Fresh Content Drives Website SEO Traffic

Originally published in Franchise Times magazine
First Serial Rights
January 2014

Yesterday’s News Tomorrow

Fresh Content Drives SEO Traffic

If you have not updated your website in the last several months, I have some bad news for you.  Your website is out of date.

For those among us who are not Google fanatics, it is often surprising to hear how often Google updates its search algorithm.  Last year alone, there were over 500 updates to the Google search algorithm – most of them of the minor variety.  Relatively few of Google’s changes, like those Google has dubbed the Penguin, Panda, and the Caffeine Updates are more major – and occur every year or so.

In late September, however, a major overhaul was announced – called Hummingbird – that essentially replaced the entire engine driving Google search.   According to some folks at Google, Hummingbird is the biggest overhaul of the algorithm since 2001.  And while many of the factors used in determining search position remain the same, the way in which a page needs to be optimized (and the priority given to the various components) has undergone some significant change – altering 90% of search results in the process.

Hummingbird has done a number of things to change the focus of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts.  At the top of the list is the decreased priority that is now being given to specific keywords in favor of “semantic” searches.  In other words, using the same keyword over and over again on a page is no longer necessary – and can often harm your search results.  Google now better understands both your content and your prospect’s more conversational search queries, so the use of synonyms in place of keyword stuffing will now rule the day.

Still, some things remain constant.  Approximately 85% of clicks go to non-paid search results.  And since 90% of searchers go no further than three pages when searching, a high search rank is vital.  And with Google returning more than 33 million results for franchise opportunities, finding your way to the top on any given search remains about freshness and integration.

They Don’t Call it the Web for Nothing

In today’s SEO world, there are four broad factors that influence your position in search results: content, coding, backlinks, and social media.  All too often, people focus on one or two of these elements without consideration of the bigger picture.

Their rationale is simple.  Franchise marketers generally measure their Social Media, Public Relations, and SEO efforts based on the number of leads generated and their related franchise sales.  And often, when franchise sales are not rapidly forthcoming, they will pull the plug.  But just as print ad readers may eventually be captured as an internet lead, these integrated marketing tools may have other benefits that are more difficult to measure.

If you are reading an article in a print publication, for example, chances are that you have seen some ads that have motivated you to act.  But what action did you take?  If you are like most people, your first step was to go to the company’s website to learn more.

As a marketer, that poses two problems.  First, from a tracking perspective, how do you capture that lead source?  Unless you have a pull-down that mentions Franchise Times (and their readers are particularly scrupulous about filling it out correctly), chances are that you will categorize that lead as a “direct traffic” internet lead.  But Franchise Times got none of the credit, when in fact they compelled the action.

But the more important problem to consider is if the ad did compel a visit, but the website itself did not compel the desired additional action (filling out your lead sheet).  Not only might the franchise marketer be misled into believing that the print ad failed, but unless they have a firm grasp on their direct traffic “bounce rates,” they might not even understand that a poorly-designed website was the culprit for their overall marketing inefficiency across all media.

Indoor Plumbing

Today, more than at any time in the past, everything you do to generate franchise sales leads is interrelated.

Take the increased importance of Social Media in SEO, for example.  According to a study by Searchmetrics, which correlates many of the 200+ factors that Google uses in its search algorithm, social media factors now account for seven of the top ten drivers of an optimized website.    And since social media needs to be current if it is to be relevant to Google, regular posting of unique content will significantly improve your search outcomes.

Likewise, that same Searchmetrics study found that three of the top ten correlating factors involved backlinks (links to your site from credible, sites).  In their study, Searchmetrics found that the number one search result had, on average, 13,358 backlinks.  But by the time the study got to the 30th result (the last listing on page three), the average site had only 103 backlinks.

The good news is that the narrower the search parameters, the fewer backlinks are needed to rise to the top of a search.  So while you may not be able to create enough backlinks to get to the top of a “franchise opportunities” search, you may well be able to achieve that result when more specific search terms are used.

So how do you get these backlinks?  Blogs with fresh and unique content provide one home-made solution.  Any public relations efforts that generate online stories (or are carried on the wire services) will generate them as well.  But again, the freshness and newsworthiness of your story will weighed heavily by Google.

More important, PR, which was once entirely focused on telling a great story, has also evolved with the internet.  Creativity is simply not enough anymore.  Today’s PR practitioner needs to be able to tell an SEO optimized story.  No matter “who they know” or how creative they are, if they do not understand website optimization, their stories will not be read by the right people and will not drive people to your site.

