Women in Franchising: Be your own boss, invest in a franchise

Franchising has a lot to offer enterprising women, reports Rachel Spaul

Franchising today offers a kaleidoscope of opportunity for people wanting to set up in business for themselves with plenty to appeal to women, including children's education & fitness, women's health & fitness, artistic concepts such as ceramics, retail, and care services.

Franchising offers the flexibility to work full or part-time to fit work around family life, on your own, or with a friend or partner.

The primary barrier to business ownership for women is making the decision to strike out on their own in business. Many of you reading this will already have made a long list of reasons why you 'can't' be a business owner and right at the top will be self-confidence. With training, support and encouragement part of genuine business format systems, franchising is ideally suited to women who have the 'get-up-and-go', but not the confidence.

Advice and guidance on identifying a franchise, researching opportunities and funding your business is readily available at franchise exhibitions, from the British Franchise Association (BFA), franchise consultants and publishers Franchise Development Services, the high street banks, franchise lawyers, franchise magazines and internet franchise searches such as BeTheBoss.com. Simply by researching what franchising involves and speaking with franchisors and franchisees, many of the concerns on your list can be crossed off.

Speaking to women in the Women in Franchising area at the recent franchise exhibition in Birmingham, Rosemary Conley of Rosemary Conley Diet and Fitness Centres described this as removing the 'false ceilings' that are preventing you from achieving your dreams so that you can move gently towards your goal. She further advised listeners: 'You can only conquer your fears by doing what you fear most.'

Taken on face value, franchising may sound like a cosy business where the franchisor will make sure you have everything you need and act as your life raft keeping you afloat. While this is partly true, you are still running your own business and will have to work hard to make the business a success. You should therefore evaluate yourself to see if you have the drive, determination and support of your family to succeed.

It has been commented on by professionals in the industry that women inherently possess many of the skills necessary to be successful in franchising, such as the ability to follow a system, listen and build lasting relationships, focus on every tiny detail, prioritise and multi-task. Previously underrepresented in the industry women currently account for 21 per cent* of all franchisees with a number of successful female franchisors such as Rosemary Conley and Angie Davies from Monkey Music, who both won awards at the BFA 2005 Franchisor of the Year Awards.

However, despite the growing number of women entering the industry there is still a significantly smaller number than men. Several organisations are tackling this issue through the dissemination of information, such as exhibition organiser Venture Marketing which, for the first time this year, staged a women's networking area at the National Franchise Exhibition, Birmingham, giving women the opportunity to share ideas and experiences and to network with other women.

The BFA is also actively promoting franchising to women through its work with CREATE, a partnership of national business support organisations which have joined together to help people who are considering self-employment - particularly through franchising - with specific knowledge and experience in supporting women, individuals from ethnic minorities, over 50s and young people.

For many women, the main attractions of franchising are the opportunity to be their own boss, to fit work around family, financial independence and a route back to work at the same or a higher level after having a family. Rosemary summed this up perfectly in her presentation, as women looking for some 'me time'.

If you want to be your own boss as a franchisee remember to thoroughly research the franchise. As a starting point turn to pages 104 and 110 for an introduction to franchising and page 139 for a list of questions to ask franchisors.

Beating the odds
Franchising gave Joanna Dase from Bournemouth the opportunity to move to the UK from Canada.

As a single mum following the death of her husband, she wanted to be closer to her family, but having left her job as a family counsellor and quit her law degree to care for her husband, felt she didn't have the skills or the finances to achieve the same standard of living that she enjoyed in Canada. Joanna recalls: 'I'd gained weight while looking after my husband and went to a Curves women-only gym to help lose it. I have a passion for helping women and decided to buy one of the franchises in Canada.'

Running a Curves franchise in Canada and acting as mentor to new franchisees gave Joanna the confidence and resources to make the move to the UK. Just eight months following the opening of her new business in Bournemouth she could afford a four-bedroom house. She currently owns two Curves women-only 30-minute fitness centres and is an Area Director, which means she provides ongoing support to other franchisees.

Joanna has found running her own business hard work, but both personally and financially rewarding. She advises: 'If you feel unable to provide, or are afraid of providing, for yourself and your family because you don't have relevant experience, franchising gives you the opportunity to have a very satisfying and rewarding business and to look after yourself and your family.'