Q: I'm thinking of getting into a franchise business that I really like, but I have no experience whatsoever in the industry. How can I be sure their training program will prepare me properly? I'm going to have to compete with other businesses where the people have been in this industry for years, and I'll be brand new.

A: You've really hit on one of the big strengths of franchising with this question. You've also hit on one of the most important areas of research to focus on when evaluating any franchise opportunity.

Most franchise companies do not want franchisees who have previous experience in their industry. Though there are certainly exceptions, many franchise companies have learned that previous industry experience often gets in the way when they are trying to train a new franchisee with their methods of conducting business to achieve the greatest success. They would much rather work with a blank slate.

When you are investigating any franchise, one of the most important questions to ask is, "How well does the training program prepare me to run the business?" You should ask this question of everyone you interview, especially the existing franchisees you call or visit. They'll remember what it was like when they first started out. This is one of those experiences you don't forget. Find out how well prepared they thought they were and, in hindsight, how well prepared they actually were. Ask questions about what they would change in the training if they had it to do over again- and about any missing or irrelevant components of the training process.

Make sure you talk to franchisees who went through the same training you will be receiving. Sometimes a franchisee who started many years ago will have criticisms that are no longer valid because they've been fixed. On the other hand, sometimes businesses become more complex over time, and a training program that was fine years ago might be in need of serious upgrading today.

Also find out the scope of the training program. In addition to what you need to learn about the particular product or service of the franchise, there are many standard business processes you will need to accomplish. A solid training program should include all relevant factors, such as:

  • Everything you need to know about delivering the product or service
  • How you find your location
  • How you negotiate a lease
  • How you complete the permits and buildout of your unit
  • How you hire and manage employees
  • How you conduct your marketing to produce customers
  • How you keep your books and records for the business
  • Where you get the supplies and inventory you need for the business
  • Where you get the equipment you need for the business

As a final note, make sure to confirm the documentation level of the franchise training program. This means that everything you need to know is written down in easy access manuals or other training support sources like intranets. No matter how carefully you go to school during the training process, you won't remember everything, so you need to be able to find answers quickly and easily once you get out in the business for yourself.

There are a host of factors involved in starting and successfully operating your new franchise business, and they should all be covered in a good training program. As you discuss this topic with existing franchisees, you will either get a strong sense that the franchise company has this subject completely under control or they don't.

If they don't, or if you're just not sure, find a different franchise, because the risk isn't worth it. That big initial franchise fee you're paying is supposed to include the best possible training and support, and you want to make sure you're getting your money's worth.