On the Third Day, Google Yawned

These SEO related factors all serve to illustrate an important point.  In order to optimize your marketing efforts, it is important to remember that franchise marketing is a process.  In today’s world, SEO is a race that has no finish line.

In order to float to the top of search results in today’s world, you now need to focus on original content.  According to Matt Cutts, who is charged with quality control for Google search, re-posting the content found elsewhere on the web can actually reduce the overall ranking of your page.  If a searcher can find the exact same content elsewhere from an original source, Google will likely penalize your site at the expense of the original.

Equally important is the freshness of the content.  Google has a strong bias toward content that is fresh and websites that are continually updated.  But it gets tricky.  For example, while reposting unaltered content to your website will be a detriment to your SEO efforts, posting a link to that same content and adding editorial that expresses your unique opinion will help – especially to the extent that your editorial content is again optimized.

Remember, today’s news story is yesterday’s news tomorrow.  Post unique content today, and it is new.  A week from now, its news value is reduced.  And a year from now, it is largely irrelevant – at least where Google is concerned.  And if you want to maximize your franchise sales and marketing efforts, keeping Google’s interest should be at the top of your list.

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Mark Siebert is the Chief Executive Officer of the iFranchise Group (www.ifranchisemenat.com) and is on the Board of Directors of Franchise Dynamics (www.franchisedynamics.net) and TopFire Media (www.topfiremedia.com).  Their combined consultants have over 800 years of experience in franchising and have worked with 98 of the nation’s top 200 franchisors.  He can be reached at 708-957-2300 or at info@ifranchise.net.


 

 

Beware of Internet Deficit Disorder

Originally published in Franchise Times magazine
First Serial Rights
October 2013

 

Beware of Internet Deficit Disorder When Telling Your Message

Today, there are 3.52 billion web pages competing for your attention and that of your targeted franchise buyer.  While a Google search on the right keyword will narrow the resulting field of competing pages, you certainly need to develop a strategy if you want to be found on the 105 million pages that Google indexes for the word “franchise.”

So it is little wonder that so many of us focus on getting people to visit our websites.  We spend countless dollars on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), portals, social media publishing, and pay-per-click advertising – all to obtain unique visitors.  But for many of us, we still manage to generate only marginal results.  So here is something to chew on:

Some of the exact same things we do to optimize a website have just the opposite effect when it comes to optimizing our site for franchise sales!

Optimizing a site is, of course, extremely important.  Some 85% of clicks go to non-paid results – so being on the first page (90% of searchers go no more than three pages into a search) is vital.  But SEO involves numerous factors – most notably inbound links, keyword density, and the presence of new and original content.  And while the algorithms that Google uses in ranking sites are not published, increasingly, those who optimize pages for a living are relying on more content per page to try to drive traffic.

Today, many SEO professionals will recommend that you have a minimum of 450 words per page (and some will recommend 1,000+) to optimize your site.  But 1,000 words (for those of you who have not yet abandoned this author) is about the length of this article – and that’s a lot of reading for anyone looking for a fast answer on your web page.  The longer something is, the more likely the reader is to abandon it before finishing.

Lost in all of the SEO hoopla is one simple fact: your goal is not to have people visit your site.  It is to have them take action as a result of that visit.  But for many websites, the average visit is less than 20 seconds and results in a “bounce” (where your viewer leaves your site without visiting additional pages).  That is an epic fail.

Abandonment Issues

With all the time spent thinking about adding visitors, we all too often forget to look at SEO from the standpoint of our prospect.  They have hundreds of options – so if they do not see precisely what they are looking for in those first ten seconds, they know from experience that they are more likely to find it by returning to their search results than through the further exploration of your site.

Moreover, as franchise sales people, we realize that in the early stages of a franchise search, most prospective buyers are not looking for reasons to buy.  They are looking for ways to quickly eliminate franchisors from consideration.  They have a list of maybe a dozen franchises that they are considering – and they are looking to narrow the list to three.

So either way, more content can work against you.

According to Microsoft Research’s Chao Lui, who studied more than 2 billion “dwell times” to conduct time-to-failure correlation for webpages, visitors to 99% of all websites will leave in droves during the first ten seconds, and during the second ten seconds, the rate of departure slows only slightly .  It is not until after the visitor has been on your page for 30 seconds that the rate of departure becomes relatively flat.  After those first 30 seconds, people continue to leave (of course), but at a much slower rate – often staying on the webpage for two minutes or more – a lifetime in the internet world.

