Chief on Washington's list of questions for franchisors and business-opportunity sellers was how much money would be required for the initial investment. If the figure was too high, he knew not to bother investigating further. If the figure was within his reach, he proceeded, asking questions about the potential franchisor's or business-opportunity seller's involvement in his work.
"The most important thing is how much support you're going to get," says Washington. He asked how much training and what kinds of advertising would be provided, and how often and in what way his franchise or business opportunity would be reviewed by the parent company.
If you'll be selling a product, be sure to ask if samples and raw materials are included with the initial investment, Brown advises. If not, you'll need to find out how much these will cost. Even if raw materials are included, you'll need to know how much it will cost to replenish your supplies later. It is also important to know if the franchisor or business-opportunity seller will help you find a location for your business. Ask for references, too, and take along a notebook to jot down key points so you won't forget later.
What it all boils down to, Brown says, is: "Exactly what do I get for my initial investment?" and "How much does it really cost to get everything I need to get started?"
It is advisable to do your homework before signing up. Regardless of what a franchisor or a business-opportunity seller tells you, Brown and Washington recommend checking references and contacting the Better Business Bureau in the state where a particular company's headquarters are located. You can also check with the Federal Trade Commission online (http://www.ftc.gov), or by calling (800) 554-5706. If a company has had a history of customer complaints, for instance, you can either eliminate it from consideration, Washington says, or ask more pointed questions later. You also need to allow yourself time to consult with your spouse or other family members who may be affected, he adds.
If you feel hesitant about asking questions, remember what's at stake: If you avoid asking a question now, you might be sorry later. "When you're buying a product, you want to know the product is good," says Washington, adding that you won't be happy with any business that doesn't meet your expectations.
A shy attendee can lead into specific questions by asking something general about an exhibit, Brown says. Exhibitors are happy to talk. "They're hungry for you to ask questions," she says. "They want to grab your attention. They love for you to ask questions."
If you don't want to wait in line at a crowded booth, you can leave a business card. Most exhibitors encourage attendees to drop off their cards by leaving a box or bowl out for cards, and many even hold drawings, offering prizes ranging from food baskets to computer systems.
Because exhibitors pay a lot of money to participate in a trade show, they want to get the most for their money. That means that they will take the time to contact you later. By waiting for them to contact you after the show, you'll be able to ask questions without feeling rushed or on the spot.