What You Must Know About Franchising

A Tech Franchise

Tech franchises have been set up to support the needs of the many technologically incompetent businesspeople and consumers. They've got the resources to pay for assistance, and when they get stuck, they just want to be able to call someone who will make things better.

There are three basic types of tech-based franchises--educational, creative and troubleshooting. The key attributes of each include:

  • Educational: As a means of combating ignorance about tech matters, these franchises provide people with a technical education. They usually focus on the software side of tech by teaching people how to use various common programs more competently and effectively. These programs can be as basic as Microsoft Word or e-mail, or they may be other popular programs like Photoshop. For some of these franchises, children are 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 their fear or frustration is replaced with confidence and wonder at what computer programs are capable of producing for anyone with the knowledge to use them properly.
  • Creative: Rather than trying to educate customers, these franchises are simply going to do the work customers 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 marketplace. These franchises can serve a small company by setting up its websites, e-mail and other back-office systems needed to get ready for e-commerce, all for one set fee. The customer doesn't need or care to know how all this work is done--only that it is done correctly and works effectively.
  • Troubleshooting: These franchises fix technology. Whether the problem is hardware- or software-related, they'll fix it for one low price. Most of these companies have a small, fixed location where customers can bring their computers to be repaired, or staff will go to customers by request for an extra charge. A majority of the issues these franchises deal with are incredibly quick and easy to solve for someone with broad expertise about computers--but impossible to fix for tech-illiterate folk.

One of the neatest parts about the opportunity of owning a tech franchise--

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 the average person to be successful 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 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 virus scans--they want you out finding people who can become valuable customers.

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 then fulfills for you.

With some of the educational types of franchises, you will become knowledgeable enough to be able to teach classes or tutor customers in specific types of programs. These franchises are often appealing to people who want to be more hands-on in their businesses, though the main franchisee role usually still revolves around marketing or selling business services.

The best aspect of tech franchises is that the need isn't going anywhere. This doesn't mean these tech franchises are a guaranteed ticket to success--just that the opportunity underlying them will continue to grow.

A number of tech franchises have had problems when they got franchisees who didn't understand their role and thought technical knowledge was the key to success, which is almost never the case. But if you're careful and thorough in your research, you will come away with a good idea of the role of the franchisee and what the keys to success are in the franchise, and then you're set to make an informed decision about whether or not these business opportunities are right for you.

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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.

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This article was originally published in the January 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Journey Begins.

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