Marketing is not the first business type that comes to mind when you think of franchising, but that is exactly why Belinda Bow is expanding her business, Green Chilli Marketing, as a franchise. She speaks with My Business about what she has learnt from established a franchise model, the costs involved, and why she chose this path for the company.
“When I became a mother, actually going back to work was something I didn’t want to do, but I still wanted a career,” Belinda explains.
“And secondly, if you’re in marketing and you go back into the workplace, you’re generally not given the clients that you want to work with. You’re perhaps given clients that are not as high-profile or with not as much pressure, and there’s a real difference between what you’re offered pre-baby and post-baby.”
This is not an uncommon scenario among women seeking to return to the workforce after having a child.
What is less common is turning their business into a franchise – particularly a marketing business.
Yet as Belinda explains, the opportunity approached her naturally.
“When I started working for myself [in 2008], I was asked by a lot of other people in a very similar situation, ‘Can I come and work with you?’. I [didn’t] want employees as such, but I saw something in it and I thought that setting a business up is really tough, and all the bits and pieces that come with setting up a business.
“I thought [it would be great] if I could iron out all those things so basically people that want to be a marketer on their own terms, with their own times and their own schedules, can do that.”
“You need to make sure that you’ve got some parameters in which they can run their business, and there’s not too many constraints in there.”
Here’s what Belinda has learnt about setting up a franchise, and her advice to other business owners:
Franchising costs more than you’d expect
While Belinda hasn’t actually kept tabs on the total cost of the transformation, she says it has been extensive. Outsourcing tasks, legal and franchising advice, establishing processes and systems and then marketing the final product to prospective franchisees can quickly add up.
She was mindful to keep these costs as low as possible, to minimise the pressure on herself as both a franchisor and a business operator with existing clients.
“The great thing about it was that because I’ve already got contacts in all of those areas, I was able to get a reasonable rate for pretty much everything,” she says.
“[But] what I tried to do financially was to make sure my expenditure per month was feasible [in terms of] what I was earning with my clients as well.
“I didn’t want to have the additional pressure of a huge loan hanging over my head with a deadline.”
Of course, the amount of time needed to get a franchise model off the ground is also substantial.
“The time is a massive issue. I think ensuring that the person on the other side – the franchisee – would be really comfortable in what I was presenting them [was important]. So that’s [why] I have always tested exactly what I’ve been doing,” explains Belinda.
Seek specialist advice
Dealing with prospective business owners buying into your brand is a very different experience to setting up on your own. This is where specialist advice can be worth its weight in gold.
“[I got] a team of people together, ones that I trusted – business consultants and other professionals – that I wanted to take a look at my business, because ... it’s really difficult to work on your business when you’re in it,” Belinda says.
“This is something that not a lot of people know: there are franchising specialists out there. What that’s enabled me to do is to say, ‘From a franchising angle, what do we legally have to do and what’s going to be the best thing for the franchise?’.”
This advice, she explains, helped to crystallise her vision for the company and put her own role within it into perspective.
“That’s when I [decided to] get a copywriter to write the copy and put it together; I’m going to get a graphic designer to do this, and I outsourced each of the elements to develop that brand further, and it meant that I was able to project manage rather than try to do everything myself.”
Add value for would-be franchisees
“I have worked with franchisors and franchisees before ... [and when] a franchise is set up, we often don’t think how that would actually fit with a franchisee.
“I’m really mindful that you need to make sure that you’ve got some parameters in which they can run their business, and there’s not too many constraints in there,” says Belinda.
Of course, selling the dream is one thing, but as she points out, you want to be able to deliver on that for your franchisees.
“It’s not just, ‘Here’s a business in a box, see you later, you have no support’; there’s actually quite a lengthy process of coming into the business. So there’s training, support, mentoring, phases for growth and even accountancy support, so there’s a lot of elements I’ve included to make sure that they’ve got that opportunity for success that perhaps is lacking in a lot of franchises.”
Avoid being overly restrictive
The temptation, according to Belinda, can be to impose a vast array of restrictions on franchisees, given that you have certain ideas on how your business should be run.
Yet while this may work for your own business, it may not be successful for franchisees.
“You need to make sure that the franchisees can move within their own franchise – you don’t want them to be too bound by the idea of how they can run their own business, because I don’t want them to be a complete cookie cutter of who I am,” Belinda says.
Manage your time and workflow
Despite the fact that franchising may take up a great deal of your time, you still have to keep the existing business ticking over nicely. How?
“Outsourcing is number one,” says Belinda.
“I’ve also got an assistant who helps me to project manage the big picture of developing the franchise.”
Business name: Green Chilli Marketing
Began franchising: 2016
Location: Newcastle, NSW
Employees: one, plus various contractors
Services: Business marketing, brand development, marketing coaching
Target clients: Franchise businesses, SMEs