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Franchising Is Not For Everyone. Explore These Lucrative Alternatives to Expand Your Business.

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Franchising Is Not For Everyone. Explore These Lucrative Alternatives to Expand Your Business.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Not every business can be franchised, nor should it. As the founder and operator of an exciting, new concept, it’s hard not to envision opening a unit on every corner and becoming the next franchise millionaire. It’s a common dream. At one time, numerous concepts were claiming to be the next “McDonald’s” of their industry.

And while franchising can be the right growth vehicle for someone with an established brand and proven concept that’s ripe for growth, there are other options available for business owners who want to expand their concept into prime locations before their competition does but who don’t want to go it alone for a number of reasons. For instance, they may not have the resources or cash reserves to finance a franchise program (it is important to note that while franchising a business does leverage the time and capital of others to open additional units, establishing a franchise system is certainly not a no-cost endeavor). Or they don’t want the responsibilities and relationship of being a franchisor and would rather concentrate on running their core business, not a franchise system.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Franchising Your Business

But when you have eager customers asking to open a branded location just like yours in their neighborhood, it’s hard to resist. You might think: What if I don’t jump on the deal, and I miss out on an opportunity that might not come around again?

Licensing your intellectual property, such as your name, trademarks and trade dress, in exchange for a set fee or percentage of sales is one way to accomplish this without having to go the somewhat more laborious and legally controlled franchise route. Types of licensing agreements range from granting a license to allow another entity to manufacture or make your products to allowing someone to use your logo and name for their own business. Unlike in a franchise, your partner in a licensing situation will only be allowed certain predetermined rights to sell your products and services, not an all-in agreement to give them a turnkey business, accompanied by training and support, in exchange for set fees. A licensing agreement spells out each party’s rights, responsibilities, and what they can and cannot do under the terms of the agreement. Having a lawyer draw up the paperwork is vital, as well as consulting with a trusted business advisor who has helped others along this path and can shorten your learning curve while protecting your rights. License agreements are governed by contract law as opposed to franchise laws. However, care must be taken: To ensure that you’re staying in your lane and not crossing over into franchisor territory, you’ll want your advisers to detail what you can and can’t do as a licensor.

For instance, a license agreement excludes you from being involved in the day-to-day operations of the licensee’s business. While having no oversight may sound like a relief, it can be a double-edged sword, especially for people who are used to controlling all aspects of their products or services. You won’t have to provide licensees with ongoing services, such as marketing materials and continuous training, but it also means you have no control over how they run their business, their product mix or even how they decorate their space. If you’re a type-A, this may be hard for you.

Most people are more familiar with trademark licensing with a third party because these agreements are big in the sports and entertainment industries, where a celebrity lends their name to endorse a product, whether it’s branded athletic wear or trendy foodservice menu items such as pizza, chicken, or even gelato.

Using a celebrity’s cache garners media attention you might otherwise never get. But not everyone who comes up with a great concept or product has the recognition that would allow them to attract famous business partners or endorsements, and rabid fans that follow.

There are other methods of getting your products in front of more consumers. Some coffee concepts, including Caribou for example, have created market saturation by both franchising traditional stores and granting licenses for nontraditional locations, such as airports, big-box stores, and college campuses. Others, on the other hand, like Starbucks, employ a combination of company-owned stores and licensees in high-traffic locations where a small kiosk can service a high-density population of shoppers. And, of course, bags and pods of these brands’ coffee blends are also sold in retail locations such as grocery stores.

Related: Startups Must Protect Their Trademark. Here’s How and Why

But again, here’s that cautionary note: If you go the licensing route for your products or services, be careful not to cross over into trying to direct the way that licensees do their business, from selecting locations to training employees.

While licensing or franchising may be valid business growth vehicles for many brands, additional business structures that can be considered include:

  1. Company-owned stores: Opening corporate locations using bank loans and/or the profits from already opened units.
  2. Dealerships or distributorships: In a distributor relationship, products are purchased from a manufacturer and then sold through local dealers.
  3. Agency relationships: These are similar to the relationships you’d have with dealers, but in this case, an agent or representative of your company sells your services to a third party. The important distinction to remember so that the relationship doesn’t cross over into franchise territory is that you, as the provider of the services, pay the agent (as an independent sales rep) rather than the agent collecting the money and paying you.
  4. Joint ventures: In this case, you, as the concept owner, would take on an operating partner who also invests his own funds in the business. The two of you would then share in the equity and profits at the percentage rate of your investment.

