There are many critical conversations a potential franchisee should have with the franchisor prior to finalizing any agreement. The topic of training should be one of them. But what should a franchisee ask? As many will tell you, to truly discover the efficacy of the training provided you must speak with the franchisor but also current franchisees.
I’ve divided the questions about training into the following categories:
• Questions about the format of the training.
• Questions about ongoing training.
• Questions about the content of the training.
• Questions to ask current and/or past franchisees.
Questions About the Format of the Training
If you’ve ever sat through several days of training and walked out feeling overwhelmed and retaining very little, you can understand why the format of training is so important.
Training conducted all-at-once at the corporate headquarters is often the easiest method for the franchisor but not always the most effective for the franchisee. As for the format of the materials, there is no correlation between effectiveness and the weight of the binder! So bigger isn’t always better. As someone said, it’s easy to make things complex, and difficult to simplify them.
You may and should find details about the format of the training in the F.D.D. However, particularly with smaller franchisors, what’s in the F.D.D. is sometimes what the ‘sor would like the training to be ideally, not exactly what exists in reality.
• First and foremost, the delivery method. This is especially important if you are far removed from headquarters. What methods does the ‘sor employ? Such as:
o Webinar (‘live’ online – also called ‘synchronous’)
o eLearning (‘self-paced’ online – also called ‘asynchronous’)
o Coaching / On-the-Job training
• How is the in-person training conducted? Such as:
o Length of time
o Location (at company headquarters? regionally? at your location?)
o Is it mostly lecture or hands-on?
o How often are training sessions held?
• If no online training is offered, why not?
• What is the cost of the initial training?
• Who should and could participate (owners, unit managers, staff, etc)? Is there an additional cost for additional people?
• What materials will be provided as reference (videos, manuals, quick reference guides, etc)? P.S. Beware if the materials are simply PowerPoint slides from the class.
• Who provides the training and what is their background/experience? Has he/she ever run this type of business?
• Is there any assessment or a pass/fail threshold? What happens if I fail? P.S. You should want the organization to have high standards.
• Is there anything that should be done in preparation for the initial training?
• How has the training program evolved / improved since the concept was founded?
Questions About Ongoing Training
Many believe the true worth of a franchisor’s training happens after you leave the classroom of the initial training. Some franchisors are great at getting you trained to get the doors open only to have the emphasis on learning dip dramatically.
The fact is, running any business profitably is hard and complex. No amount of initial training will fully prepare you. What’s more, it’s only when you’re actually in operation that the learning will take hold, but it’s also then that the gaps in the training will show themselves.
• What ongoing training is provided throughout the lifecycle of the business?
• What will the franchisor do to assist in the actual opening of the business?
• What training is provided as new employees and managers are hired?
• Is ongoing training conducted in-person or through technology (eLearning or webinars)?
• Will a representative of the ‘sor visit my location to provide additional individualized training? If so, how often?
• Is there a support staff to answer my questions?
• Are there regional meetings? Annual meetings? Monthly conference calls? How are these conducted and what is covered (i.e., are they refresher courses or new content?)
• Is it an obligation to attend future training or is it optional?
• What is the expense?
• Is there a Franchise Advisory Council (a group of franchisees representing and communicating their needs to the franchisor)?
Questions About the Content of the Training
Format means nothing if the content is not relevant, applicable and up-to-date. Too many times, training is theoretical instead of practical. Yes, you need the 10,000-foot view but you also need to know where the rubber meets the road! Ask to see the agenda as well as training materials to review what topics are covered and to what degree.
Topics should include both those specific to operating the concept as well as general business practices (i.e. sales and marketing). Without sales and profit, there’s no concept to operate.
• Training developed correctly should be about changing behavior, so your first question should be: what will I be able to do at the end of the training that I cannot do now?
• Does the training prepare me to run, build and sustain my business?
• In what ways does the training mimic the true “day in the life of” a franchisee?
• Some of the more critical topics the training should cover (if applicable):
o Sales, sales, sales
o Marketing and the myriad of topics this entails
o Concept & brand
o Human resources, such as recruiting, interviewing and hiring
o Managing and developing employees
o Safety & security
o Information & technology
o Financial management: accounting/P&L/cash flow
o Facilities: site selection/permits/construction/vehicles
o Office set-up
• Does the learning include training from any vendors, such as software, marketing, employee benefits, etc.?
Questions to Ask Current (or Past) Franchisees
The franchisor may create and deliver the training but the franchisees live it. They can provide insight on what works (and what doesn’t). Try talking to franchisees that are at least a year removed from the initial training, and – if you can – reach out to them yourself rather than the list of ones the ‘sor provides. You’ll want to talk to successful locations but also ones that are failing or – if you can – ones that are no longer in business. Many times, people who have failed are able to articulate more clearly why they did versus people who are successful are able to tell you what makes them that way.
If there are ‘discrepancies’ between what the franchisor claims and the franchisees’ perception, this should be a red flag to be discussed with the ‘sor. Any of the above questions you may and should ask the franchisee, in addition to the following:
• Was the training promised in the FDD actually delivered?
• After the initial training, did learning drop off? Did you feel left on your own?
• What type of ongoing training are you receiving in the field?
• Was the training realistic to what you face every day or more theoretical?
• Did the training teach you what you need to be successful in the business?
• Was the amount of time devoted to training enough to prepare you?
• Was there ample opportunity to ask questions?
• What aspects of the training were the most beneficial?
• In what areas did you receive no training but felt you needed it?
• Did the instructor seem to know the business and your day-to-day challenges?
• If you were to start over, what could the franchisor have done differently in training to better equip you to succeed?
This list is not exhaustive nor addresses your specific situation, but should give you a starting point. The important thing is to not bypass the discussion about training. A comprehensive, well-developed, effective training program is one of the advantages to buying a franchise over running an independent business, and should be one of the reasons why you choose the former over the latter.
About the author. Robert Bilotti is Managing Director of Novita, a franchise and employee training firm that helps franchisors create training programs which produce measurable results.
For more information, visit www.novitaunique.com.