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Jul, 01 2007

The all-important manual

MOST franchisees do not read manuals, but you still have to give them one. You think that the conscientious franchisee would study your paperwork carefully, having spent thousands to join your network, but face it; did you read the instructions for the la

MOST franchisees do not read manuals, but you still have to give them one. You think that the conscientious franchisee would study your paperwork carefully, having spent thousands to join your network, but face it; did you read the instructions for the last car, television or microwave that you bought?

In fact, it is not so bad that franchisees use your manual for a doorstop rather than for enlightenment. They probably just want to get on with making a success of your business after good training. So, why bother with all the expense, time and nervous twitches that you will incur while writing a manual?

The answer lies in the fact that the manual you give to your franchisees is actually far more important for you than it is for them. Why? Here are the reasons:

It reinforces the value of your unique concept
It helps you to 'engineer' your system
It is a reference for franchisee training
It promotes good support office infrastructure
It extends the power and terms of your franchise agreement
To take you further, I shall elaborate on these points.

Reinforces value of your concept

Not so long ago, many manuals were just 'cut, copy and paste' jobs with a franchisor's name gummed over folders 'borrowed' from other long established franchisors. Being borrowed, they were often out-dated and discarded by the organisations that originally wrote them.

Older manuals were masked in legal language so convoluted that even their owners did not understand them and they often preached more about roasting a franchisee slowly in hell, should they dare open late than actually saying much about what they should be doing when they did open.

Using another franchisor's manual is not going to help you or your franchisees very much, because, besides being generic and reflecting none of your own company's philosophy; it leaves in a lot of policies that are unnecessary for your own business. If, on the other hand, your manual is written from scratch for your business and is comprehensive, it will be clear to your franchisees that you have put in the effort that they deserve and preserve the business philosophy, style and emphasise that your business is successful in the first place.

Helps you to 'engineer' your system
Properly constructed, the exercise of writing your manual will help you to create the best systems for the smooth operations of your franchise. Starting from scratch, outline the aspects of your business that you need to communicate to your franchisees. The best modern franchise systems are 'engineered' around the actual operations of the business and how their first franchisees really learn them and try to copy them.

The best manuals are those that grow with your franchise and systematise those aspects of your business that your first franchisees learn well and help new franchisees to perform better in the operation of your business. In short, you should engineer your systems to drive your business in the real world and record their 'blueprints' in your manual.

Reference for franchisee training
By thinking through all your systems and writing them in your own manual you will be better able to train them in full and in sequence. The manual will also form a reference tool for your training staff.

After training, your manual can be used as a record of training and you can get franchisees to 'sign off' each aspect or chapter to prove that you have trained them in each aspect and they would not be able to claim later that 'you did not tell them that.'

Promotes good support office infrastructure

Your role as a franchisor is to provide a systematic business to franchisees that you have already proven to be successful. Nevertheless, knowing how your business works successfully is very different from developing it to support franchisees to do the same.

However strange it may seem, good franchisors often find that the process of engineering their franchise system is to serve the needs of franchisees and recording it in manual leads to improvement in their own central infrastructure.

It is also very tempting when writing a manual to preach what you would like to practice. The conscientious, sensible franchisor will then implement the good systems that he has designed for the franchisees at his own branches. A good manual is a valuable component of any business, even before it has any franchisees.

Extends power, terms of Franchise agreement

The reason that old-fashioned 'off-the-shelf' manuals were full of legal gobbledegook and not much in the way of operations (apart from the fact that most of them originated from American systems that operate in a more litigious environment) was that they were conceived as an extension of the franchise agreement rather than as a tool to help franchisees with the day to day operation of their business.

Franchise agreements are now quite comprehensive and well tested, contain many of the policies and restrictions that used to be part of manuals, so there is less need to confuse franchisees with legalities in the manual. Franchisees are also more aware now than they had ever been and will not accept a manual that is really just a thinly disguised extension of the legal agreement. They want more operational guidance in manuals, even if they never read them. However your manual will still be referred to in your franchise agreement, and often cross-referenced to it, as an integral part of that agreement meaning that anything that you require as a standard or procedure in your manual is as good as a clause in your agreement.

Interactive, franchisee friendly manual

The best way to get your franchisees to use your manual is to make it interactive and searchable. Most franchisees will use a computer daily in their business whether it is a store or service business. Even those franchisees that have no administration duties will still use a computer as their electronic point-of-sale (EPOS) or to receive details of their next job, even if this is via a PDA or smart phone. You may even have supplied those computers in your joining or equipment package.

It is therefore quite bizarre that so many franchisors still hand out their manuals on paper rather than computerising them and making them interactive and searchable.

Many franchisees expect that manuals should be interactive either on CD or online or in a format that allows them to type in their question and have it answered. Not distributing your manual in this way can make your business less attractive to prospective franchisees, whilst making it interactive will give you a competitive advantage.

The simplest way to distribute your manual interactively is to put it up on the internet or your intranet as a 'WIKI'. A 'WIKI' is an online resource that allows users to add and edit content collectively. You can control who is allowed to access or edit any part of a WIKI and moderate any entry, thus allowing parts of it to grow with the experience of all franchisees and other parts to remain strictly as you want it.

It is very simple to get your manual online as a WIKI and any good franchise consultant or manual writing professional will be able to help you with this.

You should take care to protect any version of your manual that is electronic. If you do not lock electronic versions of your manual for access, printing and editing they can be easier to distribute and copy than paper versions. If an online version is too easily hacked and is not placed behind firewalls within your intranet it may also be at risk of being placed in the public domain. The technology to protect you from any of these risks (such as coding manual access to a specific computer) does exist and you should get a good franchise consultant or manual writing expert to help you set it up.

Getting your franchisees to use the manual is of more interest to you than them reading it and then forgetting it in their first week of trading. If you make it easy for them to refer to when they have a question, before they call your support team, you will save yourself a lot of time and money. If it is really easy to use and they regularly refer to it, you will also be more likely to ensure that franchisees do things the way you want by your standards (and prevent any misunderstandings into the bargain).

Get experienced manual writers

You may be the only one that truly knows and understands your business but it does not necessarily follow that you would be the best manual writer any more than you would be the best trainer. Modern franchise manual-writing professionals have years of experience of the best format and writing styles to get your message across to your franchisees. If you have employed the services of a good franchise consultant to help you engineer your franchise system from scratch, they will already have got you to pass on your knowledge to them through questionnaires, existing documents and demonstration, so your role in constructing a good manual need not extend to actually writing it.

More importantly, good franchise consultants have dealt with many other franchisors' businesses and their franchisees. Through that experience, they know how franchisees behave and thus what to include in your manual, what to reinforce and how to communicate it in a way that franchisees will learn and implement properly. If you have never been a franchisor before, you will save yourself a lot of time and money by learning from the experiences of other franchisors with whom your franchise consultant has dealt.

It can take from three months to a year to engineer the systems that need to go into a manual and from 300 to 1,000 hours to write it all down. Employing a franchise consultant to do it for you can free up that amount of your time which you can then spend on further developing your business. The author is Managing Director of UK-based Howarth Franchising. He can be contacted at brian@howarthfranchising.co.uk

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