by Brent Dowling, Raintree CEO
Before franchising, I came from the competitive snowboard world. That’s a career built on learning to make the right decisions, even when fear is at an extreme level. The right decision can mean victory & elation. The wrong decision can sometimes mean serious injury or even death.
But as I exited that world, I lost my love of fear and my ability to make the right decision, even in cases of high risk. Of course, I started a franchise development company and became a Franchisor, but honestly, neither of those decisions came with high risk. The need in the market for both those companies was clear. And so, since my snowboarding career ended, I’ve never really made any high-risk fear-driven decisions.
Many of my closest friends today whom I snowboarded with, however, retained their excellent decision-making ability in the face of high risk.
To cut some long stories short; my best mate started a snowboard glove company in 2010 when snowsports retail was dead – it’s now the biggest snowboard glove company in Australia.
Another poured almost all of their snowboard earnings into Netflix in 2010 – when the stock price was $19.
And yet another bought $40K worth of Bitcoin in 2013 – It was about $300 per BTC at the time.
And so for the last few years I’ve been wondering whether I’ve lost the ability to embrace risk, and make smart decisions despite extreme fear. I’ve told myself for a while – if you get scared in business – embrace it! It means you’re probably on the right track.
Enter COVID-19. And I’m scared…so now it’s time to get ready.
Here’s how you can too:
STEP 1: WATCH OTHERS RUN SCARED
It’s pretty evident to everyone at Raintree that many franchise brands are now full of fear.
In terms of franchise marketing keywords, Google and Facebook PPC cost-per-click (CPC) prices are falling quickly, but the search volumes have remained stable and even in some cases increased. There’s already far fewer brands active on franchise portals. Most franchise brands appear to perceive the shutdown of restaurants, bars, retail and the need for social distancing to directly correlate with a shutdown in franchise marketing and sales. Simply put, it looks like many franchise brands are scared – and rightfully so!
The result of this fear has undoubtedly created an uncrowded franchising marketing space.
STEP 2: ACCEPT YOUR FEAR, THEN SET IT ASIDE
It’s OK to be scared. In fact, it’s good. It likely means there are opportunities here.
But try to set it aside and make some logical decisions. I used to have to launch off 100-foot jumps for a living, and before I did, I would always take 5 very deep breaths. This would slow my heart rate, which in turn would reduce my anxiety and therefore physically allow me to be in a better position to make decisions and mental adjustments along the course.
So, take 5 very deep breaths now and then decide if you think some sort of normalcy will resume in the next 2-4 months. If you believe that to be true, then I think you should be brave and continue to invest in advertising your franchise opportunity.
As fear takes over other brands’ decision-making processes in the coming days and weeks, the power of your active franchise marketing dollars will increase exponentially. Put yours aside and really assess the opportunity here.
STEP 3: FOCUS ON THE OPPORTUNITY FOR YOUR BRAND
Based on previous economic downtowns, the most notable being the 2008/2009 Global Financial Crisis, we are expecting to see a significant increase in the franchise buyer pool in the coming months.
Unemployment and corporate layoffs are a breeding ground for a surge in potential franchise buyers, who become attracted to the idea of controlling their destiny through business ownership, with the support (and reduced risk) of a franchise behind them.
As one small data point, at the first franchise company in 2009, we continued to advertise that year, in spite of the state of the economy. We awarded 5 franchises that year.
…We awarded over 100 franchises in 2010.
The demand for franchise sales still exists, today. Again, search volumes for franchises on Google have stayed steady this week. Certainly, based on previous recessions and global economic disasters, we believe that demand is going to skyrocket once we start to see the COVID-19 curve flatten.
Having a pipeline already built, versus having to start from zero to build it will mean the difference between brands winning and losing at franchise sales in 2020.
STEP 4: TRAIN YOUR SALES STAFF ON THE OPPORTUNITY FOR THEIR PROSPECTS
The disparity in performance between experienced and inexperienced franchise salespeople is about to become more obvious than ever. In a climate of fear and the unknown, understanding buyer psychology and how to work with the variety of fears that most candidates will have is going to play a critical role for you in terms of deals being won and lost.
At the very least, you want to encourage your candidates to move at their own pace. Over the next 1-2 months, you need to nurture & educate, rather than sell. Pushing any type of timelines or outcomes on candidates while we are in a complete state of the unknown could prove unwise.
