McYou

How does the thought of turning your businesss into a franchise empire sound?

Enough about opportunities to buy into someone else's success. Now let's talk the big game. This is a message aimed at those of you out there who are already running a business and have managed to get it humming along in high gear. Now you have options. You can grow your business from cash flow, through IPOs, joint ventures, licensing deals, debt financing, friends, family or franchising. Yes, I said "franchising." If slowly adding links to your chain of successful businesses isn't exactly your idea of fast growth, you can franchise your business. For those uninitiated in the fine art of franchising, that may sound like "Hey, take this winning lottery ticket." But whether you find eventual success as a big-time franchisor has little to do with luck, and it's not that easy. Rather, your ultimate success in franchising depends on your business, your psyche, the steps you take and your perseverance.

Learn all you need to know about franchising in the Franchise Zone.

Some people start businesses with the immediate intention of turning them into franchise systems, but many of you don't give the move any thought until customers start asking questions like "Is this a franchise?" or "This is a great idea-would you be willing to franchise it?" The first time someone asks about franchising, you should consider the comment a compliment-someone has seen the potential in your vision. However, at that point (and after you've written down the person's name and telephone number), you must take stock of what you have to offer people who want to grow with you.

Protect Your Assets
When you franchise your business, you're granting a license to a franchisee to use your proprietary marks, designs, methods and modes of operation. In essence, you're teaching and supporting your franchisees to do business the way you've perfected it through trial and error. So the first question to ask yourself is whether you have something that's worth protecting. If you do, immediately take steps to see whether your trade name is being used elsewhere, and research the nature of the competition.

Start by conducting a full trademark search for your trade name and logo. You can do a preliminary search at www.uspto.gov, but if you're serious, you had better let a pro help. Next, check the whois database (see the link at www.franchisedecision.com) to find out whether the Internet domain name is still available. Then immediately engage an attorney to work on protecting your trademark, and park your domain name to keep others from grabbing it. If you can't protect your intellectual property, you've spoiled the first element of a successful franchise, and further efforts may be tainted. A federal trademark now takes about 18 months to issue, so it's never too early to start.

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This article was originally published in the January 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: McYou.

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