Online Franchising Tools: Interested in franchising? Peruse these web resources first.
by Reed Richardson
From blogs to wikis to encyclopedias to lists of hot business opportunities, the Internet offers a vast treasure trove of knowledge and insight previously unavailable to budding franchisees, of which we're offering but a sampling below. Of course, like much of what can be found on the Web, the information found on these sites is sometimes anecdotal, frequently incomplete, and often anonymously sourced. And though the web resources listed were generally chosen for their independence from specific franchise promotion, due diligence still requires that you refer them as merely a guide on your franchise search rather than as gospel.
FTC Franchise Buyer's Guide (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/invest/inv05.shtm) To get a objective primer on franchise buying without the spin of an industry group or sales pitch of a franchise-affiliated blog, check out the Federal Trade Commission's site first. It provides dozens of great points that a budding franchisee should consider before leaping into an investment.
American Association of Franchises & Dealers (http://www.aafd.org/) The franchise industry's professional organization, AAFD has a large website that is a good starting place when beginning your franchise research. Although most of the website is geared toward insider news and promotion of its accreditation standards, it also features a very helpful "Road Map to Selecting a Franchise," which includes "8 Things to Look for in a Franchise," critical questions to ask during the franchise buying process, and some warning signs to avoid. In addition, the AAFD site offers a searchable guide to experienced franchise lawyers and a franchise community registry of participating companies.
Franchise Pundit (http://www.franchisepundit.com/) Billing itself as "the inside scoop on franchises," the Franchise Pundit blog is primarily written by Ryan Knoll, an investment attorney and founder of several small businesses. Although posts are somewhat infrequent (every other week, roughly), they tend to cover industry news or comment on emerging trends, often providing a well-deserved dose of skepticism against the over-hyped claims of many franchisors. (A recent post of Knoll's incisively analyzed the reasons why a particular smoothie franchise location was likely doomed to failure.) In sizing up business opportunities, prospects for success are rated with taglines such as "I wouldn't buy it," "I'm neutral on it," or "Great idea, interesting."
Unhappy Franchisee (http://www.unhappyfranchisee.com/) With listings of (mostly anonymous) complaints broken down by company, this blog and its commenters offer up plenty of sobering, worst-case scenarios of franchises going (or gone) wrong. But for some first-hand insight into the challenges of running one's own business and the critical franchisor-franchisee relationship, it is a worthy place to peruse. Keep in mind, however, that this blog lives up to its billing, primarily attracting those disgruntled by their franchise experience for whatever reason. Also, it is by no means comprehensive, and tends to funnel its readers' wrath toward a tiny fraction of companies in the franchise universe.
The Franchise King (http://www.thefranchiseking.com/) Written by franchise selection consultant Joel Libava, author of "The Essential Steps to Researching a Franchise Opportunity," this website includes a daily blog, web video tips, a franchise business model primer, a franchisee "personality test," and an "Ask The Franchise King" question and answer forum. It's in his blog, though, that Libava brings a deeper perspective to franchising, often pegging larger business (and philosophical) lessons to news reports or industry statistics.
Blue MauMau (http://www.bluemaumau.org/) Much more than just a blog, Blue MauMau is a fairly comprehensive website dealing with all things franchise-related. It includes a news section, advice columns, reader forums, and a basic directory of more than 2,400 franchises and business opportunities. Also found on the site are more nuts-and-bolts features like buying and failure rate tools (these last of these, however, featured statistics only from 2008 and earlier). Occasionally, site authors even contribute original reporting and interviews. Perhaps one of the most useful features of the site-particularly for those just starting their research-is its "Franchi-pedia" page, which helpfully explains dozens of legal and industry terms commonly found in franchising, like "churning," "imputed wages," and "UFOC."
Franchise Gator (http://www.franchisegator.com/) An online franchise selector tool, Franchise Gator lets the franchise curious investigate their options across four different criteria-industry, sub-industry, location by state, and liquid capital. By customizing these criteria to your individual situation, you can quickly hone in on franchise opportunities that make the most sense for you. For instance, a budding entrepreneur interested in opening a restaurant could easily be overwhelmed by the dozens of choices available, but plug in details like sub-industry (burger-focused), location (Florida), and liquid capital limit ($90,000) and up pops one good candidate. From there, you can delve into that franchise's details page and then fill out a quick online form to get more information directly from the targeted company.
New York Franchise Law Blog (http://www.franchiselawsolutions.com/blog/) Written by franchise attorney Charles Internicola, the New York Franchise Law Blog digs into the deeper legal issues surrounding franchises and franchisee/franchisor disputes, many of which are applicable far beyond the local New York area. Internicola's analysis is much more detailed than your typical franchise blog fare, delving into difficult franchise issues like encroachment, promotion and marketing, and intellectual property right of entrepreneurs, to name a few.
WikidFranchise (http://www.wikidfranchise.org/) Similar to Blue MauMau's Frachi-pedia page, WikidFranchise seeks to build an online document collection to better educate people before they undertake a franchise business. And much like its online inspiration Wikipedia, this site's information is gathered, assembled, and edited by approved members, many of whom were formerly franchisees of large, well-known companies. Fairly current (stories and and Twitter updates are posted nearly every day), the site's search engine lets you sort by franchise company name but, at times, casts a wide net, including a story about a Burger King franchise dispute in a McDonalds query if the latter is mentioned in passing, for example.
Fast Casual (http://www.fastcasual.com/) Tailored toward the quick, sit-down restaurant/café franchisee, the Fast Casual website offers readers industry updates, case studies, and a research center. With lots of links to and stories about equipment, operations, and the logistics elements of the restaurant business, the site is geared more toward current than prospective franshisees, but it still offers budding fast casual dining entrepreneurs a flavor of what they might expect.
FranBest (http://www.franbest.com/) Part discussion board, part industry news aggregator, FranBest also brings a cold-eyed approach to the franchise game, although author Sean Kelly, founder of his own marketing company, admits to a "sappy" belief that the only reason for starting a new business is to "change the world." Closely tied in and cross-linked to other franchise blogs, FranBest tends to offer topical, yet occasional posts that can generate intense debate among commenters. (Kelly also posts near daily Twitter updates at http://twitter.com/FranchisePick.)