It's the level of support that makes the difference!

So, you’ve decided to invest in a franchise, and there are several interesting opportunities you want to explore in depth before making your final choice, says David Glover

This is a crucial stage of the investment process, because the decision you make now will have a considerable affect on your future earnings, and your job satisfaction. Now is when you should carefully compare the amount of support you will receive from each of your shortlisted franchise providers. It makes good sense to place the support factor very high on your ranking list when evaluating the pros and cons of alternative franchises.

Unfortunately, because there are so many things to think about when you’re comparing franchises, it’s easy to overlook the importance of choosing one that comes complete with a comprehensive support package covering all angles. How important is the support? Well, once you’ve downed the last glass of celebratory champagne after signing on the dotted line, it’s good to know that you won’t be left to fend for yourself in your new venture. Whether you will be working as your own boss for the very first time, or have some previous experience, it can be very reassuring to know that there will always be a friendly expert on hand to help you.

Most franchises offer a certain amount of support, but the actual nature and level of that support can vary tremendously from one company to another. During the first weeks and months of a new franchise, it is invaluable for the franchise owner to have a named contact they can rely upon for helpful and sympathetic advice whenever the going gets tough.

Good support, for example will involve a franchise support team member popping in regularly to visit and encourage you, and being readily available to answer your questions by email or phone – without making you feel like an idiot for asking so many questions! Poor support, on the other hand, might only consist of a telephone helpline where the person on the end of the phone is not even responding with knowledge gained from personal hands-on experience, but simply reading answers from a list of FAQs.

If a franchise features a comprehensive support package, it’s a very encouraging sign. It shows that the company is realistic in expecting franchise owners to encounter difficulties when setting up and running their new business. And it confirms that the franchisor is fully committed to providing the high level of ongoing support that is essential to help franchise owners make it successfully through and beyond the challenging early stages of their new business.

The benchmark for franchise owner support

Taking a look at the support package offered by Caremark, a leading home care franchise brand, will give you a good insight into the key elements that go into making an exemplary support programme. Few, if any, other franchise organisations offer such a broadly based integrated package. You can be sure that if any of your shortlisted franchises offer support approaching that from Caremark, they are worthy contenders for your investment.

Caremark’s start-up support includes Initial franchise owner training to build their confidence in running their own home care business. Specialised guidance is given in using the company’s customised computer software. Stationery, promotional material and official corporate home care uniforms are provided. Pages are set up on the Caremark corporate website, together with email and hosting. Franchise owners also gain membership of a recognised professional body, and of course, licensing rights to their defined territory. The whole start-up package is tied together by Caremark’s comprehensive home care business plan, which provides a step-by-step guide to getting the franchise on track and thriving. But that’s only the beginning.

Close partnership with franchise owners

A key factor in the success of the Caremark Franchise concept is the way that the company works in close partnership with its franchise owners on an ongoing basis. Caremark’s home care franchise start-up and support package has been developed and refined over nearly a decade, by taking account of the honest and constructive feedback received from franchisees since the Caremark brand began in 2005.

The objective of the support elements of the package is to provide ongoing input and guidance that keeps delivering tangible benefits well beyond the company’s initial two-week residential training course. In fact, the initial training is just the starting point for an on-going series of regular training activities and initiatives. The purpose is to keep franchise owners up-to-date with changes and developments within the care industry and fully motivated while running their home care business.

Regular hands-on workshops

Regular practical workshops are held throughout the year to provide franchise owners with hands-on opportunities for hearing about new care and operational developments, as well as learning tips and techniques to help improve business efficiency. Crucially, these workshops also function as a forum in which information and ideas can be exchanged. Various issues are covered during the workshops, such as an exploration of customer acquisition methods, or details of emerging markets.

Staff training to high standards

Caremark offers a selection of comprehensive training packages for franchisees’ staff. These are designed to improve their skills as well as helping to ensure they are qualified to deliver the very high standards of care for which Caremark is renowned. The company also has an ever-expanding training library of e-learning media that can be accessed over the internet at any time.

Face-to-face support meetings

Another vital element of Caremark’s support programme is that each franchise owner has a Regional Support Manager as his or her regular point of contact. This is someone they can talk to whenever they need assistance with business or operational matters. The Support Manager regularly communicates with and visits the franchise owner, providing the opportunity for an expert to answer questions, provide useful advice and assess the progress and development of the franchise owner’s business. The face-to-face meetings also provide an opportunity to discuss any issues that may be affecting the success or development of the franchise. Caremark places great importance in maintaining regular and close contact with their franchise owners, so there is at least one phone call every week, and a visit every month.

Part of the Caremark family

The regional structure helps to keep things on a more personal level and illustrates the way in which franchise owners really are an integral and significant part of the Caremark family. Regular regional meetings allow individuals to get together with their fellow franchise owners to compare notes, ideas and experiences. There is also an annual Caremark conference, which is an important occasion that enables franchisees and Caremark’s management and support team to gather together to share important industry information and celebrate the efforts of franchisees with awards. Caremark recognises achievements and rewards success.

Once you begin to look out for the high standards of franchise owner support offered by committed and successful brands such as Caremark, you will be quickly be able to eliminate less supportive companies from your search for the perfect franchise.