For a while, people thought that video was the answer to visitor abandonment.  After all, people reasoned, video was more passive – so people would watch videos as an alternative to reading.  And while videos have changed the way that many people consume information on the web (and, in fact, some 70% of Google searches now return videos in their search results), many of these videos are not optimized for search and most are just plain bad.  And, just like those of us who grew up with the TV Remote in hand, the channel gets changed.

In fact, one study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts  found that 20% of videos had been abandoned after the same 10 seconds allotted to a website.  A typical marketing video has an abandonment rate of 35% – 50% after only two minutes.  And the longer the video, the less likely it will be watched.  Half way through a 10 minute video, for example, the number of viewers remaining will likely be in the range of 30%.

Pay Attention!

The implications of the research referenced above are clear.  The first key to holding the attention of your prospects is to grab them by the throat in the first 10 to 30 seconds.  Often, the key to this approach is to target your page for a specific reader and focusing on the content and the value proposition that will have the most relevance to that reader.  The use of specific landing pages can be tremendously helpful in this regard – but exercise caution – too much duplication of content between landing pages can create penalties with search engines.

With the explosion of content on the web, patience is no longer a virtue our prospects can afford.  So unless you can cram your entire message into a brilliant 20-second elevator pitch (and which of us can?), you have to find a way to engage your audience and draw them into your story.  The best authors compel us to read further by making us care, by painting us into the picture, and by leaving us wanting more.  If you cannot do that in 20 seconds, find a writer who can.

Professionalism is no longer an option.  Today’s prospects will not waste their precious time on a website designed by your 16-year-old niece or a head-and-shoulders video shot on your camcorder.  While budget may be an issue, remember that each incremental franchise sale that results from more professional communications will equate to franchise fees and royalties that may be realized over decades to come.

Calls to action – along with a well-defined value proposition – are essential both in your web and your video communications.  Providing your prospect something of value – whether it is a white paper, a video, or an e-book – will improve your lead capture rates and increase the effectiveness of your advertising, social media, and your franchise SEO activities.

In the end, attention is the new currency of the internet.  Fail to capture and hold your prospect’s attention, and you will become a victim to the ruthless internet triage that has become the order of the day.  But hold their attention for 30 seconds, and you may just get rewarded with a relationship that lasts decades.

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Mark Siebert is the Chief Executive Officer of the iFranchise Group and is on the Board of Directors of TopFire Media (www.topfiremedia.com).  Their combined consultants have over 500 years of experience in franchising and have worked with 98 of the nation’s top 200 franchisors.  He can be reached at 708-957-2300 or at info@ifranchisemenat.com

A Strategic Approach to Franchise Marketing & Media Budgeting

Originally published in Franchise Times magazine
First Serial Rights
September 2013


When Your Only Tool is a Hammer…  A Strategic Approach to Media Budgeting

If you are like most franchisors, you have probably noticed that you are hearing a lot of different sales pitches these days.

You speak with a Public Relations practitioner, and the solution to more effective franchise lead generation is, predictably, Public Relations. After all, they will rightly proclaim, good publicity will provide you with third-party credibility which can translate into increased franchise sales.

Speak to an ad agency, it is likely that they will tell you that you cannot count on Public Relations. The press is fickle, placements unpredictable, and stories have no call-to-action. Stick with advertising – pay-per-click, portals, and maybe some print media. Lead flow. That’s the ticket.

Social media firms, of course, are telling you that today’s buyers will rely on the recommendations of their friends and their networks when making a buying decision. If you are not engaged with these folks, you are lost. Social media is the key to growth.

Search engine optimizers and web designers have a different spin. If your site is not on the first three pages of a Google search, it is no more useful than a store located in the middle of the desert. And of course, in today’s world, you also have to have a mobile website! Optimizing both sites is the key to achieving your goals.

Know a videographer? They will likely tell you that YouTube alone now accounts for some 28% of Google search results. So good videos will certainly help you to increase your reach by 25% or more, right? And if just one video goes viral…

In truth, all of these practitioners are right. And, to the extent they preach an exclusive focus, all of them are wrong. To paraphrase Abraham Maslow, if your only tool is a hammer, then every problem is a nail. And there are a lot of media folks swinging hammers these days.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

The reality is that if you are like 99% of all franchise companies, you do not have an unlimited media budget. So if you want to achieve your goals, you have to choose wisely and allocate your resources across media based on their potential returns. And for most franchisors, that means allocating scarce resources across numerous media.

