do the following:

  • Create structures and mechanisms to consistently instil brand values in the franchise’s culture.
  • Discuss brand behaviours daily.
  • Demonstrate brand behaviours yourself every day.
  • Praise the efforts of individuals who demonstrate brand behaviours.
  • Hold employees accountable for not exhibiting brand behaviours.

Once you’ve clearly defined the right brand behaviours, it’ll be easier to have staff on board who deliver your franchisor’s brand promise.

Internalise the culture

Here’s a conundrum. Do your staff know what to do in a situation where a customer’s request might not be aligned with the brand promise, but the brand promise is always to deliver on customers’ requests? It’s a tricky situation, but if you’ve clearly articulated the promise, your staff will know how to “Behave the brand”, says William.

“Do whatever it takes to deliver on its brand promise. Whether it’s focusing quality, fast service, customer care, or low prices,” he says.

“Employees must execute brand and service behaviours consistently, and frequent reminders can help employees understand and internalise these behaviours.”

Related: 3 Challenges To Establishing A Franchise System And How To Overcome Them

Empower your staff

Investing in your staff is the best way to encourage them to act in line with your brand’s promise. Once they understand why it’s important to act along the lines of your brand, they will feel empowered and motivated to do so.

Starbucks trains employees to memorise customers’ names and preferences in line with their promise of making everyone who visits their stores feel at home. Apple’s strategy of hiring nice, smart people who are passionate about service and the product aligns with the company’s belief that knowledge can be improved, but personality cannot.

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Franchisors

How To Write An Operations Manual For Your Franchise

After establishing that your business is franchise material, ensure you’ve created a clear roadmap to success for your franchisees.

Diana Albertyn

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Documenting the replicability of your business is key to launching a viable franchise operation. Without manuals and instructions on how exactly you carried out your concept to its current level of success, your franchisees won’t accomplish the results you anticipate.

“Unless you can capture your business on paper, you cannot claim to have a business system to sell. Even detailed documentation may not be enough,” says Franchise Direct’s Lorraine Courtney.

“You may need to provide structured education programmes for new franchisees and their staff to teach them your business system.”

With the help of an experienced franchise consultant, you can devise the critical document that contains all the aspects of what make your brand successful.

Related: 3 Challenges To Establishing A Franchise System And How To Overcome Them

Why you need a franchise operations manual

If you’re second-guessing the importance of crafting an operations manual, then you shouldn’t go into franchising. “Your operations manual is your go-to document for deciding who is responsible for what in any franchisor-franchisee relationship,” says Dani Peleva, Managing Director at online marketing agency, Local Fame.

According to Peleva, your manual should generally include each franchisee’s contractual obligations to you as well as the complete details on how you expect them to fulfil these obligations.

“On a basic level, it tells your franchisees what you expect of them. It gives them all the information that you’ve accumulated while operating your franchise,” says Peleva. After familiarising themselves with this manual, franchisees should know how the information can be used to build their own business up to be as successful as the original store.

What an operations manual will do for your business

When all your franchisees know what’s expected from them as they run their respective locations, the entire brand is then able to provide a cohesive, coherent customer experience, which is crucial to your success as a franchisor.

A good manual will also help you build better relationships with your franchisees as they won’t need to constantly contact you to clarify aspects of the business they’re not sure of. If they’re applying the information in the manual, they should know everything you know about how to run this type of business, meaning they’ll make good profits – for you and themselves.

Related: 3 Steps To Ensure Your Franchisees Flourish Your Support System

“One of the steps most potential franchisees make before signing an agreement will be to contact your other franchisees. A strong manual will help your current franchisees return positive feedback,” adds Peleva.

How to decide which elements to include

Obligations detailed in your franchisee agreement will have to correspond with steps on how to achieve them in your franchise manual. As a new franchisor, you cannot be expected to have a manual as thick and wordy as your established counterparts.

Peleva suggests covering aspects such as:

  • How to set up a franchisee location and start trading
  • How daily operations will be conducted
  • How development or expansion will be controlled.

“Your operations manual should always include as much detail as possible regarding operational practices that are to be followed,” says Peleva. “A simple list item that states ‘this obligation must be fulfilled’ is not helpful. Looks always to the ‘how’ of the issue and you’ll cover everything you need to.”

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