Stick to the Path

Get your trip down franchise-buying lane off on the right foot with a little how-to help.

Digging into the franchise mine for that perfect nugget of a franchise program presents a serious challenge: not finding willing sellers, but rather, being swamped by the number of programs from which to choose.

The best defense you have against the franchise-selling onslaught is to have a sharp idea of what will bring you happiness and what you can afford. This requires some planning before you jump into the marketplace. Jot down your real interests in business ownership. Do you want to own a business that serves the general public? Or would you prefer to cater to business customers? Are you nuts about specialty foods? Do you need part-time work or high levels of flexibility? Do you want to get family members involved? The planning questions are endless. The point is to think out your personal business goals. As any navigator will tell you, if you don't know where you're going, you won't know when you've arrived.

The sources of information on franchises are plentiful. One of the easiest ways to get a feel for the marketplace is to attend a franchise and business opportunity trade show. A handful of organizations run trade shows in major cities throughout the year.

When you get to the show, spend a few minutes going over the exhibitors listed in the show brochure. Identify companies you recognize and especially those that fit into your planning profile. Work your way through the aisles systematically, stopping by every booth you've noted in your brochure. Dress for casual business. Leave your personal business cards with companies that interest you, and plan to follow up for more information.

The Internet is an indefatigable source of franchise information. The hype-to-fact ratio is high, but you can gather a lot of basic information. Check out Entrepreneur's FranchiseZone for comprehensive sector coverage. Magazines and books also offer good material, including my new book, Franchises & Business Opportunities. And don't hesitate to contact a franchisor directly for program information.

Once you've identified a few franchise offerings that intrigue you, it's time to dig deeper. You probably have a collection of promotional information, and that's fine as far as it goes, but as a franchise investor, you have a great advantage over people buying an independent business: the Uniform Franchise Offering Circular. The UFOC is an offering prospectus prepared by every franchisor, required by law to be delivered to a prospective franchisee at least a couple weeks before the contract is signed or you invest money in the franchise.

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This article was originally published in the January 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Stick to the Path.

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