Starting a franchise can take three to four months from your initial research to the final purchase, according to advice from the Small Business Administration (SBA). After you’ve signed the contract, it could take another two to six months until you’re ready to welcome customers.
That said, running your own franchise can be rewarding — and lucrative. Look to these dozen steps that can guide you from conception to opening day.
1. List your top companies or businesses.
When putting together a list of franchises you’d like to own, start by thinking about your favorite businesses. Consider your strengths, weaknesses and passions against what you think could make you money.
Franchises are available in nearly every industry:
Educational and learning
Health and fitness
2. Research the franchise market.
Turn your eye to the market in your neighborhood or the community you intend to operate in. Consider leaning on the resources at your local Small Business Development Center or a business school at a nearby college or university.
You can gather information about market conditions in your area, including demand and predictions for economic growth, through the SBA, the Census Bureau and private market firms to help you choose which franchise to open.
Consider reaching out to people who own franchises that you’re interested in. Ask for advice about the process and their thoughts on whether the process felt worth it.
3. Evaluate investment and franchise costs.
After you’ve pinpointed a market, research and compare the costs associated with your top picks, including:
Estimated initial investment
Requirements for working capital
Estimated annual revenue
Some franchise owners — called franchisors — require a minimum net worth for franchisees that helps establish confidence in your money management skills, general experience and overall commitment.
4. Request a franchise disclosure statement.
After weighing your initial research, it’s time to zero in on a franchise and request company details. Reach out to the franchisor for a copy of its franchise disclosure document (FDD), which contains detailed legal information about its franchise group along with financial data like the average gross revenue of its locations.
Sometimes you can find FDDs available for free from online databases around the web. Just make sure you obtain the most recent version, as franchisors release a new FDD every year.
Also consider the retention rates for your chosen franchise. A retention rate is the percentage of locations that close each year, and it can provide valuable information about your chance of success. Located in section 20 of the FDD, retention rates are often broken down by state, so you can see how many were forced to close in your area compared to how many are in operation.
What else can I find in the franchise disclosure document?
The franchise disclosure document — commonly called an FDD — covers more than 20 elements to buying a franchise, such as fee requirements, estimated initial investments, a litigation history, proprietary and patent details and performance and revenue details.
It’s the legal information a franchisor is required to disclose to you, the franchisee, as part of due diligence before you invest in the company. The document was referred to as a uniform franchise offering circular until July 2007, when the requirement was updated by the FCC.
The franchisor is required to provide you with the FDD at least 14 days before you sign a contract, though it’s a good idea to request a copy earlier in your initial phases of research. You can typically download a PDF of the FDD, though some franchisors might be willing to send you a hard copy.
5. Consider forming an LLC or corporation.
Purchasing a franchise as a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation, rather than as a sole proprietor, provides financial and legal protection of your personal assets.
As an LLC or corporation, you aren’t held personally accountable for debt incurred by the franchise. As a sole proprietor, on the other hand, you are legally indistinguishable from your business — which means you must cover business debt out of pocket, if necessary.
The same goes for lawsuits: As an LLC or corporation, your personal assets are covered if someone decides to sue your franchise, while as a sole proprietorship, your personal finances might be on the line.
Now it’s time to draft a road map for your franchise. A good business plan can help you analyze costs, predict sales and estimate profits before signing an agreement. Thinking deeply about what to expect in the months and years ahead arms you with the information to confidently take the next step — or provide pause if you’re not quite ready.
A successful business plan typically includes seven key components:
Financial analysis and funding needs
A business plan is necessary if you plan to apply for a loan to help with startup costs. Lenders want to know that you have a viable plan for turning a profit and sustaining your business over the long haul, because it helps them evaluate whether you’ll be able to pay it back.
7. Get the financing you need.
If you don’t have the initial investment costs at the ready, you may need to tap into outside financing to launch or run your franchise. Many banks, the SBA and franchise-specific lenders offer financial help for would-be franchisees.
Other options include crowdfunding or lenders based entirely online. Online lenders like Kiva and BlueVine aren’t part of the traditional financial industry populated by banks and credit unions. These digital lenders tend to leverage technology for more streamlined or automated approval processes. You could also use an online business marketplace like Lendio or Fundera to compare a network of funding options in one spot.
Some franchisors like the UPS Store, Chem-Dry Carpet Cleaning and Cruise Planners offer financing assistance, either through in-house programs or partnerships with third-party lenders. For example, Cruise Planners finances 50% of your franchise costs over the first 12 months, while Chem-Dry offers in-house financing for the initial licencing fee. This information is available in section 10 of the FDD.