In order to start your planning process, start by setting specific goals. Do your goals extend beyond new franchisee acquisition? Are you looking for new customer acquisition? Customer retention? Building a brand? Be specific. If your primary goal is to generate franchise leads, how many are you looking to obtain? In what markets are you seeking to drive results?

Then ask yourself about the profile of your buyer. Is your candidate technologically savvy? How old are they? How well-educated? What do they read? What drives their buying decisions? Which of your competitors will they be comparing to you? And how are you going to differentiate yourself?

Next, spend some time assessing your current situation. How good are your marketing materials? Your website? What in-house resources can you devote to promotional efforts and what are their capabilities? What budgetary restrictions do you have?

The bottom line: in order to prioritize the use of your resources, you need to start with a plan.

A Web-Centric Approach

For almost all franchisors, your first priority should be your website. Ultimately, almost all of your marketing efforts will be centered on your website. Your online advertising will send folks there. Your public relations efforts will create links that lead them there. SEO, social media, and video – they all have tentacles to your website. Yet, for many, their website continues to be one of their most underdeveloped marketing assets.

So if you do not have a great website, start there. Just because you have a 15-year-old niece who can develop your website does not mean that she should develop your website.

A good website should have an overarching content strategy that communicates your unique selling proposition. At the same time, it should not provide so much content that it allows the reader to avoid interaction with the franchisor entirely. It should have multiple, easily-accessed capture mechanisms to obtain your leads and should provide a value proposition for providing their contact information. But its goal should not be to maximize the number of leads, but to maximize the number of qualified leads. It should have landing pages that are optimized around your various keywords and keyword phrases to drive specific traffic to your site. But it should never incur the wrath of Google by creating keyword densities in excess of 5%.

The bottom line: your website needs to be built with a purpose and a strategy.

Perhaps one of the easiest things companies can do to increase lead flow is to develop a mobile website. As counter-intuitive as it might seem (at least to me), a large number of searches actually take place over mobile devices or tablets. By some estimates, 45% of all searches now take place over mobile devices. And while this number is lower for franchise searches, some of our clients are seeing 14% or more of their leads coming from mobile. So if you have not looked at your site on your phone or iPad lately, perhaps it is time that you did.

If you neglect these basics before you start your inbound franchise marketing efforts, you will only be driving potential leads to a site that does not deliver results – and wasting your money in the process.

From there, every franchisor’s path should be different.

If you have the budget to spend your way to the top, perhaps you will focus on Pay-Per-Click. But if you cannot compete with the larger pay-per-click budgets of your competitors, perhaps you will focus on ongoing Search Engine Optimization, as savvy marketers understand that SEO requires an ongoing effort of publishing fresh content, populating blogs, and creating inbound links.

If credibility is a key to setting yourself apart from your competitors, perhaps Public Relations should be the focus. In years past, Public Relations meant print media and an occasional radio or television appearance and its lack of consistency rightly relegated it to a supplemental lead generation role. But with the advent of online newswires and thousands of websites starving for content, publicity can now be added to your media mix with some degree of predictability.

If you are targeting a younger demographic, perhaps you will devote more of your resources to social media publishing. But even within the social media sphere, there are often more choices than there is budget. Should you be focusing on LinkedIn’s more business-oriented prospect, on Facebook’s larger and younger audience, or on YouTube’s more visually-attuned buyer? To tweet or not to tweet? That is the question.

But regardless of your media mix, two things will ultimately be true. A consistent and integrated approach to messaging must be used across a variety of strategically-important media. And your media should point the prospect inward, where the story is being told.

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Mark Siebert is the Chief Executive Officer of the iFranchise Group. Their consultants have over 500 years of experience in franchising and have worked with 98 of the nation’s top 200 franchisors. He can be reached at 708-957-2300 or at info@ifranchise.net.

 

Experts Predict Franchise Boom in the Healthcare Industry

iFranchise Group Authors Whitepaper
on Franchising in the Healthcare Profession
 

Franchise consulting firm iFranchise Group, in a recently released whitepaper, predicts that current and ongoing changes in the healthcare industry will lead to a boom in franchising in this dynamic market sector. iFranchise Group expects the number of franchises in the healthcare segment to double over the next five years.

Franchising experts have already noticed an increased acceptance of franchising as a growth vehicle within the medical and healthcare professions. Now, given the fast‐changing healthcare marketplace, franchising is becoming an increasingly viable solution to meet today’s and tomorrow’s industry issues, with the net effect of benefitting patients, clients, and professionals alike.

