Bad Validation Calls?
Today we are going to talk about a specific part of the Discovery Process, the journey we help our clients go through to find that perfect franchise. Which part? The Validation Calls.
What happens if you have a bad Validation Call with a franchise owner? What does that really mean? Does it mean you run away screaming from that franchisor? Or could it actually mean that you are on the right track?
In this article, we are going to discuss Validation Calls in detail. And to make sure we are not missing anything from the franchisor side of the equation, we have partnered with a special guest: the Executive Vice President of franchise development for Senior Helpers, Mr. Rob Cantrell.
Introducing Our Special Guest…
To sum up his job, Rob said this: “I represent our brand and help folks that are looking to be in business for themselves, not by themselves.” If that is not an aw, shucks job description, we don’t know what is.
Rob works for Senior Helpers, one of the nation’s premier home care providers. The company specializes in senior care business and non-medical, at-home care. Senior Helpers provides older individuals with services that aid them with everyday life, transitioning back home from the hospital, overall safety, meal preparation, medication reminders, and more. Today, Senior Helpers has over 350 locations globally.
Julio, like all of our clients, went through our in-depth process of looking at franchises. Once we connect clients to three or so franchises that we think could be a great fit, we go through a six- to eight-week Discovery Process. That process involves 10-15 steps along the way.
Toward the end, there is a part that we refer to as “Validation Calls.” And now, the big question…
What Is a Validation Call?
What does this step in the Discovery Process mean – and from a candidate’s perspective, what are you really looking for there?
Well, let’s say that you are looking at a Senior Helpers franchise as one of your three options. If so, you will have been talking to Rob about the brand and all of the support you will get from becoming an owner there. But when you get to Validation Calls, you will be talking to some even more objective sources.
Validation Calls involve talking to existing owners of a franchise. And those owners are not beholden to anyone. At Senior Helpers, the Validation Calls happen about halfway through the process. You will already have received some education about what the brand is promising to support you with – guidance, coaching, helping you get your business going, and more. Then, you will get the chance to validate all of those learnings that you talked with Rob about with actual owners.
It is crucial to find out from owners whether or not everything your franchise development liaison has been talking about is actually reflective of their real experience. What is the day-to-day experience of being an owner like? Would they do it again? Validation Calls provide candidates with lots of valuable information.
Plus, when you talk to franchise owners themselves, you can access a wider breadth of information. For example, people in Rob’s position (with any franchise) legally cannot tell you how much money you are going to make. Just because you go to a franchise and everyone is making a million dollars, that doesn’t mean you will. If you are not the right fit, if you are not following the plan, if you are going to sit on the couch and watch Netflix all day… you are not going to get to that level.
You have access to some of that information through the FDD, the Franchise Disclosure Document. Rob can kind of confirm some of the things that are in there, but talking to the owners is a way to dive a little bit deeper. “Yeah, yeah, yeah I know in the FDD it says I’m going to spend X amount on this line item and Y amount on this one… what is your experience with that?”
So what happens if that Validation Call is not positive?
Bad Validation Calls
We have seen this happen. Not every Validation Call is a good one. And oftentimes, the immediate response is “Oh man, that was a bad Validation Call, I’m out of here.”
Let’s be honest – it could very well mean that. But a negative Validation Call isn’t necessarily bad news. We asked Rob about Validation Calls that he has seen that did not leave the candidate feeling all warm and fuzzy or in which negative stuff was coming from the owner.
Rob’s perspective? How the candidate is reaching out to the owner matters a lot. For instance, it is better to start off the call with a warm introduction, perhaps facilitated by someone on the franchisor’s team.
Owners don’t like to be caught off guard. A lot of times they think they are being mystery shopped by a competitor. They don’t like to be cold-called like that. And if you are calling them out of the blue or even just stopping by their location as a surprise, you are usually not going to get the best result that you’re looking for.
When you get connected to an owner through someone on the franchisor’s team, at least that owner then knows that you are legit and want to talk to them for a good reason.
And look, being in business is hard. You will have days when you are working long hours and issues might come up that are stressful, and then someone is calling you all excited while you are having a bad day. It happens to all of us, even the best owners and even the most successful owners out there. If you are in that position, are you really going to be your best, most helpful self on a phone call with a stranger.
Putting Validation Calls in perspective and managing your own expectations as a candidate and what it is you are looking for are important as well. The approach that a candidate takes when speaking with the owner is crucial too.