The appropriate method to grow your business depends on several factors, including your type of concept, service, or products; your risk aversion factor; your access to capital; where you’re located; and current market conditions. So, if you choose another option to franchising, be cognizant of not slipping into becoming a franchise. The Federal Trade Commission’s regulations define a franchise as meeting at least three standards: a shared name, fees and royalty payments paid to the company by the franchisee, and ongoing support and control of the day-to-day operations by the franchisor.

Keep in mind that if you start with one expansion method, you can consider changing that structure with legal and professional guidance should your business needs merit a shift in strategy. Case in point: some licensors will eventually convert licensees to franchises under a newly crafted agreement and program if they see the need to change the fee structure and maintain additional control over operations.

Slow growth can be detrimental to a business, but not picking the right vehicle for that growth can be worse than standing still. That’s why doing your homework — consulting with professionals, such as attorneys, accounting and franchising advisors, and talking to others in the same boat as you will save you from drifting too far from shore.

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The 7-Step ChatGPT Formula for Peak Productivity and Profit

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The 7-Step ChatGPT Formula for Peak Productivity and Profit

Tackle AI’s toughest questions with Ben Angel, mapping the business terrain for 20 years. Master the AI landscape and reach peak productivity and profits with insights from his latest work, “The Wolf is at The Door — How to Survive and Thrive in an AI-Driven World.” Click here to download your ‘Free AI Success Kit‘ and get your free chapter from his latest book today.

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How I Hit $100 Million in Annual Revenue By Being More Transparent

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How I Hit $100 Million in Annual Revenue By Being More Transparent

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It’s a common nightmare — you’re walking through a busy hallway or giving a presentation only to look down and find yourself completely naked.

We’re inherently fearful of revealing too much about ourselves, and as an entrepreneur, this likely extends to your business as well.

But based on growing my own business from nothing to over $100 million in annual revenue, I can tell you less is not more when it comes to business transparency — more is more. Being open builds trust, and trust fosters customers and relationships in droves. The only exception is not giving away your trade secrets to competitors.

Here are three effective ways to build trust with clients and prospects by being more transparent (without leaving you feeling nightmarishly over-exposed).

Related: How Transparency In Business Leads to Customer Growth and Loyalty

1. Increase sales by 18% or more by increasing your Google reviews

Nearly everyone reads reviews before purchasing. One study found a whopping 93% of people read reviews before making a purchase, and on average, reviews produce an 18% uplift in sales. In today’s online landscape, people put almost as much weight on a Google review as they do on a personal recommendation.

The best way to increase your reviews is to simply ask! According to research, 70% of consumers will leave a review for a business when asked.

About four years ago, we had 486 reviews after servicing more than 90,000 clients. We started using Podium to send out texts or emails — based on customer preference — asking to leave a review on Google, the Better Business Bureau and Trustpilot.

By May 2024, we’d accumulated 2,312 five-star reviews, an increase of 375%. Keep in mind that our account managers have been very diligent about sending review requests to clients and only ask the clients most likely to give positive responses.

Another good way to increase reviews is to automate postcards at the close of an order thanking someone for their business and encouraging them to leave a review. A physical mailer is likely more effective than an email — one study that surveyed 1,200 consumers found that 76% trusted direct mail the most as opposed to online methods.

You might be wondering, “What about the negative reviews?” You’re always going to have a handful of bad reviews, but people look at the ratio of good vs. bad. If you have far more five-star reviews than one-star reviews, they’ll disregard the negative ones and assume it’s not the norm.

2. Improve lead generation by 105% by sharing your clients’ success stories

Sharing real marketing results has always been a priority for my business, PostcardMania. We currently have 944 marketing case studies and 139 video case studies that document real people sharing campaign specifics that led to more leads, revenue and new customers for their businesses.

We share these case studies far and wide with prospects via email and postcards in the mail to increase trust. But more recently, we began incorporating these stories into video social media ads. During a recent earnings call by Meta, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said 50% of all people’s time on Facebook and Instagram is spent watching videos, so naturally, we went that direction to gain more eyes on our services.