Franchising is not new to the healthcare industry, with numerous health and wellness franchises and other similar concepts already expanding nationwide. Mark Siebert, CEO of the iFranchise Group and noted franchise consultant, foresees some positive, perhaps unintended, consequences of the Affordable Care Act, in particular, within the medical field: “We are expecting to see a significant increase in the number of new franchisors entering the marketplace as businesses look to grow while managing the more complex provisions of the Act,” he said. “For example, since franchisees are independent contractors, the employees they add do not count toward the 50-employee threshold, which triggers additional provisions under the new healthcare act.”

Based on the number of calls the franchise consulting firm has been receiving from health-related companies interested in franchise development, Siebert added, “If healthcare is, indeed, available to more people under the new law, more people will presumably seek treatment, thus spurring more business through the healthcare industry. At the same time, many medical professionals are being squeezed by insurance companies – forcing them to look for alternatives to careers that often look more like assembly lines than medical practices.”

Siebert also added, “Healthcare franchisors that have developed systems to address these industry changes are going to be very attractive to medical professionals looking for a change. And best practices that improve a physician’s financial future or quality of life will be in high demand.”

This does not mean that franchising a healthcare business is a simple proposition. Given the various laws in place that affect medical and other related franchises – from those prohibiting the corporate practice of medicine, to HIPAA regulations, to franchise law in general – it is more important than ever for current and future franchisors to align themselves with both business and legal consultants who can help them make the proper decisions related to the structuring and documentation of a healthcare franchise.

To provide some initial guidance on the topic, iFranchise Group has authored a whitepaper on the subject of franchising in the healthcare industry. A copy of the whitepaper, “Franchising: A Business Expansion Solution for the Healthcare Profession” may be requested directly at the following link:

https://www.ifranchisemenat.com/franchising-in-the-health-care-profession/.

For further information, contact iFranchise Group at info@ifranchisemenat.com or 708-957-2300.

Franchise Your Business – Could Franchising be the Answer?

So your company is taking off and you’re trying to figure out how to expand. Could franchising your business be the answer?

You should keep several factors in mind when looking to franchise your business. There are the obvious questions one would ask of any business owner including: Is the business credible? And is there adequate differentiation from franchised competitors?

But there are several other factors specific to franchising that a business owner must take into account before diving head first into franchising.  A potential franchisor should be operating a business that can be taught to a franchisee in a relatively short period of time. Likewise, that system must be documented in a manner that can easily be communicated to those franchisees.

Furthermore, it’s important that the franchisor has a successful and refined prototype that demonstrates that its system is proven and it must be adaptable, so when franchisees are awarded a franchise, the franchise can be adapted from one market to the next.

Among the most important considerations are the economics of the business. It must be affordable enough so the prospective franchisees can pay for them, but also should reflect enough of a profit where those business partners can make a living while also being able to pay royalties and any other fees associated with operating your concept. If the business cannot generate between 15 percent and 20 percent return on investment after royalties are deducted, it’s going to be difficult to keep franchisees happy.  And, keeping your franchisees happy is key to your franchise success.

Franchising a business can be a tremendously advantageous – and fast – way of expanding, particularly for the entrepreneur who lacks the time, the manpower and the finances to open several company-owned locations alone. It’s a growing strategy that has remained strong even during times of economic uncertainty.

So, is franchising right for your business?  The experienced consultants at iFranchise Group can help you determine if franchising is the best expansion strategy given your personal goals.  iFranchise Group can help companies that are considering franchising for the first time with strategic planning for growth,  operations and training documentation, franchise marketing and sales, and other vital services. For further information, get in touch today at info@ifranchisemenat.com or 708-957-2300.

iFranchise Group Identifies Mobile Businesses as Top Growth Trend in Franchising

FRANCHISE CONSULTING FIRM IDENTIFIES MOBILE BUSINESSES
AS TOP GROWTH TREND IN FRANCHISING

iFranchise Group Offers a Free Educational Franchising Webinar for Mobile and Other Business Owners


HOMEWOOD, IL – Mark Siebert, CEO of iFranchise Group, a leading franchise consulting firm based in the Chicago area, has seen an uptick in the number of their clients who are part of a currently “hot” trend in franchising: mobile or vehicle-based concepts.

