Helping Franchisees Develop a Strategic Plan

Operations & Training

The strategic-planning process offers a stronger approach to running the business by the numbers.

By Steve White

“What is the strategic plan for growing the business?” Now there’s a question that can derail a Discovery Day.

What’s the answer? Is there one? If so, is it the same for new franchise members and established franchise members? Is there help for established franchise members to grow their business too? It’s a safe bet that franchisors have a clear plan to help a new person open and establish a new business or they wouldn’t survive long in franchising. Unfortunately, many franchisors don’t have much more. There are ongoing training programs, marketing programs and companies can point to successful franchise members who are growing their businesses as a result of participating in those programs, but that still doesn’t directly answer the question. 

Franchise companies can have a strategic plan written by one of the many excellent consultants in the world. But, can anyone write one universal plan that will fit everyone in every situation in every market? Probably not. Consider a process that while it may not provide a perfect strategic plan, will allow every franchisee who wants a strategic plan to have one. Real progress at Signs Now came when the realization dawned that it is better to have an informal action-oriented plan with specific strategic goals, tactics and timetables than a 30-page document that gets put on the shelf. In other words, step away from “corporate stripes” and learn to behave like a true small-business person.

So, where does one begin? It begins by understanding that there is no one plan that will fit every situation. Follow the advice in Stephen Covey’s best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and begin with the end in mind. That is, by identifying just what the franchisee wants to accomplish in the long run. First, of course, franchisors need to know where they want to go with their businesses and how much time and money they are willing to invest to get there.

In Signs Now, there are people at many different places in their lives and with many different levels of commitment. About five years ago, the franchise company began to work with some of its largest and most sophisticated franchise members to help them establish a plan for their businesses. A three-day workshop was developed as a vehicle to do this. This workshop has continued once a year for 25 to 35 people. It essentially provides a template for developing a plan and offers talks on each aspect of the business that help illuminate key planning considerations for functional areas of the business.

That process works well for those who can afford the better part of a week to be away from their businesses. But, many people don’t have that ability, yet they still want a strategic plan. Is it possible to help them by introducing the essential elements of a strategic plan and letting them develop it in their own time. The approach consists of the following elements:

• Mission, vision and values,
• Goals, and
• A Control Book.

Mission, Vision and Values
It is important for franchise members to think about each of these elements as they shape the rest of the plan. Encourage them to write a mission statement that clearly states their mission in less than 15 words. Ask them to think about the ultimate destination where they would like their business to arrive and record it as their vision. Counsel them to choose words that describe the values by which they will govern themselves as they strive to achieve their goals.

Everyone has goals, but not everyone has developed them very well. For goals to be meaningful they need to be clear and concise. Make the goals specific to each area of the business and to set a date by which they are to be accomplished. Ideally for this business, well-developed goals in the areas of technology, finance, staff, facility, and sales and marketing are preferred. To accomplish this, our company simply presented franchisees with a template that allows them to write out their long-term goals for each area and another template to break those down into goals for the upcoming calendar year.

Control Book
The Control Book embodies the strategic plan. This is a tool to organize all of the essential information that comes to bear on the strategic plan. It includes the mission, vision, values and goals to be sure, but it does not stop there. It also includes key information used in the management and accomplishment of the goals and organizes them by the same functional areas of the business in which set goals reside. For example, the finance section should include current financial statements and the staff section should include a current organization chart. For most businesses, one three-ring binder can hold almost all of this information.

Once the plan is in place, follow-up action is imperative. Participants in a workshop receive seven weekly “Monday Morning E-mail” messages focusing on each section of the Control Book. Regional operations directors follow-up with individuals after receiving copies of their plan. Franchise members left to their own devices will tend to not “get it done” unless someone holds them accountable.

If there isn’t the expertise within franchise headquarters to conduct such a workshop, consider using outside resources. For the first few years, we used trade association speakers to present much of the “theoretical stuff” while it concentrated on the tools (Control Book) and practical application of strategic planning. The company still gets credit for the entire process.

The results of this approach have been impressive. While there have been only a few well-written formal strategic plans by various franchise members, there are many with well-worn control books. Here is what has been seen in the franchisees who have participated in this process:

Franchisees are developing a vision for what they want to accomplish on their own terms. Once they have clarified their vision, mission and values they tend to be happier with the direction of their businesses.

They are taking ownership in clearly-defined goals. They know what they need to accomplish to stay on their plan. And, just as importantly, they more clearly see and avoid those things that might take them away from accomplishing their plan.

They are making better decisions because all things are considered in the light of the plan and the ultimate goal.

There have been a number of positive comments on the quality and clarity of the overall plan for the business from franchise member’s lenders. A confident, well-informed lender is an important ally for a small-business owner.

The plan has served as a vehicle for the franchise member to communicate his direction to employees. As a direct result, the employees who have participated in this process tend to feel more empowered and informed. This, in turn, has resulted in those employees working better together to achieve the goals of the franchisee.

Once people begin to see the possibilities for what they can accomplish, and gain confidence in their ability to achieve those possibilities, they start to increase their vision. They set bigger goals, make a bigger commitment of time and energy and pursue them more aggressively.

Ultimately, the strategic planning process has resulted in a stronger approach to running the business by the numbers for the specific purpose of achieving the goals of the franchisee. This directly and positively affects the value of the business. In the strategic planning process, both value and satisfaction count. Franchisees who have established a strategic plan have significantly increased the value of their businesses and because it was their plan and their accomplishment, they are also more satisfied.

Steve White is president of Signs Now. He can be reached at