As a Franchisee Following the Rules, How Can I Scratch My Entrepreneurial Itch?

Note: Originally published in the CFA’s November/December 2016 Franchise Canada Magazine. Check out the current issue of FranchiseCanada, on newsstands now, or you can order your subscription online.

Are you thinking of becoming a franchisee because you consider yourself an entrepreneur? The idea of being in business for yourself, but with the support of a proven brand and system sounds great, but will you be able to scratch that entrepreneurial itch?

In a franchise, operators often get so focused on running their day-to-day business that they forget to step back and think outside the box. Yes, the operating system is in place for a reason, and that reason is that it works, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t put on your thinking cap and exercise your natural-born creativity.

Here are four examples of how to scratch that entrepreneurial itch, starting with my personal favourite:

1. Get out!

One of the big benefits of being a franchisee is that you are a proud local owner. People love to support local business, and they like to know that their money is staying in the local economy. But there’s a common misconception that franchise operators are not “local owners.” People think that when shopping at a national franchise, the money goes to the umbrella company, helping a high-level CEO fund their next Caribbean vacation.

By getting out and networking, you can let people know that you are the local operator living, working, and spending your hard-earned money in the local economy. Your local Chamber of Commerce is a great place to start for networking events, but don’t stop there. You can find many other business networking events by searching “Networking Events” and your city name online.

2. Give back.

Get creative and host an event for charity. To make the event a success, you’ll need to work hard to promote it to your customers and your community. Use social media, email, posters, word of mouth, flyers, or whatever else you can think of to get the word out.

Create a festive atmosphere at your event by playing music, enlisting high-energy volunteers to help out, handing out balloons, and wearing bright colours. Partner with other businesses that want to get in on the action. If you do this right, you’ll improve your brand’s reputation as a socially responsible company, get noticed by prospective customers, and maybe even get some media attention!

3. Schmooze the media.

Speaking of media attention, it pays to build relationships with your local media. Visit your local radio stations with product or service giveaways from your business. If you’re a food business, this one is easy, but if not, treats will win over pretty much anyone.

Send media releases and give journalists the “hook” that will help them promote your business or event. Media outlets are always looking for local stories, especially when there are quiet news days. Your business is much more likely to get a mention or maybe even a little air time if they know you and love your work.

4. Bootstrap marketing.

I once heard a story about a pet treat business that didn’t have a marketing budget, but certainly had creativity! This was long before social media, and the company was called “Scaredy Cat Dog Treats.” The owner bought an old van that was not operational and painted it bright yellow with dogs on it. He hung a stuffed cat toy from a fishing pole at the front of the van and wrote the business name and phone number across the side of the van. He towed the van down to the local radio station and left it parked there.

A few days later, he got a call from the radio station saying that everyone was talking about his van, and they wanted him to talk about it on the air. The stunt was such a success, he did the same thing with other radio stations, then newspapers, then magazines, and you get the idea. He ended up getting thousands of dollars of free advertising!

While this strategy or my other suggestions might not apply to your franchise business, it should get your creativity flowing. There are many grassroots things you can do to build your business – just step back and think creatively. If in doubt about your brand’s standards and operational policies, check with the franchisor before you scratch that entrepreneurial itch.