“In today’s environment, being flexible, keeping overhead low, and meeting consumer demand is key for any business owner,” says Siebert.  “Therefore it’s no surprise that we’ve seen the number of mobile franchise concepts increase significantly, especially in the last year or two. From the incredible explosion of mobile food trucks to many other types of consumer and business services, more and more creative business owners are taking their ideas on the road, rather than relying on traditional physical locations.”

Siebert, a franchise consultant with over 25 years of experience, went on to note that his team of franchise experts is approached by mobile business owners on a daily basis, all with questions about how best to  expand their vehicle-based concepts into other markets.

To assist aspiring mobile business owners with deciding whether franchising is a viable option for expansion, iFranchise Group will conduct an educational webinar directed toward independent business owners who are evaluating their growth opportunities. The webinar is scheduled for Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. Central time.

This is the latest in a series of complimentary online seminars the franchise consulting firm offers. Past webinars have focused on topics including Quality Control, Sales Goals, and Litigation in Franchising.  This month’s webinar is scheduled to be an hour in length, and will cover, among other topics, predictive criteria that help to assess the readiness of a company for franchising and the likelihood that it will achieve success as a franchisor, including various financial, legal, and logistical factors.

The franchise consulting firm notes that mobile franchise concepts run the gamut in terms of what they can offer. More than just food trucks serving up gourmet menu items, there are also numerous mobile consumer services franchises such as beauty salons and pet groomers, and mobile B2B services including commercial cleaning, office equipment recycling, and document shredding concepts.

Mobile or truck-based businesses have a unique focus that affects how the franchising model is applied. Mobile food trucks, in particular, can face a number of disadvantages compared to traditional restaurant locations, such as being more directly affected by weather, traffic, territory size, quality control issues, and lower average unit volumes. “Food trucks often work best when they’re in combination with an actual restaurant location, as opposed to a stand-alone franchise concept,” notes Siebert. “Given the challenges that operators will naturally face with this business model, it is doubly important to seek professional guidance to help examine all aspects of the business carefully when planning for franchise expansion.”

Siebert continues, “We have talked to and worked with many mobile business concepts, and understand that there are particular complexities to consider when franchising. At the same time, we want this, as well as all the other webinars we hold, to be beneficial for various types of concepts. We expect our upcoming webinar to be beneficial for brick-and-mortar businesses, as well as mobile ones. Much of the same franchisability criteria can and should be analyzed before expanding, regardless the structure of the business itself.”

Individuals or companies interested in attending the upcoming webinar, or who would like to request additional information on mobile franchises or franchising in general, are encouraged to contact iFranchise Group at info@ifranchisemenat.com or 708-957-2300.

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About iFranchise Group:  iFranchise Group (70.32.98.159), is a leading franchise consulting firm that offers the skills of the nation’s top professionals in franchise strategic planning, operations training and documentation, franchise marketing and sales, advertising fund management, franchise recruitment, and development of Internet-based applications for emerging and established franchise companies worldwide.

 

Trends in Retail Franchising: Retailers Adapting to the New Economy

RETAILERS ADAPTING TO THE NEW ECONOMY

Franchise Consultants See Shift in Retail Franchising in 2012

HOMEWOOD, IL – Based on the observations of over 11,000 businesses since January of 2009, franchise consultants at iFranchise Group have identified four ways in which retailers are adapting to the new economy.

“More than ever, retailers must stay on the cutting edge to keep their clients satisfied, while at the same time keeping profit levels where they should be,” says Mark Siebert, franchise consultant and CEO of iFranchise Group. “Therefore, we’re seeing a number of businesses adopt practices and tools that help keep them competitive – ranging from how they structure their business to the types of products and services they offer.”

Business practices that are becoming more prevalent among retail concepts include:

Using franchising for specialty product distribution. From home cleaning and kitchen equipment, to fashion accessories, to gourmet foods and drinks, specialty retailers that may not have originally started out as franchises are consistently turning to franchising as a means of distributing their products on a broader basis, while also controlling costs. Some companies manufacture their own goods and establish franchise systems as a means of getting their unique products in front of more retail customers. Others choose franchising as a means for international expansion beyond their current domestic distribution channels. Even more are start-up concepts that turn to franchising in order to grow beyond what their own resources might otherwise allow. Whatever the scenario, say experienced franchise consultants, franchising is a vehicle that is highly flexible, scalable, and applicable to just about any niche-specific retail product on the market.

