I have been involved in franchising dozens of businesses, at last count over 60. Some from concept and some where we converted an existing business to the franchised model and I am really happy to deal with either pathway with one really important proviso.
The business owner must have a reasonable understanding on what it takes to run a business successfully – franchised or not.
And unfortunately I have concluded this is easier said than done.
Done well, franchising does help to structure a business so that it has the best chance of success because franchising helps to put some great business practices in place. Systems and money management being at the top of the list. But overall, I have found that in most businesses, there are some aspects about business success which need to be reviewed and without sound business experience, creating a franchise is not likely to succeed.
Understanding how business works is especially important, because you, as franchisor, will often be training less business savvy-franchisees on successful business practice.
The most useful way I have found to think about business success is to look at the stages of business growth because it is through this journey that many learn the value of different business skills needed as they grow.
The 5 Stages of Business Growth
Way back in the early 1980’s, the concept that businesses grow through defined stages was first discussed in an article published in Forbes by Neil C. Churchill and Virginia L. Lewis. This work is still cited to explain the importance of basic business elements to success.
Before I go into the 5 stages, there is one important point to make.
Businesses do not necessarily need to go through each stage. It is possible to speed through stages into whichever is your goal. The way to do this is to understand what is required. This is how the likes of Richard Branson create new businesses everyday – Richard will have all his business ducks in a row before he starts. But even his businesses will need to go through some of these stages on the way to creating an empire.
In a nutshell these are the stages
Stage 1 – Existence
This is generally the start-up stage for any business. With no revenue, the focus of the business owner is obtaining customers and delivering the product or service. Inevitably, the owner is definitely working in the business, often alone filling every role. A major concern is having enough money to cover this start-up phase. The strategy here is simply to stay alive.
Stage 2 – Survival
By now, the business has proven it is workable and can be profitable but it is still simple in structure. There may be a limited number of employees supervised by a sales manager or a general foreman but neither will make any major decisions independently. They carry out the rather well-defined orders of the owner.
Systems development is still minimal. Formal planning is, at best, cash forecasting. The major goal is still survival, and the owner is still the business and working in the business. The main aim is to get a return on investment and making the business profitable.
However if the business is to grow, it is important to begin to understand the need to systemise and understand how business operates.
Some small businesses choose to stay here, hardly making a profit, others choose to move into the Success Stage.
Stage 3 – Success
At this point, the company is stable and profitable and cash is not a problem. Most telling, basic financial, marketing, and production systems are in place to power effective delegation.
Organizationally, the company has grown large enough, in many cases, to have functional managers to take over some duties previously performed by the owner and some planning through operational budgets support this delegation.
There should also be some strategic planning in place and the owner and, to a lesser extent, the company’s managers, should be monitoring this in accordance with goals.
While cash is plentiful, the main concern is to avoid a cash drain in prosperous periods to the detriment of the company’s ability to withstand the inevitable rough times.
Some choose to stay in this phase while others choose to move into a phase of growth.
Stage 4 – Rapid Growth
If the decision is made to grow beyond the Success Stage, then key problems will be how to achieve growth and how to finance it. Growth will return to a phase where cash management becomes critical.
Churchill and Lewis report they found the keys to success here are having a sound understanding of delegation and how to manage risk in cash flow.
As staff numbers grow, systems need to become more refined to ensure delegation is efficient and both operational and strategic planning are crucial to make sure everyone is on the same page.
At this stage, the owner no longer works in the business but does have a strong presence over the way it is run and over things such as stock control.
Churchill and Lewis state:
‘This is a pivotal period in a company’s life. If the owner rises to the challenges of a growing company, both financially and managerially, it can become a big business. If not, it can usually be sold-at a profit-provided the owner recognizes his or her limitations soon enough’
Stage 5 – Maturity
The company has now arrived. It has the advantages of size, financial resources, and managerial talent. If it can preserve its entrepreneurial spirit, it will be a formidable force in the market.
If not, it may enter a sixth stage of sorts: ossification and death.
Franchises often do it better
Yes, even in the 1980’s when the Churchill and Lewis first published their article, it was acknowledged that franchised businesses moved through the stages to Success and Rapid Growth better than those not franchised.