4 Things Franchisors Can Do to Boost Franchisee Engagement

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4 things franchisors can do to boost franchisee engagement

Having an informed, engaged and fulfilled franchisee network can give you a competitive advantage. There’s a handful of tactics proven to boost engagement levels – fundamentals that become even more important amidst crises like COVID-19. Here, we explore what these are and why they matter now more than ever.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Andy Knights knew it was up to Stagecoach to keep its network of 320 global franchisees informed. “Give your franchisees the respect of keeping them abreast of latest developments,” he said, “just as you would expect them to keep you informed if their business changed significantly.”

Adopting a virtual open-door policy, Stagecoach started hosting regular calls with their franchisees via Google Hangout. They also set up a designated COVID-19 hub, sharing regular insights on available support schemes.

Communicating with your franchise network has always been important. Franchisees are the foundation of the business, and you’re obligated to share accurate and up-to-date information at all times with them . This is especially so during a crisis, when uncertainty reigns. Franchisees will look to you as their guiding light.

So, how do you keep franchisees informed and engaged? Here’s a few tips to consider – and why they’re particularly important during a crisis.

1. Keep your franchisees up to date

Emailers, newsletters and surveys are great for sharing updates, gathering feedback and running business health-checks. Many franchisors do this annually, quarterly or monthly – depending on their network size. Whether it’s a product update, look at growth numbers or shift in brand voice, you’ll want to tell your franchisees first.

The appeal of this engagement is that it’s quick and easy to execute. But it does run the risk of feeling impersonal. Remember to always be transparent and human in your internal updates. Try have them come from a person, rather than ‘the business’. Use pronouns like ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘our’, talking to your franchisees like colleagues. And if you do run a survey, remember to share the results, together with any actions you’re taking based on the feedback.

Why it’s important during a crisis:

As a franchisor, it’s your responsibility to keep up to date with all the crisis developments. You’ll want to increase the frequency of your updates to weekly, so that franchisees are confident you’re on top of the situation and in control.

When engaging your network during a crisis:

  • Share the latest, most relevant developments and what this means for the business
  • Be clear on any action items: If there’s something your franchisees need to do, tell them
  • Share useful resources: Help them navigate the crisis
  • Acknowledge concerns and fears: Are your franchisees predominantly parents with young children? In a crisis like coronavirus, be sympathetic that they’re probably juggling work and full-time childcare. Use inclusive language, letting them know everyone is in this together

2. Ask for their feedback and ideas

Communicating with your network is not a one-way street. Franchisees have concerns they want heard – and ideas worth hearing.

With their feet in the trenches, franchisees have valuable insight into the ever-shifting needs and behaviour of consumers. They might have recognised gaps or opportunities you haven’t. You’ll definitely want to hear from and strategise with them. Knowing their voices are heard and appreciated will also build rapport and a sense of belonging.

Conferences and workshops – or retreats, if you’re smaller – are an effective way to get feedback and creative input. Dedicate time to hear from your franchisees on a particular issue and brainstorm new ideas. Set and share a purposeful agenda beforehand, so that everyone can come prepared.

Busylizzy, a club that offers postnatal fitness classes, prizes these engagements, which it holds quarterly. After its 2017 forum, Busylizzy launched a new range of classes targeting pregnant women – increasing its average user engagement by seven months. Again, in 2018, its spring forum resulted in a new first birthday service for its clients’ children, 70% of who have babies under one.

“It’s a great chance for franchise owners to meet and catch up about the daily ups and downs of running a business, as well as being part of its future.” – Julie Clabby, Busylizzy franchisor.

Why it’s important during a crisis:

It’s unlikely that one person has the right or definitive answer during a crisis – only the best guess. It’s why there are crisis task teams. Collaborating on the way forward can help identify the best solutions. Instead of being reactive, consider also using a crisis to be proactive and re-evaluate your business.

Get feedback from your franchisees on:

  • Operations: How can we improve the way we operate during and post-crisis? How can we build resilience against future crises?
  • Products and services: Is there an opportunity we’re missing? So many businesses have used the COVID-19 pandemic to offer virtual products and services, which could outlast the crisis.
  • Shifting consumer behaviour: How has this crisis changed the way people behave and consume? What are their needs and fears? How can we address these?
  • Business values: Crises make consumers re-evaluate their priorities and value systems. Global warming accelerated sustainability efforts. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is accelerating diversity and inclusion, placing privilege under scrutiny. If you’re a values-based business, consider how these impact you and how you operate and communicate going forward.

3. Celebrate successes

An entrepreneurial life can be a lonely one. There’s no line manager to reward hard work or award a bonus. Use your platforms – online portals, conferences or emailers – to call out wins, sharing success stories or even examples of best practice from your network. This will help franchisees feel recognised and more motivated to achieve success.

Why it’s important during a crisis:

A crisis leaves people feeling downtrodden and worried for the future. Celebrating a success can be the small bit of good news everyone needs, or even inspire creative solutions to obstacles.

When celebrating success during a crisis:

  • Focus on how a franchisee has overcome the odds, exploring the problem and solution: Highlight wins as appropriate, but be mindful of those who might be having a harder time of it.
  • Share useful resources to help others
  • Adopt an inspiring, can-do tone
  • Consider a guest blog or workshop from the franchisee, to share their learnings

4. Invest in training and development

A good franchisor, and one who abides by the bfa Franchising Code of Ethical Conduct , is willing to support their franchisees from start to finish. They provide training schemes and ongoing support in business operations. When your franchisees feel set up for success, they’re likely to stick around longer – and return the favour by developing their own employees into future franchisees.

You can invest in upskilling your franchisees either through mentorship, external courses or by hosting franchisee-led masterclasses in your own network. Skills volunteering and transfer do a lot for engagement levels, as franchisees play an active role in developing the network.

Why it’s important during a crisis:

If your business is on pause, down-time is useful for expanding skill sets to improve success post-crisis.

When training during a crisis:

  • Focus on skills gaps and opportunities: Normal gaps aside, has the crisis created the need for new skills (e.g. COVID-19 required many business to go digital for the first time )?

Never underestimate the power of franchisee engagement – in crisis and beyond

During the COVID-19 lockdown, many businesses found creative ways to maintain their customer relationships. Is the same effort going into engaging franchise networks? It should be, both in the current crisis and in future.

While coronavirus has all our attention now, there will be economic, social and environmental crises that disrupt us again. Most times, we won’t be able to predict these. But we can put the mechanisms in place to mitigate their negative effects. Armed with an engaged, agile and resilient network, you’ll be able to adapt to the new environment more quickly. Understand the power of your network, invest in it, and use it to your advantage.

Looking to be part of a franchise network? See what’s on offer by visiting our UK Franchise Directory.

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