Make sure that the funding option you choose meshes well with your business plan, as you’ll be required to pay back accumulating interest. You may also have to cover origination and late fees if you miss a payment.
8. Apply for the franchise and an interview.
How you apply depends on the franchise you choose. For example, McDonalds allows you to fill out an application online, while Chick-Fil-A requires an expression of interest form to get the ball rolling.
Plan to attend interviews with the company, which allows time to parse through important details and determine if you’re a match for the franchise.
Expect questions that cover your plans, experience, finances and support, including your:
Goals, timeline and territory
Previous franchise and industry experience
Reasons for choosing the industry and franchise
Personal support system
Financial capital and business plan
An exit strategy
9. Review and sign the franchise contract or agreement.
If after your interview, you and the franchisor decide it’s a good match for the franchise, it’s time for the paperwork.
You’re required to complete a franchise contract, which is a binding legal document that details the commitment you’re making to each and the franchisor’s expectations around:
Location and territory
Equipment and operations
Royalties and ongoing fees
Advertising and marketing
Trademarks, patents and signage
Training and ongoing support
Quality control and insurance
Termination and cancellation policies
Franchise contracts come with terms of five to 20 years. At the end of the term, you can often choose whether to renew the contract or discontinue your franchise.
At contract signing, you’ll likely need to also pay any upfront fees or initial investment expenses. Talk with the franchisor about preferred payment methods so that you’re prepared.
10. Comply with state and local permit requirements.
Most state and local governments require you to obtain licenses before launching your franchise — including health permits, occupational licenses, tax registrations and business licenses — or face fees.
While most states require the franchisor to apply for business licensing, a handful of states require a franchisee to register:
You may also need to register for a license on a county or city level. Your franchisor should be able to help you anticipate permits required for your area and navigate the legal requirements. The SBA also provides information about franchise licences that depend on your industry and state.
11. Build your location and assemble your team.
The franchisor provides you with the essential elements of preparing your space — like signage, blueprints, fixtures and general decor — but you’re in charge of hiring contractors for the construction work.
You’re also responsible for hiring and training employees. Most franchisors provide training resources for franchisees, even sending a representative to help bring everyone up to speed about company branding, culture and expectations. Take their advice around recruitment and retention of qualified and motivated staff — especially those who may have worked for a branch of the franchise previously.
12. Stage a grand opening.
In the days and weeks leading up to opening day, you’ll want to generate an awareness of your brand within the surrounding community. Most franchisors provide a game plan in the form of marketing assistance, and it might even send a corporate team to help ensure that your grand opening goes smoothly.
When preparing for your big day, a few tips can help make it a success:
Choose a date with high traffic. Your opening date and time should be ideal for attracting as many people as possible.
Advertise to your local market. This might include TV and radio ads, print media, coupons or flyers, local apps like Yelp and Nextdoor, and even social media tools like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
Send press releases to local media outlets. Reach out to news stations two weeks in advance, then follow up a couple of days before you open.
Invite friends, family and city officials. In addition to a support circle of close family and friends, send a note to city council members and the mayor to invite them to your new business. This can cement your position as a member of the community.
Decorate the store with grand opening paraphernalia. Balloons, ribbons and grand opening signage attracts attention and generates a festive feeling.
Organize exciting activities on opening day. First impressions are everything, and you want to leave guests feeling positive about your business. Think about offering door prizes, a giveaway or even live music from a DJ or band.
Promote your business and make it easier for customers to find you
If you’re a first-time entrepreneur, it could be tricky to qualify for a small business loan. That’s where personal loans for business come in handy.
Personal loans typically come with fewer requirements than a business loan, with some lenders providing funding in a business day, though they often max out at $50,000. Expect rates from 4% to 36%, depending on your personal credit history.
A rollover for business startups — or ROBS — is an arrangement that allows you to invest money from your retirement account directly into your business without paying taxes, fees or interest. This might be an option if you have more than $50,000 in retirement accounts — though it comes with significant risk, because you’re putting your retirement financing on the line. There’s also a higher chance than usual that your business will be audited, because the IRS views ROBS as a tax strategy — basically, a way to avoid paying taxes.
Loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) are known for low interest rates. The SBA offers 11 categories of business financing, from short-term funding to commercial mortgages. With the right background and business plan, you could qualify for up to $5.5 million. However, eligibility requirements are often strict, and the application lengthy.
If you own a home, you might be able to borrow against the equity you’ve built up over time through a home equity loan or line of credit. These personal loans provide either a lump sum or pool of credit you can tap into over time, either way providing the money you need to pay for your startup costs. However, because your financing is tied to your home, you risk losing your property if you’re unable to repay what you owe.
