Business never stands still does it? Especially today with fast communication systems making us all aware of what is being done by everyone else and using those ideas to build new ones of our own. And the changes and innovations seem to be coming faster and faster each day.
Having been involved with franchised businesses since the 80s, I have seen how businesses passing my door reflect the latest changes. From face-to-face interaction, landline phones and snail-mail to today’s communication systems with mobile, text, email, websites, social media, chat bots, cloud-based storage, and software capable of doing almost anything. But I have to say the biggest shift has taken place over the past five years culminating in the swift uptake over the last year disrupted by COVID. Who would have known I’d be teaching my 70 and 80yr+ running mates how to use Zoom for our weekly meetings?
My first introduction to the way the digital era impacted on business was in the early 90s when we brought a new concept business into Australia from the US – Expense Reduction Analysts. At the time we needed white collar franchises to appeal to the many government and big business employees being made redundant and this cost-reduction consultancy was just right for this group. Right too, was the early intranet we built to house our growing prospect and franchisee database and chat line. Even though we sometimes had to wait overnight for our first emails to be delivered from Perth to London via North America as they were routed then. Still faster than snail-mail.
Ten years ago, even though Franchise Simply was established as a digital business, I was still dealing with business people trying to create a franchise group based on their norms: unwieldy PDF-based operations manuals which were never used and never updated; accounting systems based on early software that was too complex to be used in-house; brash, emerging websites and social media marketing not at all suited to most consumer taste. The list goes on.
Today, this cohort just doesn’t exist. Even before COVID, our client base had become younger and more interested in digital management systems.
Take Jason Graham from Blockout Blinds in Melbourne for instance, who was starting to digitise and automate his total sale and supply line, releasing his current staff from much of the admin work they used to do. His clients order online, put in their measurements for each blind chosen and make the payments. These blinds are then ordered automatically from the manufacturer. Jason’s franchisees will now just visit the site to check measurements and to install or supervise installation by a subcontractor. Of course, they are in touch with the client to make sure that warm human face and voice are there to keep the relationship going. Needless to say, Jason is preparing easy-to-use, intuitive, cloud-based operations manuals he knows his franchisees and staff will use because the systems are closely integrated into his training and support. Improving efficiency, giving better service and increased ROI.
Probably the most sophisticated use of digital management I have seen is associated with another client of mine, Earworx. Based in Hobart, Earworx was expanding fast just before COVID hit and they needed to be able to interact with franchisees and their staff throughout Australia as the rules changed overnight. Fortunately, they had already set their operations up in our software, FranSystems, so the training base on how to conduct most ear treatments and how to run their rooms and businesses were in place. What they were able to do then was practice by practice, issue-specific COVID instruction overnight as each State brought in new rules, keeping everyone safe and legal and being able to help clients in need without disruption.
Earworx continued to open new franchised outlets throughout last year through the heavy interstate travel restrictions by extending their operations to include sections on how to set up a new practice. The equipment and stock to purchase, how to set it up, how to establish email, phone, SMS and other communication systems for booking and general contact. They also set up their Franchisor support systems and the way they would monitor how each practice was performing – all to the finest detail.
What this means today, is that whilst it is preferred that the initial franchisee induction training is held face to face, much is done remotely. They tell us the ability to be able to make these changes so fast using digital systems already in place saved their business through COVID.
The experience has shown them better ways to do so many things that it has changed their business model dramatically resulting in improved patient service and higher margins. An enviable outcome.
There are so many reasons for making the move to running a franchise by using good, easy, intuitive digital management systems.
Probably the most important is the need to attract millennials into your group as customers, staff and as franchisees. Attracted to modern businesses, this group is becoming more and more important to every business out there and if you can’t attract them, your business is probably not viable in the midterm.
So, yes, the digital revolution is upon us and needs to be embraced.
The thing is, however, going digital is not easy. I have seen so many businesses which have attempted to make the change, spent so much on bringing in expensive software only to find everyone is drowned in administrative tasks just keeping the software going. So, their staff and franchisees don’t look after the admin, and they find other ways to manage their work their own way which is not trackable nor consistent and lets the side down.
It takes planning, and a ruthless mind which will only accept software that is absolutely essential to get the job done simply and intuitively.
Alongside this there needs to be brutal execution, training and support to make sure everyone is on board and follows the system. All done remotely, of course, and in a way that will feel friendly and warm and full of human contact.
And, like NASA’s famous moon-shot, an astute franchisor recognises that IT tuning is a constant. As a reminder, Scott from Earworx tells me they are implementing more tweaks and innovations even as I write this.
Brian Keen has been involved in the franchise industry for more than 30 years and, today, is the Founder of Franchise Simply. His on-the-ground business experience as a multi-unit franchisee, franchisor and consultant helping many of the big names create their own franchise systems and growth over the years has been fed into Franchise Simply, helping today’s SMEs grow their business by franchising.