President of the premier franchise consultancy firm opens up about why joining BAI is the right opportunity for right now
Natalie Barnes is one of the most well-regarded executives in the franchise industry – and for good reason.
As president of Business Alliance, Inc., the nation’s longest-running franchise consultancy firm, Barnes oversees a company with a stellar reputation of helping to grow franchise systems with the right entrepreneurs.
The reason why hundreds of brands choose to work with BAI is because our Registered Franchise Consultants are the highest trained in the industry and our ability to close deals is second to none.
In this interview, Barnes explains why BAI is highly selective in terms of who makes the cut to become a Registered Franchise Consultant, our outstanding, industry-leading training and support, and why her passion for creating opportunities for entrepreneurs is what drives BAI’s continued success.
Natalie, a lot of people may not know what a franchise broker business is and what a consultant does. Can you explain what the role of a franchise broker is and why it is so important to the franchise industry?
Barnes: There’s a huge benefit to what we bring to the table and provide our franchise clients. Sometimes, I explain it like it is a three-legged stool. One leg is the franchise buyer. The second leg is the franchise company. They get into the weeds and the details. The third leg is the franchise consultant. Their role is to take the franchise buyer through a very methodical process of discovery. Oftentimes, people come to you with one idea which is usually tied to emotions or to an experience they have had. They start describing what may be suited for them and then what they do as an owner is something very different.
At BAI, we are in a really nice space because we are not representing one brand that we have to sell. We represent a few hundred companies in various industries and help identify what is best suited for that client. At the same time, we look to ensure their qualifications match the requirements of that franchise company. Some people refer to it as matchmaking. So, it’s a really exciting and rewarding journey working with people with really high business confidence who have an entrepreneur background as well as people who have worked in corporate America who have that dream of business ownership.
What makes BAI stand out in the franchise consultancy industry?
Barnes: Business Alliance, Inc. has been around since 1991 so we have a lot of history and longevity behind us. Like any company that has been around a long time, we have evolved. And we have evolved into a very healthy space. We are corporate in that we must be relevant to the franchise brokers that we have and the franchise clients. So, our selection process is very critical because we need that level of competency and quality. Our franchise brokers are working with clients who have the ability to refer them to that franchise company so a high level of communication, ongoing professionalism, work ethic, etc., is important.
We are known for quality and for our relevance and we are very selective because of that, and not just because of the consultants we bring on board, but also because of our franchise company clients. We are a pretty unique model as we are performance-based. When that franchise agreement is executed, that’s when everyone wins. The franchise consultant gets a very healthy commission and we get a percentage of that. Our model of support aligns with our vision. We bring franchisees to the franchisors. And we are financially healthy because we are tied to those deals that are closing
Being that you are so highly selective, what do you look for in candidates you are trying to recruit for this role in the franchise broker business?
Barnes: That’s a great question. Who makes a good franchise consultant and who is qualified to be licensed with BAI? We look for a few different factors. There is the black and white side of what’s on their resume and what their background has been. Have they owned a business before? Have they been in the franchise world before? But there are also subjective areas. How do they connect with people over the phone? A lot of work that is done in the franchise broker business is over the phone, via email and on Zoom, especially now. And then the clients are the same way. This is not a business that requires you to be in the local market meeting face to face. Do they have that ability to connect with people over the phone? You are going to be asking people about their financials, what their goals are, and you are asking very personal questions so that is where it is very subjective — their background, their work history, their business competency. We also definitely never want somebody who is an aggressive salesperson, but someone who understands sales. This is beneficial because the franchise broker business is a very consultative process because you are moving that person through that methodical process.
BAI provides enormous support that is both initial and ongoing. Can you describe some of the advantages of being part of BAI?
Barnes: Yes, we take a lot of pride in our corporate team as far as the support we provide. Because we are tied to performance, that support is critical. We don’t have a receptionist in our office. We have decision-makers. We have people who are very competent in that support.