Your primary goal should be to keep your candidates active and engaged so that when the COVID-19 curve flattens, you have a pipeline full of candidates who will be in a strong position to move forward in buying a franchise.
I’d also recommend that you ensure your salespeople understand the opportunities that lay ahead for fast-acting franchise buyers. Two of the most important being:
~ Improving Loan Environment – Interest Rates:
The first is the most obvious: Interest rates are at historic lows. Here are some talking points:
- Because of the COVID-19 scare, the Feds dropped prime to zero which has allowed all banks and credit unions to drop their unsecured interest rates as well. There will be the lowest interest rates we have seen in 10 years.
- With the prime rate being at zero the banks and credit unions are deploying as much capital as they can which means that approval rates should get much higher
- More banks will be looking for SBA loans to put on the books so the number of banks focused on this type of lending will increase
- Legislation being introduced to Congress by Marco Rubio, Chairman of the Small Business Committee. It is focused on the 7a Program. Some of the highlights are:
- Allow any 7(a) borrower to use the proceeds of the loan for payroll support, including paid sick leave.
- Waive all fees for all 7(a) loans for one year for both lenders and borrowers.
- Provide a 90 percent loan guarantee for all loans, no matter the size.
We do, however, expect a backlog in funding to come through, hence why you should prepare to fund your franchise marketing budget, without fee revenue for at least the next month.
~ Real Estate:
Unfortunately for many, we predict that there will be a significant increase in the number of independent (Mom & Pop) businesses that close over the coming month or two. Without the support of a franchise corporate team to help strategize and implement survival tactics, they won’t have the same ability to survive the months of social distancing, self-isolations, and quarantines.
This could quickly result in a shift to what we call a “tenant’s market”. Commercial real estate will become more widely available, with the cost of rent decreasing, Tenant Improvements (TI) increasing, all of which will result in new Franchise Owners being able to see a much faster return on investments than what we have seen over the last decade.
STEP 5: ENACT INTELLIGENT RISK
Again, while many franchise brands reduce their lead generation spends to zero, opportunities will only increase.
As I Franchisor myself, I understand right now how it feels to see minimal revenue, with continued overhead – it sucks! You can, however, ensure you are in a good place to continue to sell franchises while reducing your cash burn.
There are three types of franchise buyers in terms of lead generation:
To reduce your risk, focus only on the HUNT MODE candidates to fill the top of your funnel. This means you should only be spending marketing dollars on SEO, Google PPC ads, Franchise Portals & Brokers. PR will help engage and keep prospects active, per the advice above.
By turning off Youtube ads, Facebook ads, portals with a conversion of <2% conversion, and a number of other channels, we will reduce the budget for most brands by about 50-70%.
But again, the power of that remaining 30-50% is going to increase by the day here, as other brands succumb to their fear and shut down franchise marketing.
The advice here is to reduce your spend today to just the HUNT MODE channels.
Then, as soon as you see the COVID-19 curve start to flatten, double-down on your lead generation spend. Franchise sales are going to get crazy shortly after that time! But begin the preparation on those campaigns now. This will put you months ahead of your franchise marketing competition.
THE REAL RISK IS ALWAYS IN DOING NOTHING
Continuing to push forward with Development now can allow you to not only save your year in franchise sales but if the bounce-back is as quick as it was following the crash in 2008/2009, staying the course will allow you to quickly distance yourself from your competitors in terms of new franchise owners and market share.
In our experience, it takes 60-90 days for a new lead generation campaign to optimize and mature, and from there, a 12 week sales cycle to close your first deal. This means that waiting for this virus to be completely under control will mean from that day, you will be up to 5-7 months away from your first closed deal. While in that time, your competitors who held steady may be capitalizing on the biggest pool of post-recession franchise buyers in the last 10 years.
Emerging brands need franchise fee revenue to survive. Even brands that are currently royalty-sufficient, may not be so with continued closings and a slow/halt in consumer spending. Shutting down your opportunity to sell franchises could really dictate the speed of your recovery, and unfortunately for some, that decision may be the nail in the coffin in a few months.
And while I don’t encourage this for you all, I for one will be doubling down on franchise lead generation in the next week or so. It’s risky to do that so early, but of course, I just want my own “Netflix” / “Bitcoin” success story to share with my mates when I see them next at the end of this year.