We put our 139 video case studies — real business owners talking about their successful campaigns — to work for us on Facebook and Instagram.

As a result, our social media leads doubled. In 2022, our average number of social media leads per week was 174, and then in 2023, the average lead count increased to 356 a week! That’s a 105% increase.

Of course, our use of social media in this case is part of a larger multi-channel marketing strategy that ties direct mail and digital ads together, so I suggest a similar approach if you want to see the same results (we’ve actually packaged our successful approach into a single affordable marketing bundle called Everywhere Small Business due to high demand from our clients to replicate this method). Campaigns that uniquely combine print and digital advertising using hyper-targeted mailing lists and lookalike audiences have been proven to work time and time again, so I highly recommend them.

It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, your customers’ success stories can be compiled and incorporated into your marketing plan to grow your customer base.

Related: How Problem-Solving Case Studies Help You Market Your Business

3. Convert prospects faster by dropping the velvet rope and inviting them in

Being transparent online will help build a positive image of your brand and bring in more customers — but you can also take this one step further and let prospects visit your business and interact with your products or services in person. One report revealed that 79% of customers want brands to go above and beyond what they are required to reveal and give more information, with two-thirds of them saying they would switch brands for more in-depth data.

At PostcardMania, we welcome clients to visit us and take a tour of our in-house printing facility. We also have a marketing conference twice a year where clients can meet their marketing consultants face-to-face and learn more about our business behind the scenes. These clients often end up being some of our best and longest-lasting relationships! You can do the same by hosting an event and opening your doors to the public. It doesn’t have to be a conference — you can start small with something as simple as a night of snacks and entertainment.

Related: 3 Ways to Personalize Your Marketing for Higher Engagement

Free samples are also a great way to show customers exactly what they are getting before they make a commitment. This doesn’t always apply to every business, but you can try to find a way to allow prospects to interact with your product or service on a deeper, more physical level.

Incorporate any of these tactics, and you’ll show prospects the most authentic side of you and your business. Believe me when I say trading in your fears about being super transparent for bold authenticity will reap real rewards in long-term growth and customer loyalty.

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The 10 Best and Worst States to Start a Small Business

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The 10 Best and Worst States to Start a Small Business

There are many important things to consider when launching your own business or side hustle, and location is at the top of the list. Local and state laws can mean different taxes, zoning regulations and licensing requirements, so it pays to be strategic about your choice of state, city and even neighborhood, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Related: 5 Things Not to Do When You’re Running a Small Business

After all, some 20% of new businesses fail within the first two years of being open, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also found that 45% of businesses fail within the first five years. That number jumps to 65% after 10 years.

Capital on Tap, a company that offers a credit card and spending management platform for small business owners, analyzed BLS data to determine the percentage of startups that are still active after three years — and broke down the U.S. states with the highest and lowest chance of survival in three- and five-year time frames.

“There are over 30 million small businesses in the U.S., making up an enormous percentage of the economy, and as this number continues to grow, so will innovation and commercial drive,” says Damian Brychcy, chief executive officer at Capital on Tap. “This research should serve as a positive sign to entrepreneurs in the top ten states who are thinking about starting a business.”

Image Credit: John Coletti | Getty Images. Boston, Massachusetts.

Qualities of business-friendly states

Before diving into the data, it’s important to consider what factors make a state attractive for new business owners. And it’s about more than just starting a business. The following factors can help keep small companies afloat and lead to ongoing success:

Taxes

Perhaps the most important factor of all, a business-friendly tax environment can keep costs down and put more money in your pockets. There are payroll, employment, income and corporate taxes to worry about, all of which can affect decisions around hiring and expansion. Some states also offer tax incentives for small businesses, which can remove expensive hurdles. Reviewing a self-employed tax schedule in your area can help.

Workforce

If you want to run a healthy, growing business, you’ll almost certainly be hiring employees. The best states for small businesses will have a plethora of available talent and a workforce with high levels of college education. Starting a business near a college or university can also attract interest from recent graduates. This is especially prominent in the technology industry.

Regulations

State policies regarding small businesses involve more than just taxes and deductions. Government programs can offer business owners grants and loans and incentivize investment from larger funders. Compliance is another factor. States can lower the costs of business by removing regulatory red tape, such as required government approvals or clearances.