Flexibility in real estate. From developing franchise agreement language that contemplates current retail space lease terms and pricing, to including options for storefront and kiosk-based franchises, in today’s real estate environment, franchisors have learned that flexibility is key. “Franchisors need to understand what a franchisee will be paying for their store location in all kinds of markets, and how this will affect the bottom line,” says Siebert. “They also need to structure their franchise agreement terms to extend beyond what a typical initial lease term might be – it doesn’t make sense to have a franchise agreement that expires halfway through a franchisee’s store lease term.” Adds Dave Hood, franchise consultant and iFranchise Group President, “Franchise agreement language for retail franchises should take into account the possibility of a franchisee needing to relocate the business; whether from a stationary storefront site at the end of a lease or, in the case of a kiosk format, when a move that is required, often on short notice, by the local mall operator.”

Multimedia online training. Effective training is a key component of any retail franchise system, due to the inherent large numbers of employees and often high employee turnover rates. And, as more business functions are brought online, retail franchises are finding that today’s technology lends itself well to both franchisee and employee training. Online training systems can be used for ensuring franchisees are sufficiently trained in key aspects of operating their retail businesses on a day to day basis. These same types of systems can apply to retail location staff, as well. Says Siebert, “To ensure that their franchisees’ staff have adequate product knowledge and can explain all the appropriate features, advantages, and benefits to customers, we’re recommending more franchisors provide Internet-based training through interactive learning management systems that include online modules, participant tracking functions, and even multimedia quizzes.”

“Green” retailers turning to franchising. Environmental responsibility is perhaps one of the biggest buzz words in franchising, and business in general, today. Retail concepts are certainly no exception, say franchise consultants, with franchise systems popping up everywhere that offer products such as organic foods, eco-friendly cleaning products, and recycled office products (including everything from ink cartridges to cell phones).

Business owners and franchisors in the retail sector, or any other type of business, who are looking to evaluate their business model and identify and adopt current best practices are encouraged to contact iFranchise Group franchise consultants at 70.32.98.159 or 708-957-2300 for more information.

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About iFranchise Group: iFranchise Group, is a leading franchise consulting firm that offers the skills of the nation’s top professionals in franchise strategic planning, operations training and documentation, franchise marketing and sales, advertising fund management, franchise recruitment, and development of Internet-based applications for emerging and established franchise companies worldwide.

Back on the Front Burner; Signs of Significant Improvement in Food Franchising

FOOD FRANCHISING BACK ON THE FRONT BURNER

iFranchise Group Sees Signs of Significant Improvement in Food Franchising

HOMEWOOD, IL – Franchise consultants with iFranchise Group, a leading franchise consulting firm based in the Chicago area, recently cited several market factors and franchisor success stories that point to a strong improvement in the overall health of the restaurant franchising sector.

Since the recession began, the tight credit market and lack of financing options had affected most franchises, and hampered their ability to sell and open additional locations. Recent improved access to capital and other factors are helping franchisors, especially those in foodservice, get back on track.

“While we are still in a tight credit market, franchise financing is much better than it has been over the last two years,” states Mark Siebert, CEO of iFranchise Group. “Franchisees are finding it easier to get the funding they need to open units, and we’re seeing more restaurant franchisors hit, and even exceed, their franchise growth goals as a result.”

Improved credit availability is not the only factor that is helping restaurant franchising climb out of the recent recessionary period. Current labor and real estate conditions, while challenging for individuals and property owners, are actually favorable for franchise systems looking to expand.

Continues Siebert, “The availability of quality labor is unlike what we’ve seen in just about any other period. There are more qualified workers out there looking for employment, and employers are able to hire them less expensively than before.”

In addition to advantageous labor and wage conditions for employers, franchise systems are also benefitting from an increased availability of prime restaurant locations, and the fact that landlords are more willing to negotiate lease terms than they had been in the past.

“The recession caused a high number of restaurants to shutter,” adds Siebert. “This in turn has opened up the market of desirable locations. Faced with vacant properties in their portfolios, owners and landlords are cutting deals and offering incentives that are simply unprecedented. There hasn’t ever been a better time for a franchise restaurant owner to be able to get favorable terms on space and lease options.”

Given the shift in market conditions facing restaurant franchises, iFranchise Group franchise consultants and executives point to a number of their young foodservice franchise clients that have seen dramatic sales and expansion in recent months:

How Do You Roll?, an Austin, Texas-based alternative sushi bar, is experiencing rapid growth. The chain, founded in 2009 and first franchised in 2010, has over 65 franchises contracted to open in Texas, Florida, and California over the next eight years, including 10 slated to open in 2011 alone.