“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” –Denis Waitley
Hey, Franchise Developers! Did you know that it might be worth your while to pick up the phone and call your consultants from time to time? Today we chat with Lana Nuss, Senior Brand Manager at Raintree, about how the personal aspect of a phone call can go a long way toward building professional franchise development relationships.
When it comes to building positive relationships with franchise consultants, it’s hard to top Lana Nuss, Raintree’s Senior Brand Manager. Lana has created a vast network of industry connections by prioritizing one-on-one engagement and always making sure to incorporate a human element into her many daily interactions with consultants and other franchise development professionals.
Lana sat down with us to discuss how the highly underestimated and shockingly simple act of picking up a phone and calling a consultant can help a franchise brand developer gain a significant advantage over the competition.
“Most consultants, depending on the network they’re in, work with hundreds of different brands,” Lana explains. “They’re getting hundreds of emails a day. The key is to stay above the noise and remain top of mind, so that when their client comes to them you’re one of the first brands they think of.”
Lana accomplishes this by opting to talk to consultants over the phone rather than send an email whenever possible, and taking the time to establish positive business relationships with her network of industry professionals so that she can stand out from competitors and build real connections instead of being just another name in a franchise consultant’s inbox.
Lana also mentioned the importance of providing the personal touch in an age where emails, social media, and other digital forms of communication can often seem overwhelming. “What helps to stand apart is to pick up the phone and call consultants to have a one-on-one conversation with them,” she says. “Taking time to make a phone call also helps strengthen personal relationships and build connections. I’m always thinking they’ll remember me and think, ‘I should show Lana’s brands instead of some of the other concepts out there.”
One of the biggest advantages of building connections through phone calls, says Lana, is the opportunity for getting to know people on an individual basis- something that can be a little more difficult if emails are your only form of correspondence. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of really cool people through making the phone calls,” she says.
Of course, in the digital age, it’s virtually impossible to rely on phone calls alone, something Lana is quick to point out. “Don’t get me wrong, we definitely still email,” she clarifies. “It’s now just a two-part process. We have seen much more traction with consultants since [we began] calling.”
As communication via email, text, and social media have become the go-to methods for interacting with business contacts, both in franchise development and across other industries, the potential for missing a truly important message amidst all the white noise has grown. The emphasis Lana places upon making phone calls to consultants not only personalizes the interaction on both sides, but helps elevate her brands in the eyes of consultants, making them more likely to recommend them to potential investors whenever possible. By taking the time to make a call instead of only connect over email and social networking, you can take your brand visibility to a whole new level!
Hey, Franchise Developers!
By now, you have undoubtedly heard about Search Engine Optimization, or, as it is more commonly called, SEO. But how much do you really understand about how SEO relates to franchise marketing? This week, Raintree Marketing Director Linton Dowling chats with us about what SEO is, why it’s important, and what it can do to help grow your franchise.
Search engine optimization, or SEO, may seem like just one more marketing buzzword to keep track of these days, but it is actually one of the most important things your Franchise Development team could be doing to get an edge on your competition.
First of all, let’s go over what SEO actually is. As you may already know, search engines like Google and Bing use complicated algorithms to determine which websites on the Internet best fit the keywords entered into the search bar, so that they can return the results that meet the users’ needs. The algorithms are top-secret, and the exact formula for how certain websites rank higher on a search results page intentionally remains something of a mystery. (According to Moz there were over 3,200 Google Search algorithms updates in 2018 alone.) Google for the first time recently released a ‘cheat sheet’ on what their algorithms are looking for on sites and blog posts and how to better improve your organic rankings. Tips include:
Content and Quality:
- Do your website and frequent blog posts contain useful, accurate and researched data and opinions?
- Do your blog posts provide relevant and updated information on your topic/subjects?
- If your blogs are using other websites information and data, is this original sourcing or merely cut and paste?
- Do the headlines and subject provide an accurate summary of your blog posts, page topics?
- Is this content more likely to be sourced and shared on social media?
- Is the content free of errors? (spelling/grammar, stylistic and analytical)
- Does it have fresh images, infographics or videos?
- Most importantly, does the page or post present well on mobile devices?
