Setting up a franchise is a big step, where many types of risks must be considered. After setting up the franchise where do you go as a franchisee in year three or four perhaps, if your business is going sideways rather than forward? Is the answer to engage in critical thinking?
A very thought-provoking article on this point has recently been posted by The Harvard Business Review, building on the thoughts of Helen Lee Bouygues, founder of The Reboot Foundation. She suggests that there are three steps towards achieving critical thinking: questioning assumptions; applying logic and diversifying thoughts. We have taken her suggestions and moulded them around a fictional franchisee, as follows.
The franchisee, who we will call Algernon, established his property claims management franchise 4 years ago and came out of the blocks flying, using existing expertise in the property market. He built a great loss assessing business and his sales curve soared as he followed the model and used Facebook advertising to reach his potential customer, attributing this methodology to his success. However, business has now slowed and is actually stagnating. He believes he may have exhausted his sales leads and doesn’t know where to turn. How could critical thinking help him? Here are 10 possible ways:
- Algernon may have relied on his existing expertise too much and not developed other core skills that could help him out of the rut. Marketing may be one of these, but perhaps he needs sales training, or better time management skills that will enable him to devote some time, each week, to business planning.
- Algernon has assumed that he is ‘no good’ at face-to-face selling and has preferred the anonymity of Facebook advertising. He needs to challenge that assumption and try other things, such as networking, PR, content marketing (through the creation of thought-provoking, search-engine-friendly blogs and other materials on his website), Google advertising and even sponsorship or outdoor advertising of some kind.
- Algernon sat back in years two or three, assuming clients would stay loyal and nobody could compete with his expertise. He now needs to conduct a review of his market, to check which competitors may now exist, assessing what they are doing to market themselves and how their offering compares to his. He needs to become a mystery shopper, burrowing into what is going on, analysing it and devising responses.
- Algernon is over-reliant on Facebook and has not witnessed changes in Facebook advertising that have affected the reach that organic posts can generate. He has not noticed that some of his customers no longer trust Facebook and has not taken onboard the negative publicity around fake news. He needs to get out of his bubble and note what’s going on, questioning the assumption that it is the Facebook way or no way when it comes to building his business further.
- Algernon has believed that his clients are attracted by huge weather incidents that make his property claims service a big requirement at certain moments in time. He has poured all of his efforts into focusing on these bigger incidents, rather than trying to build a business built around regular day-to-day property claims that potential customers may have, which would give him his bread-and-butter orders and income.
- Algernon has not taken on board other viewpoints or suggestions, because he has not engaged in networking. As a franchisee, he has no employees who could put forward different opinions to his own, nor people around him who could provide alternative inputs to his thinking. If he got out to networking events, that could change. Not only could he hear other viewpoints, he might also detect new needs and also find new referrers of business.
- Algernon has never posed ‘What if?’ questions within his business and has neglected to keep a watchful eye on influences and factors that could affect a number of elements that make his property claims management franchise business tick. If he started to explore such questions, he could possibly find ways to adapt his franchise business to his advantage.
- Algernon never takes time out to work on the business, rather than just in it. He is so wrapped up in the everyday detail that there is no blue sky thinking or problem-solving activities whatsoever. He needs to step outside of the business completely, allowing himself some quality time to focus on what is going on, what could change and how he could achieve such change. This could be whilst on a treadmill, whilst on a train journey, whilst in the bath, or at some other time when all distractions are removed from his mind.
- Algernon’s first response to any issue is to Google an answer and satisfy himself that the first answer that presents itself is the right one. What he needs to do is challenge all possible answers, to arrive at the ones that are right for his individual business. Relying on generic solutions that do not apply to his specific scenario is folly.
- Algernon needs to stop being over optimistic, assuming that the business will start to grow again with no effort on his part. He needs to rationally analyse the obstacles to growth, go back to the drawing board if necessary and create new strategies. Being honest with himself is the key.
All businesses need to continually evolve, to stay relevant to their customers and be driven by hard working leaders and franchise businesses are no different. Engaging in selective thinking as a franchisee – in other words your own viewpoint rather than that of others – could hold growth back significantly. Taking on board other opinions, challenging your own and taking a helicopter view of your franchise business and your territory should be part of your ongoing strategy as a franchisee. Giving up time for critical thinking is not time wasted.