Much of the power of the Internet stems from our love of instant gratification. We demand fresh encounters, new adventures and the satisfaction of our quirkiest needs. We love to hunt the open range, and the Internet thrives on this human foible.
Unfortunately, that's exactly the wrong way to become involved in franchising. While surfing the Web, I came across Geoffrey Stebbins, founder of World Franchise Consultants (http://www.wfcnet.com), a franchisee consulting firm in Southfield, Michigan. "People often buy a franchise like they're buying a can of soup off the grocery shelf, and the Internet just perpetuates that mentality," says Stebbins. He believes the most common mistake franchise buyers make is to search for a franchise that caters to what they love (golf, for example), rather than what would further their business interests.
Let's also remember that the Internet is still predominately unregulated and really akin to the wild blue sea as it existed during the days of the swashbucklers. At least then, pirates had to be accomplished enough to acquire a boat; by contrast, those who set up shop on the Internet need only claim some digital turf and spend as little as the price of a decent meal to maintain an e-storefront. Accordingly, impostors, charlatans and the unlicensed freely roam your interconnected world.
Speaking of charlatans, I was cutting a big curl in the digital surf when I snagged the site of a franchise consulting firm I had never heard of, even though they're located in my home state of Texas. On its front page, the firm displayed logos of the concepts it had developed. To the unwary, the firm had numerous listings of what appeared to be successful franchises. I immediately recognized the name of a restaurant concept that had failed some years back. Yet the cute logo still blazes on the Internet as an example of that consultant's experience.
I don't want to make you afraid but cautious, rather, when you're buying a franchise (or any business) on the Internet. A Web site can be the product of an ingenuous graphic artist but have nothing at all to do with your eventual success in that business. In the worst case, buying a franchise on the Web would be merely a result of hitting the "I would like to speak with a consultant" button. But beware: Once you push that Web button, you send a signal to a highly trained sales professional whose MO is purely to sell franchises.