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Buy my franchise: Recruit on the web

The Web's a great tool for recruiting franchisees - if you use it the right way. Is the Web a good place to recruit franchisees?

According to some of the fastest-growing chains, it sure is. “Our Web site is very effective at recruiting franchisees,” says Kera Vo, sales manager for Greenwood Village, Colorado-based Maui Wowi. The chain’s franchising page got some 18,000 hits last year.

“Our page generated tons of franchise leads,” echoes Ashley Montgomery, director of marketing for the Maitland, Florida-based Tijuana Flats Burrito Co. The franchise recruitment section of the chain’s Web site elicited three to five emails daily requesting more information. The strategies proved so successful that the company has a full quota of franchisees and is no longer recruiting them.

Franchising recruitment is a multi-page section on Atlanta-based Great Wraps’ new Web site. “We’re still tweaking it,” says director of franchise development Sunny Kincheloe, but already the site garners about one franchise request a day. Previously, Great Wraps fielded the majority of its leads from subscriptions to six or seven franchise portals. “It’s cost-effective to use the portals,” says Kincheloe, “but our Web site is free.”

“The Internet is the way people do research these days,” says Molly Vap, VP of franchise development for Missoula, Montana-based HuHot Mongolian Grill. “We’ve gotten all of our franchisees from online inquiries,” she says, noting that the franchise opportunity page on HuHot’s site generates about five to seven contact requests a week.

Adam Mandel, director of franchising for Dallas-based Cantina Laredo, doesn’t mail out printed brochures anymore, thanks to the full-featured online franchising section on its Web site. Mandel now refers callers requesting more information directly to the site. Not using printed materials is a big cost savings, too. Plus, “if something changes, I can instantly make a change on the page as opposed to printing up a whole batch of new brochures.”

Posting franchise requirements online can reduce the number of calls to the franchise development office. “It weeds out ‘tire kickers,’” says Mandel. “When I’m contacted by someone who’s already visited our Web site, they’re usually good candidates.”

Many chains require prospects to fill out an online application before proceeding further.

“The application form provides us with important details on candidates before we contact them,” says Vap. It also culls out undesirable prospects, she says, estimating that less than 5 percent of queries turn into viable franchisees.

Still, even the best Web site can only go so far in franchisee recruitment. Vo says that Maui Wowi uses a number of other advertising venues, including Web portals, which drive prospects to the chain’s site. And for many chains, the best selling tool is the concept itself. “Nine times out of 10, [a franchisee candidate] has dined at our restaurant first,” says Montgomery. “The next step is to look it up on the Internet.”      

What about portals?

Google the word “franchising” and chances are you’ll turn up a dozen or more of the hundred-plus franchise opportunity “portals.” Restaurants are a major category and drilling down into categories like sandwich, pizza or casual will bring you to summaries of hundreds of concepts seeking franchisees. Portals generate leads and prospects. Active franchisors may subscribe to half a dozen or more portals, such as franchisegator.com, franchisesolutions.com and mcgrow.com.

But with franchise recruitment pages on most chain Web sites, why are portals so popular?

“If you just type in a franchise concept name with a dot com attached, 20 percent won’t come up number one on any search engine,” says Steve Olson, publisher of Franchise Update Media Group, which operates the franchise.com portal. “Franchisors discover that someone has grabbed up that url or that their tech guy wasn’t sophisticated enough.” That’s why secondary lead generation is so important, he says.

For franchisors, portals are a relatively inexpensive way to recruit franchisees, says Olson, who adds that a monthly investment of $500 to $1,500 can generate a couple hundred leads a month.

Plus, he adds, “We’ll counsel chains on the right messaging to maximize responses.” Providers can also filter responses and help qualify applicants according to a chain’s requirements.

Franchise.com also offers a press service. It posts releases online, with key words that consistently land those clips in the top ranking of news search engines, according to Olson. Embedded in those releases are lead-generation forms, so that interested parties can contact the chain for more information.

That’s important because a full 60 percent of lead generation for restaurant chains is via the Web, according to franchise.com research.  

Tips for the Webmaster   

Make it pretty. Spiffy design helps, but good photos of the restaurants is especially key to recruiting, as many prospects might not have been to your place.

Meta-size it. To send your site to the top placement on major search engines, use the right meta tags, or key words.

Simple navigation. A big bright button on the homepage—and other pertinent pages—should take surfers directly to the franchise-marketing page.

Online application. Offer an electronic form, with required fields that must be filled out before the application is accepted.

Financials. To avoid sticker shock, specify minimum net worth and liquidity that you require of franchisees. List all fees, royalties, marketing commitments and estimated total store costs.

Background. To weed out casual inquiries, spell out the qualities you’re looking for in the ideal franchisee.

PDF franchise brochure. They’re easy to email, download and print.

Good press. Reprint or link to any favorable reviews or articles in the trade and financial press.

Endorsements. A few well-chosen comments from successful franchisees could be one of your best marketing tools. Keep endorsements specific and not too gushing.      

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