This is one of the most fun topics I've ever had the chance to write about, because it is a perfect metaphor for the power of franchising. Let me start with a caveat: I'm probably one of the most technically incompetent business executives in America.
Yes, I have figured out the basic components of Microsoft Word and I finally get the e-mail thing. The web-I've been there a few times. I once even bought a pair of pants through a website, but it was challenging enough (and I had help every step of the process) that I'm not sure when I'll try anything that complicated again. eBay? Forget about it.
Here's where my life gets tricky. If I need to do anything different from the few technological tasks I've mastered, I'm lost. I'm the manifestation of the vast opportunity represented by tech franchises. I know I have to live and work in the technological universe that exists today, but I don't know how, and I'm afraid or perhaps frustrated because of my ignorance.
Tech franchises have been set up to support the needs of people like me, and there are many of us. It really doesn't matter if the problems I run into are software- or hardware-based, I'm equally lost in either case and need help. I've got the resources to pay for assistance, and, when I get stuck, I just want to be able to call someone who will make things better.
There are three basic types of tech-based franchises. I classify them as educational, creative and troubleshooting. The key attributes of each include:
- Educational. These franchises provide education to people to combat the ignorance that exists about tech matters. These franchises usually focus on the software side of franchising by teaching people how to use various common programs effectively. This could be something as basic as Word or e-mail or other popular programs like PhotoShop. Some of these franchises are even aimed at children as their primary market. The franchise operation may offer classes or one-on-one instruction, depending on the needs of the customer. The intent of these franchise companies is to educate people to the point where the fear or frustration is replaced with confidence and wonder at what computer programs are capable of producing for anyone with the knowledge to run them properly.
- Creative. Rather than try to educate customers, these franchises are simply going to do the work they need done. The most common variant of this approach involves the creation of websites and other web-based services that most companies need in today's market. These franchises can come into a small company and set up the websites, the e-mail systems and all the other back-office needs to get the company set up for e-commerce, all for one set fee. The customer doesn't need to know how all this work is done-only that it is done correctly and works effectively.
- Troubleshooting. This is my personal favorite. These franchises fix technology. The problems could be hardware- or software-related-whatever is wrong, they'll fix it at one low price. Most of these companies have a small fixed location where customers can bring their computer to be fixed or will go to the customers on request for an extra charge. Most of the issues they deal with are incredibly fast and easy to solve for someone with broad expertise about computers but are impossible to deal with for a tech idiot like me.
One of the neatest parts about the opportunity associated with tech franchises, and the reason this area is such a great metaphor for franchising in general, is that you don't need to be any more tech savvy than me to be a success with many of them. The franchise companies aren't looking for a "geek" to be a franchisee-quite the contrary, they are looking for a businessperson who can hire geeks to do the work.
Your role as a franchisee in most of the tech franchises is centered on marketing and selling the services the business offers. In a nutshell, the franchisee drives the customers to the geeks who do the work. These companies don't want you pulling motherboards from computers or running scans for the latest virus-they want you out finding people like me to become valuable customers for the business.
In some cases, particularly in the creative category, the franchise company itself has set up the infrastructure to deliver the completed product to the customer. In that situation, you don't even have to set up a shop or hire any geeks-you simply go out and get the orders, which the franchise company fulfills for you.
In some of the educational type franchises, you will become knowledgable enough to be able to teach classes or tutor individuals on specific types of programs. These franchises are often appealing to people who want to be more hands-on in their business, though the main franchisee role usually still revolves around marketing or selling the business services.
The most interesting aspect of tech franchises is that the need isn't going anywhere. This doesn't mean that these tech franchises are some kind of a guaranteed ticket to success-just that the opportunity that underlies them continues to grow.
As with any franchise opportunity, doing a complete investigation (including directly contacting a significant number of the existing franchisees) is the key to determining if a tech franchise is right for you. A number of tech franchises have had problems when they get franchisees that don't understand the role and think technical knowledge is the key to success, which is almost never the case. If you're careful and thorough in your research, you will come away with a good idea of the role of the franchisee and the keys to success in the franchise, and then you're set to make an informed decision about whether these opportunities are right for you.
Jeff Elgin has almost 20 years of experience franchising, both as a franchisee and a senior franchise company executive. He's currently the CEO of FranChoice Inc., a company that provides free consulting to consumers looking for a franchise that best meets their needs.