Franchising is a business opportunity that's somewhere between buying an existing business and launching a startup in terms of creativity, independence and risk. A franchisee buys a license from a franchisor to be a dealer of that business model. The owner of the franchise sells a product or service through its franchisees.
In exchange for an initial set-up fee and a monthly payment, the franchisor provides the franchisee a business model, marketing supplies, staff-training assistance, managerial consulting and a pre-existing supply chain. Also, the franchisee benefits from the franchisor's economies of scale, receiving access to prices that a business owner may not otherwise get running a single shop.
There is, in theory, less risk to buying a franchise business than starting a business from scratch because the business model has been tested. Also, as a franchise unit owner, you have a built-in advisory board in the management staff of the umbrella franchise organization. On the downside, you have less creative control over your business as a franchisee than as an independent business owner.
For more information about the top franchises, check out Entrepreneur's Annual Franchise 500 ranking.