Q: What do you think about [name omitted] as a franchise opportunity? Is it a good company? How much does it cost to get involved? How much money can I make? Would the intersection of 12th and Main in Waterloo, Iowa, be a good location to open a unit? Please provide me with complete details.

A: As a matter of policy, we never comment on specific franchise companies, but rather offer advice that is applicable to any franchise you might be investigating. The best source of information to answer specific questions about marketing, operational, demographic, real estate or business-potential questions about any particular franchise company is the company itself. Most are prepared to assist you in gathering the information you need to answer all your questions. If the franchisor is unable or unwilling to provide this information or direct you to resources to help you find it on your own, it's probably not the right franchise for you.

The secret of a successful investigation of any franchise opportunity is the same one you learned in the Scouts: Be prepared. Here's how:

 Analyze your needs. Remember, the process starts with you deciding what you want in a franchise opportunity. Don't settle for less than you deserve. Focus on the franchisee role you'll be taking on in the company rather than the product or service that the franchise offers.

 Obtain information from the franchisor. Carefully review the initial brochure package, the Uniform Franchise Offering Circular disclosure document and any other supporting documents.

 Contact several existing franchisees. Ask them about the training programs, the initial and ongoing support, the effectiveness of the marketing programs, what their relationship with the franchisor is like and how much money they're making.

 Attend franchisor staff meetings. Take every opportunity to meet personally with the staff of the franchise company during your investigation. If you become a franchisee, you'll be working for years with these people, so be sure you're comfortable and confident about the potential relationship and the competence of the support staff at the company.

Rest assured that if you're prepared, you'll be able to get all your questions answered during the investigation process, and you'll have what you need to make the right decision about any opportunity. You still have to do the research, but the process of learning will pay big dividends to you in the long term.