Growth potential

You want to start your business somewhere it can thrive in both the short- and long-term. A number of factors can support this — for example, funding, investment in infrastructure and livability. A close proximity to sources of financing can help your company grow, as long as the area can support your workers and their families. States and cities with a low cost of living, good schools and solid infrastructure will not only attract talent but keep it.

U.S. states/territories with the highest rate of small business survival, per Capital on Tap 

State

1year average (%)

3year average (%)

5year average (%)

Massachusetts

81.91

64.96

54.38

Wisconsin

81.13

64.93

54.97

South Dakota

80.44

64.03

54.88

Minnesota

80.96

63.97

53.51

Iowa

80.85

63.71

53.65

North Dakota

79.55

63.63

53.98

Pennsylvania

80.69

63.51

53.18

Montana

79.60

62.79

53.03

Hawaii

79.37

62.22

52.21

North Carolina

79.85

61.91

51.25

Massachusetts

With elite universities, a thriving tech hub, a strong economy and a highly educated workforce, Massachusetts tops the list. Nearly 82% of small businesses survive their first year. Boston is also a growing hub for STEM jobs and is home to many investors and potential employees. The state also boasts a strong Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP) that provides tax and property incentives for job creators.

Wisconsin

Not only does Wisconsin have a relatively low cost of living, but the state has one of the nation’s best public university systems (read: highly educated workforce) and a business-friendly government that offers tax credits, low-interest loans and grants to small companies. Wisconsin also runs a public-private capital initiative through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which recently announced a $100 million investment in the state’s startups.

South Dakota

Taxes are the big selling point for starting a business in South Dakota. With no corporate income, personal income, property or business inventory taxes, the state makes running a small company affordable for owners. The state is highly affordable and has very few regulations, both of which lower overall business costs.

Minnesota

Almost 81% of small businesses survive their first year in Minnesota, a feat that can be credited to the state’s supportive business environment, educated workforce and relative affordability for a high quality of life. Minnesota also has nine small business development centers throughout the state, which offer consulting, mentoring, networking opportunities and access to capital.

Iowa

With a high quality of life and low cost of living, Iowa is an attractive place to start and expand a small company. One of the biggest factors is extremely low energy and utility costs, which is especially important for manufacturing. Iowa cities also offer property tax incentives for small businesses and some of the nation’s lowest workers’ compensation costs.

U.S. states/territories with the lowest rate of small business survival, per Capital on Tap 

State

1year average (%)

3year average (%)

5year average (%)

Washington

75.12

54.60

42.75

District of Columbia

76.04

54.73

43.73

New Mexico

76.64

56.58

45.58

Florida

77.00

56.82

44.95

Nevada

77.18

57.38

46.79

New Hampshire

76.65

57.52

46.63

Arizona

77.34

58.00

46.74

Tennessee

78.46

58.21

46.81

Arkansas

77.64

58.24

47.25

Rhode Island

76.76

58.30

47.75

Washington

Less than 43% of new businesses in Washington are still running after five years, thanks to expensive real estate, complex regulations and the nation’s highest statewide minimum wage ($16.28/hour). The state’s business and occupation tax is also calculated based on gross receipts, not overall profits, so businesses with slim margins will especially struggle.

District of Columbia

Washington, D.C., is one of the most expensive metro areas in the country, both in terms of real estate and overall cost of living. That means high salaries and high rents for offices or storefronts. The city’s business income tax and regulatory requirements are also relatively high, both of which can cut into profit margins.

New Mexico

High unemployment rates and limited access to capital make New Mexico a challenging state to open a small business. Skilled workers are lacking compared to surrounding states, and complex regulations can be a burden for business owners. More than 23% of small businesses fail within their first year.

Florida

Although Florida claims to be a thriving hub for entrepreneurs and small businesses, the data tells a different story: More than 55% of small businesses fail within five years. One of the biggest factors is the increasing frequency and severity of hurricanes, which has led to rising insurance costs. This affects both the available workforce and a company’s bottom line as premiums skyrocket.

Nevada

Almost 23% of new businesses fail within their first year in Nevada, and that’s despite no corporate or individual income taxes. Part of the challenge is local governments: regulations vary widely depending on your city of choice, with different requirements for specific licenses and fees. A heavy reliance on tourism can also backfire when travel to the state falls off, such as during the pandemic.

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