If you aren’t able to raise the money on your own, consider bringing another entrepreneur on board. Not only can partners ease the startup workload, but they can also assume part of the risk, taking some of the weight off your shoulders. Keep in mind that a business partnership requires collaboration, and that your partner’s reputation will likely rub off on you — whether good or bad. You might also run into conflicts of interest, where a decision that’s best for the business is at odds with you or your partner’s personal wishes.
The success of your franchise is more than the brand you choose. Like any business, your location, consumer demand, economic climate and employees all contribute to your bottom line.
That said, these franchises have a strong record of generating six figures in income for their franchise owners, according to market research firm Franchise Business Review. Refer to Section 19 of your franchisor’s FDD to see a list of operating expenses and other details that can help you calculate an estimated profit
Locations in the US and Canada
Initial cash investment
Net worth required
Total startup investment
Average annual gross revenue per franchisee location
City Wide Maintenance
Sales and management of janitorial services
$200,000 to $360,000
DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen
$200,000 to $400,000
$36,500 to $334,925
The Goddard School
Early childhood education
$259,000 to $266,500
$750,000 to 2 million
$679,100 to $863,600
$1.8 million for franchises open at least 18 months
Pinch A Penny
$70,000 to $150,000
$289,375 to $411,200
Two Men and a Truck
$160,000 to $400,000
$179,000 to $585,000
$1.2 million for stores open at least 3 years
FirstLight Home Care
$112,881 to $199,376
$64,100 to $154,300
Checkers & Rally’s
$203,600 to $945,000
NaturaLawn of America
$47,500 to $112,650
$8,075 to $52,075
$63,525 to $169,575
$582,828 for franchises open at least 3 years in midsize markets
Data is based on Franchise Business Review’s list of the most profitable franchises as of June 2020.
Buying a franchise vs. starting a business
If business is in your blood, deciding whether to open a franchise or start your own business depends on your experience, marketing skills and the kind of model you’re looking for.
Buying a franchise
Starting a business
Hefty, but detailed in the FDD
Depends on your business plan, though varies widely if you’re treading in new territory
Limited — you’re held to branding, trademark, marketing and legal guidelines in order to keep your franchise license
You have full control over branding, marketing, merchandise and community outreach
Built-in customer base due to brand familiarity
Zero up front, meaning you’ll build up your customer base from scratch
Corporate team that can advise and assist you as needed
No built-in support team, so you may need to rely on community groups for local entrepreneurs
Royalties on an annual or monthly basis
Full control over your business expenses, which could be a pro or con depending on the success of your business
Theoretically, you’re using a proven system and can weigh the franchisor’s retention rate beforehand
More risk, since 50% of small business startups fail within five years
Ability to get financing
Many franchisors provide assistance, either in-house or through a third-party partnership
You’re on your own to secure the financing
Franchisor typically dictates requirements for your level of involvement
More professional freedom, because you can work when and where you’d like
Case study: Opening a Critter Control franchise
Let’s say you want to open a Critter Control franchise in San Jose, California — a city with a population of about 1 million people. At an average $582,828 gross revenue for that market, according to Critter Control, here’s what you could reasonably expect.
Average estimated initial investment
56% of gross sales yearly
8% of gross sales due annually
To estimate your profits in the first year of opening, you’d subtract the franchise fee, initial investment, operating costs and royalties from the average gross revenue.
Using this equation, you can expect to pocket about $23,168 after your first year in business.
Because the franchise fee and initial investment are one-time fees, you should be able to make more money in the following year — some $209,818, assuming your average gross revenue stays about the same. As the business grows — and your gross sales increase — your profit is expected to increase over time, barring unforeseen circumstances in the market and industry.
Starting a franchise might be the right choice if you’ve got a solid game plan for raising funds and like the idea of following a tried-and-true business model. But if you’re still on the fence or want to research other options, browse our small business guides to starting, buying or growing a business.
It depends on the company. For example, with Chick-Fil-A, you must wait at least two years to file another application. If you’re hoping for a second chance, reach out to the company directly to inquire.
No. You are considered the sole employer when you start a franchise, unless your contract explicitly states otherwise.
It depends on the franchisor. Refer to the FDD to learn about operation requirements as a franchisee.
Amy Stoltenberg is a staff writer covering all things travel, shopping and lifestyle. After earning a BA at Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked as technical designer in corporate fashion before opting for a career with unlimited travel time. When her laptop's closed, you can find her wandering around Los Angeles looking for hole-in-the-wall eateries and plotting her way to all 50 states (she's currently at 28).
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