Part two of this conversation covers the rewards of franchising, entrepreneurship, and the rising demand for franchise brokers
We recently published part one of our extensive interview with Natalie Barnes, President of Business Alliance, Inc., which covered a lot of ground as to why becoming a franchise consultant is a wise career choice, why BAI is the premier franchise brokerage firm, and much, much more.
The second part of this interview gives Barnes, who is highly respected in the franchise industry, an opportunity to speak to who makes a great franchise consultant, why being a franchise consultant gives you tremendous work/life balance, and why now is a great time to go into business as a franchise consultant.
BAI franchise consultants come from very diverse backgrounds. Some are former business owners, some are current business owners, and some have high level C-suite experience in corporate America. What unites them all is the passion to develop relationships with the entrepreneurs they are helping. As a former franchise consultant yourself, you must be well aware about how emotionally rewarding that side of the business is. Can you talk a bit about that?
Barnes: During my seven years as a franchise consultant, I worked with a lot of clients who bought franchises in the local market. Because I worked with the veteran community, they developed franchises in other areas of the country as well. I often say that when a person buys a franchise, it changes the trajectory of their life. They’re spending a lot of money investing in a franchise. They are changing what they do day-to-day and it affects their family. It also dramatically affects the community because they are going to be hiring employees. They are going to be using local resources such as the bank, the sign companies, and all the local support services. Small business is so necessary in our country and it’s what keeps it thriving and healthy.
I’m recalling those relationships with entrepreneurs – in particular, a former client who bought a franchise in 2010 and who is now one of the top 10 percent performers of that franchise brand. He often would call me and keep me up-to-date, and as his adult kids came into the business and were handling key operations within his franchise, he would often talk to me about next steps – especially after the pandemic – and how his business is still thriving. Here’s a guy who was VP of a call center with a large insurance company and his commuting time plus his job was probably 80 to 100 hours a week. He left that business, started a franchise business with a small office, and he scaled it nicely by adding an additional territory.
His wife is disabled and he was able to buy a cabin in the mountains for his family and extended family. How his life has changed! He recently posted a picture of his profile picture from 10 years ago versus today and you would think you saw someone ten years younger. It’s not that ownership is easier or like, “Oh my gosh, I get to vacation at a cabin.” That’s not the case at all. But he got his life back. He has connections and relationships and he is closer to his family. Plus, his disabled wife can actually be at work with him every day, which would not have been the case in his previous business. So relationships do matter.
Do we make a difference? Oh my goodness, beyond what I ever imagined. Is that the norm? Oftentimes, clients go off to the franchise and you never hear from them again. But many of our franchise consultants have ongoing relationships with the clients that they work with. It’s a pretty exciting process. Definitely the most rewarding situation is working with the people who have never owned a business before. That’s when you see the most dramatic value. Where you’ve helped create an American dream for them.
You mentioned getting your life back and a lot of your consultants expressed this exact same thing to me, especially people who were ready to leave corporate America. Launching their consulting business with BAI allowed them more time with their families, more time to do the things that they care about, or work from their home, from vacation, or wherever in the world. It provides tremendous value to be able to do this business no matter where they are or what they are doing.
Barnes: I come from an entrepreneurial family. My parents started a manufacturing business in 1968 and they grew the business. It was a national business and a very healthy business. I worked in it from six years old and up so I grew up in that environment of my parents having many businesses. I used to say all my friends were out playing and I had to work in the shop as we called it. I grew up in it. I ended up running that business for 15 years. It took me three years minimum to prepare the business to sell. When you have a mom and pop business, it is run very differently than the franchise model. So it took me a while to get it prepared and the systems in place to say, “Hey, you can step in and run this business and you don’t need me here.” What I loved about the franchise side was it was already in place. The exit strategy is usually already there because the systems are all worked out. You have the corporate office that maintains that all these systems have to be in place. In the franchise world, you have this internal support that isn’t in the mom and pop world. That support system with other peers and franchisees and also with the corporate office makes it so refreshing.
I had come from manufacturing and high stress and putting out fires nonstop. When I moved into the franchise consulting world, I had to keep a sign on my wall saying SIMPLE. Because it was my nature and how I was wired to live in a very complicated world, and all of a sudden, this was simple. It’s not complicated. It’s communication. It’s professionalism. It’s really having strong listening skills. So it was really a dramatic shift for me. Yeah, you get your life back. I came into consulting and my kids were younger. It was pretty exciting. If I were at the Oregon coast or my home office, there is absolutely no way the client would know. Unless you are working in the local market where you are meeting locally, then your client will not know you are working remotely.
We are in an interesting time where entrepreneurship is exploding. Corporate America is a lot less certain than it used to be and many people are looking at business ownership who never looked at it ever before and are ready to make the leap. Your franchise consultants are ready to help these people, and in turn, create opportunities for more people. Why do you think now is a good time to be a franchise consultant and own your own business with BAI?
Barnes: So when is the best time? I thought it was actually in 2005 and then again when there was a recession 10 years ago. That was tough. Then all of the sudden, recovery was way beyond what anyone anticipated. And then look at what we have just gone through in the pandemic in 2020. It hit our industry bad. Anyone who was going to sign a franchise agreement was going to lift their pen. You can turn on the news and there is a lot of negativity, but what has come through it is opportunity. We have good news and opportunity because 2020 has been a record year for franchises. Not for all industries, but many. So that is exciting. We have the good news. We are the ones providing an opportunity to provide income for their family. The corporate culture and what’s happening on the corporate side has been a slow moving transition. There are limited benefits with corporate. People are getting tired of that corporate culture. You are going to have certain things happen in the economy such as the pandemic, but it won’t be a pandemic, it could be something different. This is why small business ownership and the franchise model is so important and relevant in today’s world. That’s why you see such growth with so many new franchises into the system every year. We have a few hundred franchise clients, and at any one time, we probably have 20 to 30 franchise clients who are in the vetting stages.
We thrive in a soft market. It’s an exciting time for franchises as people are leaving and downsizing in industries, but also because there are so many franchise industries that perform well during an economic downturn.
During a good time, every industry performs well. But the best time to look is after an economic downturn because then you find out how that brand did. How did they support their franchises during a downturn? How did they do during the recession ten years ago? How did they do during the peak of the pandemic and how are they doing now? I tell my team, “We are always good in the good times. It’s how we perform during the tough stuff when we really show who we are.”
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