Newk’s Express Café, with the original founders of McAlister’s Deli at its helm, has sold 70 franchises since the beginning of 2010, with 115 overall in development and plans to continue on an aggressive growth track in the months and years ahead.

Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, another Texas-based fast casual dining chain which features a Baja-style Mexican food menu with a cult-like customer following, has sold 130 franchises with very limited franchise marketing efforts.

Hot Head Burritos, an Ohio-based concept founded by a Subway franchisee which started franchising in 2010, will have 28 locations open by year end and 50 in some stage of development.

Siebert concludes, “All signs point to an ongoing period of healthy growth in restaurant franchising. For restaurant franchisors that have a compelling brand and a concept that is working in ‘the new economy,’ there is a booming market for franchise sales.”

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About iFranchise Group: iFranchise Group, is a leading franchise consulting firm that offers the skills of the nation’s top professionals in franchise strategic planning, operations training and documentation, franchise marketing and sales, advertising fund management, franchise recruitment, and development of Internet-based applications for emerging and established franchise companies worldwide.

Social Media in Franchising

SOCIAL MEDIA NOT WORKING IN FRANCHISING?

iFranchise Group Notes Limited Use of Best Practices for Making Social Media Effective in Franchise Recruiting

HOMEWOOD, IL – Franchise consultants with iFranchise Group, a leading franchise consulting firm based in the Chicago area, have noted that a growing number of franchise systems are utilizing social media, not only for branding and communication purposes, but also for franchisee recruiting. For a select few franchisors, the results are positive. But for most, their results have not produced a measurable increase in franchise sales.

Despite the increased activity and budget allocation focused on social media, only a small percentage of franchisors who utilize social media to attract franchise buyers can actually attribute franchise sales directly back to their social media efforts.

The key, according to iFranchise Group executives, is knowing how to best implement and use social media across multiple platforms for multiple audiences, and ensuring that proper policies and monitoring functions are in place.

Benefits and Dangers of Social Media. As with all marketing, franchise companies’ efforts and expenditures around a social media strategy will depend on their various goals – whether local limited-time promotions, cultivating a fan base for the brand, or generating leads for franchise sales. Any interaction the brand has on the web – a posted article, answering questions on social media forums, posting videos, etc. – can improve organic search results and drive traffic to the company website, which is typically the goal for franchise sales, in particular. But on a broader scale, franchisors should be aware that all social media postings have the potential to impact the brand, both positively and negatively, so all social media content and posts should be frequently checked and updated.

Distinct Uses of Social Media in Franchising. Not all social media is created equal. When comparing options such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites, franchisors need to recognize that social media that consumers or clients use is likely to be different than social media that franchise prospects will use. And, while the general population may look to social media for deals and discounts, in the franchise sales arena it is mainly used as a first stop on the way to the franchisor’s website.

“There’s a big difference between using social media to push out sandwich coupons and using it to attract investors to purchase a multi-unit franchise deal,” says iFranchise Group CEO, Mark Siebert. “In franchise sales, a franchisor’s ultimate goal should be to drive all its social media traffic to the company website and keep it there long enough to capture lead information.”

Recent data shows that social marketing is not replacing traditional media but rather enhancing it. Franchise industry surveys show a relatively low percentage of franchise sales can be actually attributed to social media; meaning it cannot be relied on alone and should, instead, be blended with a variety of other media options.

The Importance of Developing Social Media Policies. iFranchise Group franchise consultants also point out that the main social media functions in franchise marketing – local consumer messaging and franchise recruitment — are distinct, and that franchisors should develop policies around the use of social media for all purposes, system-wide.

“Our franchise consultants advise our clients to develop a comprehensive social media policy for their brand,” states franchise consultant and iFranchise Group President, Dave Hood. “For example, in most cases, franchisors will allow franchisees to establish their own local social media sites rather than having one central site for the brand. However, even with policies in place, franchisors need to continually monitor a franchisee’s use of social media much like they would any other form of local marketing.”

For more information about improving social media presence and tactics or developing appropriate social media policies, franchise companies are encouraged to contact iFranchise Group.

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About iFranchise Group: iFranchise Group is a leading franchise consulting firm that offers the skills of the nation’s top professionals in franchise strategic planning, operations training and documentation, franchise marketing and sales, advertising fund management, franchise recruitment, and development of Internet-based applications for emerging and established franchise companies worldwide.