Furthermore, SEO experts at an experienced agency are able to analyze website performance and pinpoint the best keywords and phrases to use in the site’s copy, in order to improve its organic search results rankings.
In addition to franchise marketing websites, SEO practices can be used to optimize original blog posts, video content, and other online content related to franchise marketing so that search engines like Google and Bing prioritize it, by showing it on the first page or as a top result. In relationship to franchise development, this means that people are actively searching keywords that closely relate to both the franchise itself and the type of franchise opportunities they are looking for in the system. With literal billions of Google searches taking place across the globe each day, using SEO to optimize your franchise’s website, videos, and other content could make the difference between having your brands appearing at or near the top of a search results page, or not appearing at all!
The franchise development industry is falling quickly behind in SEO practices, compared with other industries that use SEO best practices to gain a significant advantage. Franchisors and franchisees alike are underperforming in terms of organic traffic and mobile-first indexing (find your score on Google’s free PageSpeed Insights Tool) – in other words, by not making sure to update their website’s content with copy that includes keywords and phrases that have been proven to generate search rankings, they are missing out on generating both desktop and mobile organic traffic, which, next to use of Google AdWords, is some of the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to lead generation.
Fortunately, there are ways to correct this, and many of them are inexpensive or even free! While many big franchise development firms spend millions of dollars in optimizing organic search, a few easy solutions can help improve organic search rankings dramatically without costing a penny. Depending on the CMS (content management system) your company uses, there are a number of great SEO programs to help guide you in blog posting and optimizing organic traffic to improve search rankings. Here at Raintree, we use WordPress, a CMS where over 2 million blog posts are posted each day. WordPress features a handy SEO tool called Yoast , which provides the content writer with real-time feedback and suggestions for improving the optimization of the copy prior to going live on the website. This works well for us- some of our best-performing sites have up to 40-50% organic traffic!
Finally, we use Google’s keyword planner when creating content for any new sites and frequent refresh keywords depending the volume of traffic they bring to our site and more importantly how many quality leads they generate!
Here at Raintree, we believe in an omnichannel approach where SEO is one of the main pieces required for a competent and necessary franchise development and marketing campaign. In addition to website content, we also extend our SEO to channels like YouTube, Vimeo, LinkedIn, and most importantly, our weekly blog posts aimed at organically attracting the appropriate leads to these channels. Consistent content creation across all platforms is required to keep your franchise marketing efforts relevant in the eyes of Google, potential franchise owners, and consumers alike.
As with any other aspect of business, knowledge is power! I always encourage our franchise marketing team to keep up to date with industry leaders like Neil Patel, as well as stay informed with news and updates from sites like Moz, Yoast, and other established SEO thought leaders. I also advocate undertaking free certification courses like basic Google Analytics, basic Google Search Console, and WordPress training to develop an in-depth understanding, which leads to greater expertise and improved results. These courses carry certifications that are officially recognized by corporations worldwide, which means they directly benefit your team members as well as your organization.
By gaining a deeper understanding of the science behind SEO, you and the rest of your franchise development team are already well on your way to optimizing your current and future content in a way that will drive organic traffic to your website and blog posts, which in turn will help to improve your search results rankings. However, as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day- you will need to be patient and wait for your SEO efforts to begin paying off. It can sometimes take months to be able to see a difference in your website’s performance metrics, and getting your brand’s franchise website to the top of the search results page can be a slow and steady climb. Rest assured you are on the right path, and you should eventually see the payoff that comes from optimizing your franchise marketing content.
To sum it up, SEO can be a very powerful tool that drives your franchise marketing efforts with very little cost to your organization. Once they become well-versed in SEO best practices, your franchise development team will be able to quickly and instinctively optimize virtually any piece of content they produce. However, like any marketing project, it is important to research SEO first, rather than diving straight in and trying to optimize your website. SEO is an ever-increasing marketing field that requires more attention than most companies in the franchise development industry are currently giving. Because of this, staying up to speed with the latest best practices in SEO will give your firm an instant competitive edge, and help you stay on top of the game in years to come. I look forward to talking about areas of franchise development, marketing, and content creation and development with you.
Linton joined Raintree in 2017, and in 2018 became Marketing Director
For more useful Marketing Tips or questions on the above follow him on LinkedIn or send him an email: