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An overview of how B2B franchises can stay afloat in this market
A white-collar franchise can cover many different industry sectors such as consultancy, coaching, financial and legal services, recruitment, IT, and more. And whilst the nature of the business model can vary a lot, it’s safe to say that most white-collar franchises have weathered the storm brought about by COVID-19 better than a lot of the retail and restaurant franchises, who were struck the hardest by global lockdowns.
Navigating a U.S. franchise organization through those stormy waters has certainly been a challenge. But how have franchisors dealt with the added complexity of the European market, where national government decisions were – and remain – mainly uncoordinated, and the sentiment in the marketplace seems to go through waves of fear and frustration at very different levels of intensity and completely out of sync?
What are some of the changes that white-collar franchises are making that apply equally across most of the European countries with their distinct cultures and economic realities?
In reflecting back on our cumulative 30 years of experience in the B2B consulting business it became clear that whilst the disruptions caused by the COVID situation all feel new and different, most of our franchisees already have much of the experience needed to navigate this crisis.
Depending on the business model the franchisees will be contacting senior business decision-makers when looking to get them to sign up for their services. This requires a confident and experienced type of franchisee, many of whom have navigated ups and downs before, have experienced volatility and resource scarcity firsthand, and know what it is like to go out and create new ways to add value and find new clients.
These things are the essence of entrepreneurship: value creation, leveraging resources, passionate sales and marketing programs, and perseverance towards your entrepreneurial long-term goals. And I guess we’re kind of going back to those basics as we’re continuing to work in an objectively grim environment with many of our clients.
It is important for the franchisor but also for each franchisee individually to keep their fingers on the pulse of the changing market, albeit virtually. Reviewing and improving social media accounts and checking for drops or shifts in clicks, views, and connections will signal instantly how you’re doing and will manifest in changing online conversations.
It is only natural that search trends will shift from topics that are no longer at the forefront of customers’ minds. Opportunity can arise for franchise networks that are able to determine where the conversation has shifted if the franchisor’s marketing team are quick to respond to it with meaningful and engaging content.
Small business owners have to make sense of the numerous online analytics tools that let them see what search terms are trending, including on Google and Amazon, and have to be marketing savvy enough to take advantage of these tools. This is clearly where we as franchisors have been taking the lead and are pushing out lots of content in partnership with the network. A beautiful example of the power of franchising.
Maintaining current customer relationships is critical in a B2B environment where you don’t rely on footfall but are providing services to a smaller number of clients. Communicating effectively with existing customers is key to building trust and keeping the business relationship alive during times of social distancing.
For us, reaching out to both customers and prospective clients personally to check-in and maintain the relationship has been key. While there is an economic reality and a need to maintain sales and revenue, it was equally important to not be shortsighted and focus the dialogue on business aspects only.
The current pandemic was and still is an opportunity to help deepen these client connections, so be sure to help them address their human needs as much as their business needs whenever possible.
To give you an example, in the spring of 2020 – right in the midst of the first wave of lockdowns – we launched a hugely successful social media campaign with the hashtag #HereForYou. Franchisees were sharing pictures from their home offices and personal lives during lockdown and combining that with the offer to give free advice and support to clients during those unprecedented times.
Similar to connecting with and meeting the needs of customers during changing times, considering the needs of your employees is also critical. The economic reality for many businesses right now is layoffs, furloughs, and equally awful outcomes.
However, in times like these it is more important than ever to be a strong leader – so be transparent, accountable, and over-communicate. Transparency for the franchisor means letting the franchisees know what is happening to the business from a revenue and business model perspective. The same is true for franchisees and their communication with employees.
While many owners tend to keep this kind of information confidential, sharing more than normal and letting employees understand the economic reality in the short term can help them understand your tactical decisions, builds trust, and can create value for you in the long term.
Accountability means when tough decisions need to be made, we take responsibility for those decisions and shield managers from the blame.
“Maintaining current customer relationships is critical in a B2B environment where you don’t rely on footfall but are providing services to a smaller number of clients”
Over communicating means exactly that – more communication to employees is better than less – and it is important to remember that, while most franchisees in our B2B world are accustomed to dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity, some franchisees and most employees are not as comfortable or experienced under these kinds of conditions. We are all in this together, so the human connection is perhaps more critical than ever before to our cumulative success.
One final learning was how important it is to stay connected to your entrepreneurial ecosystem in order to stimulate higher levels of creativity and innovation. As we all had to make decisions in uncharted territory, community and industry connections like the IFA and the national franchise associations are vital and can be sources of opportunity recognition, new ideas, a better understanding of public funding programs, and – most importantly at times – reminders of inspiration and resilience. Entrepreneurs everywhere are feeling the pressure of this pandemic and the more we can share best practices, empathize, and, to a limited healthy extent, commiserate, the stronger our franchise operations will be.
Dr. Arnd Halbach is the executive director EMEA for Expense Reduction Analysts
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