We are tied financially to closed deals so that is where that support is. We have multi-faceted training from in-person to web-based to different tutorials, roundtable sessions, but then it goes far beyond that. We are very accessible. Even though our office hours are Pacific Time Zone, we always have two people or more who are accessible seven days a week. The beautiful thing with smartphones is we see those emails coming in and we want to make sure that those consultants are supported. We do take a lot of pride in that.
We emphasize and encourage ongoing education. The majority of us have our CFE designation through the International Franchise Association which is really being mindful of the industry we are in and making sure that that education is ongoing. We’re not a company that is really focused on “I only handle one department.” If you talk to one person, they can help you no matter what area it is. Even though every person on the corporate team has an area of specialty, they have the support to help as well.
And a lot of people on your corporate team have been franchise consultants before.
Barnes: Yes. I was actually a franchise consultant for seven years and I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. I’ve always owned my own business so I have the experience of being a franchise consultant, working with many clients, working locally as well as nationally and closing many deals. When I came to this side of corporate, I knew what we needed to do to really move to the next step and to really be more relevant in the industry as well as how to measure those results and measure it based on closed deals. And it’s the same with some of our other corporate team members as well. We don’t train, we don’t teach, we don’t support based on theory. We do it based on experience and that actually ties in a lot to the events that we have, the roundtable sessions we offer, and different events for collaboration with peers. That is a huge benefit because a majority of our consultants have a home office. The ability to have that support in a peer base with other consultants that are wanting to elevate their business is really critical as well.
You mentioned that BAI is a performance-based model. A lot of other brands in the franchise broker business space charge a monthly membership fee, but BAI does not. Can you explain the benefit of being part of a brand that bases everything on performance?
Barnes: BAI is performance-based, meaning we are tied financially to closed deals. The other option is membership-based where there are ongoing additional revenue streams where the corporate office has membership monthly and annual fees. So in reality, is their business based on closed deals or income – or is it just based on more members? I believe if you follow the money, you know where the energy is spent.
We are directly tied to commissions and our staff is in place to actually help in that support. So yes, we stay tried and true to that model. I often say it – and it is definitely more difficult – because in order to have growth, we have to close deals. Since I became president in 2013, it has been multifaceted, but it ties into how we select a consultant. How do we train? How do we provide support? What are we doing for our franchise clients and supporting those franchises so they know how to work with our consultants? That’s not common either. We try to bring them up to speed so they know how to work with our franchise consultants and know what our consultants expect from them and so on.
So yes, we take a lot of pride in saying we are performance-based. It is unique. That used to not be the case back in 2005, but it is now. Even in the events we do, whether they are local or national or even virtual, it is something that we are selective in. It becomes a direct value for our consultants with the goal and the intent to develop relationships to close more deals. We have one experience after another with the events we have done. It comes out with closing deals and relationships our consultants have developed.
BAI works with hundreds of franchise companies and is one of the longest-running brokerage companies. You have a great reputation for bringing value. Can you talk about the value you have delivered for your franchise clients?
Barnes: Our franchise clients are the franchise companies we contract with. We have contracts with each one of them. It’s a much more comprehensive contract that ties to the relationship we have with them and the relationship they have with the franchise client once a referral is executed in a franchise agreement. For those franchise companies that we are not getting monthly fees for, we want to actually help them close more deals. We have an internet site that is password protected and a listing page is very different from what a consumer will see. We provide individual webinars, business development webinars that may have the franchises as panelists covering a certain topic. Right now, we have videos. These listing pages and this Internet site are fluid. There are dozens of things that are happening, and every Friday, we have an electronic newsletter that goes out that updates subscribers.
We also do individual training with our franchise clients. We can’t assume they know how to work with our consultants. As I said earlier, it’s a three-legged stool. So, all three are working as a tag team to keep that franchise buyer moving forward. And so, that communication is critical. We are pretty vested. We enjoy the opportunities to see them at a local or annual event. Those relationships are critical. This is a relationship business. There is no question about it. The stronger those relationships are, the better the results. Relationships do matter.
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