From the November 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

On her 1967 B-side, "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man," Aretha Franklin sang, "They say that it's a man's world/But you can't prove that by me." Apparently, you can't prove that by franchising, either. Women are turning to franchising to achieve a variety of goals, from supplementing family income to heading a large chain of stores.

"Franchising has become so broad-based, almost every conceivable business can be franchised. That gives women all kinds of opportunities to pick the sort of business they want to be in, whether it's a job that requires a great deal of time and lots of hours per week or it's on a more low-key, part-time basis," says Nancy Smith, chair of the Women's Franchise Committee, an International Franchise Association group dedicated to encouraging women to participate in franchising.

"There's a growing acceptance of women in business, and franchise systems are encouraging women to join," says Smith. Many women joining franchises are finding more possibilities and fewer challenges than they would in the corporate world. "Women in franchising have a lot of opportunities right now," Smith says. "Women have gained larger and more impressive roles in the franchise community. The future is bright."

Here are the stories of three women who are taking advantage of all that franchising has to offer.

Bright Lights, Big Business
Donna Curry had a hunch. While working as a camera girl 20 years ago at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, Curry and her then-husband first learned about a little franchise called Subway. "An acquaintance in Newark, Ohio, the little town we moved from, had three stores. We decided if someone could be successful in the little town we were from, Las Vegas would be a really good market," Curry says. "I took [out] a home equity loan to buy the first store."

In August 1983, the couple opened their first Subway franchise; Curry, now 51, served as manager. Within nine months, the couple opened a second store; soon after, they built their empire to four stores, all of which Curry managed. By the time the couple opened their fifth Subway, Curry moved out of the stores and into an office where she could run the operation.

Throughout her early days with Subway, Curry didn't see any additional difficulties associated with being a female franchisee. "I believe a person becomes successful by getting in there, leading by example and working hard," she says. "People look at you more as a person and how driven you are and [how] hard you've worked to get where you are."

Proving her theory that diligence pays off, a year after joining the Subway system, Curry became a development agent, serving as an independent contractor for Subway and selling franchises. "I knew I wanted to be a multi-unit owner, so why not go ahead and be a development agent?" Curry says.

Curry and her husband divorced four years ago and divided up the stores they personally owned as well as their territories. Today, Curry's territory includes 78 stores, 19 of which she owns personally. An additional 19 are under construction this year (four are Curry's), and Curry expects 25 new Subways to open in Las Vegas in 2004.

Though hard work is the quality she values most in franchisees, both male and female, Curry does believe most women have other qualities important for franchising success. "Franchisees are the ones dealing with the public and employees, and women have a little advantage over men in that [respect]," she says. "Women are good at multitasking and problem solving...they make great franchisees."

Experience: A Secret to Success

Age Is Just a Number
Gina Jacoby was just 25 when she opened her first Merle Norman Cosmetics Studio franchise in Van Nuys, California. Though the idea of becoming a franchisee at such a young age can be something of an uphill battle, Jacoby had a secret weapon: five years of experience with the company behind her.

"Because I had worked at another franchise location, [the corporation] knew I was serious," she says. "Of course, I had to prove myself and let them know [I wasn't] joking around, that this was something I really had a passion for." Thanks to her time as a Merle Norman consultant and her training in cosmetology school, Jacoby earned her franchisor's full support.

But that wasn't the end of her campaign-there were landlords and banks that Jacoby had to win over. "I definitely had [challenges]-being young, not really having much credit, just graduating [from] college. They didn't know if I had the knowledge or the gumption to really make it work," she says. "I had to research and know what I was getting into to say, 'Just because I'm a woman and 25, it doesn't mean I'm not going to give it my all. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.'"

Jacoby did plead her case well, and using an inheritance for financing and her brother for labor, she was able to open her first store in 1999. During the start-up phase of her franchise, she took business classes through the Service Corps of Retired Executives and worked with a local Economic Development Center, an organization that helped her get a loan about six months after her franchise opened.

In August 2002, Jacoby opened her second Merle Norman franchise, located in Santa Monica, California. Within two months, though, she made the decision to sell her Van Nuys franchise. "I wanted to focus on the new studio in Santa Monica and then open another one in the next three years," she explains.

Though Jacoby has taken advantage of loans targeted toward minorities and runs a franchise geared toward women, she feels knowledge and experience are the most important factors in running and growing her business. "The reason I've gotten ahead is because this is where my passion and expertise lie," she says. "Sure, it's partly because I'm a woman, but mostly because I love what I do."

While Jacoby explores her own potential, she sees the potential for women in franchising increasing, too. "I meet women of all ages and backgrounds," she says, "who are doing homework on owning their own businesses."

Glass Breaker
Cyndi Crews had a tough choice to make. To advance within the chemical corporation she worked for, she would need to relocate. While her position as IT resources manager was important to her, so were her husband and young son. Crews stayed put, but not for long. In 2002, she was laid off. "It came as a blessing," she says. "I know most people don't feel that way about being laid off, but for me it really was a personal opportunity that turned into a good move." That's because the layoff led her to Schooley Mitchell Telecom Consultants. "The franchise piqued my interest because I had experience in that area," she says. "I was looking for a system where I wouldn't have to start at square one."

In November 2002, Crews, 43, started her Schooley Mitchell franchise out of her Lumberton, Texas, home, doing many of the things she did in her old job. "As an IT manager, I had the responsibility for the telecom systems and services and expenditures, and that's what I do now-helping companies come up with cost-effective solutions for their telecom services and systems," she says.

It's her experience that appeals to customers and gives Crews an edge. "I have not run into any situations where gender is a factor," she says. "When I'm dealing with clients, they just look at my credentials and our system, and I'm able to build a rapport with them."

Crews is happy to have her gender be a nonissue, since that wasn't necessarily the case in her past. "In a corporate environment, sometimes females have certain challenges," she says. "There's no glass ceiling when you're working in your own business. There's much more opportunity than what I had seen working in the corporate world." That includes the opportunity to grow her homebased franchise at her own pace.

Currently, Crews has two employees-one is her husband, and the other is a contract employee who works out of her home. She envisions finding an outside office eventually. But for now, Crews is happy to have a homebased business that gives her the flexibility to balance family and work. "I do my 'out of the office' work when [my son's] at school. When he comes home in the afternoon, I do my in-office work," she says. "That's the advantage of having the home office-I'm able to work a couple of hours, cook dinner and then come back and work a few more hours." Dividing up her time like this wasn't possible before she bought a franchise. "Being at a management level [in a corporation], you're expected to put in a lot of hours," Crews says. "That became challenging once I had a child, so I wanted something that would give me more flexibility and more opportunity to spend time with my family." Sounds like she found the best solution of all.