For instance, if you jump right in and immediately ask “How much do you make?”... that might not go over so well. Remember, the owners are giving personal information that they are not required to give. Most of the time, they are really doing it because they remember being in the same position when they started out and they remember someone doing that same favor for them once upon a time. But not everyone is always having a great day, and you may not catch them at the right time.
It is not all rainbows and unicorns being an owner. Being invited to talk to an owner by the franchisor is a great way to make those connections in a positive way.
Here’s the thing: in the FDD, the franchisor is legally required to list all of the franchise owners and their contact information. You have the right to start smiling and dialing and calling up every single one of those 300 Senior Helpers owners or those 5,000 Subway owners. You can do that. But you might want to think about putting yourself in the owner’s shoes.
Now you are the owner and some random person is calling you saying “Hey there, Bob, I’m thinking of becoming a franchise owner and I want to talk to you about your franchise. How much do you make? Where do you get your napkins?”
You are probably thinking, “Who the hell is this guy?” You get the picture – there is a right way and a wrong way to start those conversations.
Making the Most of Validation Calls
Some brands will have scheduled calls. And there are some misconceptions about that, so we would like to clear them up.
Let’s return to the Senior Helpers example. You might be thinking, “Oh, Rob is only sending me to these three owners because they’re the ones who are making the best money.” But that is not the case.
Sometimes your Validation Call pairings will be based on geographical factors, sometimes they will be based on personality or whether you will connect. Some owners are great at sharing information on certain topics. Some are great at talking about the financials while others might not have the foggiest idea of what their numbers are.
“I’m transparent with the candidates I work with,” Rob added. “I ask them, ‘What are you trying to get out of a Validation Call?’ – some people are interested in different information, whether it is finances, day in the life, marketing, or whatever else. I can match people pretty accurately.”
Talking to the owners who will be best at answering your specific questions will help you make the most of your Validation Calls.
One thing that has occasionally become problematic is territories. Most franchises sell some kind of territory or location protection. Now, in comes a new candidate next door to that territory. Some owners might get a bit, well, territorial.
New franchisees will often say, “I want to talk to my neighbor in the territory I’m looking at.” The thing is, it is kind of a conflict of interest if you want to talk to the person who might have their eyes on the territory next door to them.
More often than not, however, your fellow franchisees will be welcoming – they want to grow the brand, and the more franchise owners out there, the more visibility for the brand from a marketing and visibility perspective. But there, of course are, some owners who don’t want someone moving into the territory next door. So that is always something to watch out for.
Reading Between the Lines
When it comes to Validation Calls, getting the best information will require some reading between the lines. Most franchisors and systems will offer a territory neighbor who is pretty welcoming. But if you do have a bad Validation Call with someone who is the neighbor of your territory and there are two other people on the other side of the country who don’t have a single negative thing to say, you might want to think further about why that is.
Overall, it is best to take a balanced approach to Validation Calls. If you do want to call everyone on the list in the FDD, have at it. That is up to you – although we cannot promise you won’t have “analysis paralysis” after doing that.
A more effective strategy, however, is to make your Validation Calls with balance in mind. You want to get the perspective of someone who is newer to a system as well as someone who has been in it for a while. You just catch people at different times in their business. Are they new and excited or are they about to retire and ready to hang it up?
Even though you may be a new owner, there is nothing wrong with talking to someone who has been at it for 10+ years, because you get a view of the longevity side of things. But it is also important to ask that person about their ramp-up. And when you talk to someone a little newer, they are going to have some pain points, and it is important to understand where that pain is coming from. Both perspectives will help you get a sense of a day in the life of a franchise owner with that brand.
What If a Validation Call Goes Poorly?
We have had times when Validation Calls didn’t go well. For us, when we are talking to our clients afterward, we say “Well, walk me through that.” And you can do the same thing. You can almost coach yourself on that.
Maybe a certain owner was not the right fit. Maybe they did not have the same values as you. And that is also one way to validate it – maybe you talked to someone who is very different from you and they were not enjoying their day-to-day, but you know you have different qualities that will help you succeed where they did not.
Plus, let’s say you talk to a more experienced owner of a franchise that has been around for 10 years. It is almost guaranteed that the brand’s onboarding process is vastly different than it was 10 years ago. So remember that someone’s hard times 10 years ago might be different than what you would experience now.
A, B, and C Players
On any big team, there are A, B, and C players. Not every owner can be the best owner. And remember, if you rank the owners in terms of revenue, some of the happiest owners might be in the bottom half. It is all about each owner’s individual goals: how much money they want, how much time they are spending working, what kind of lifestyle they want.
We had one Validation Call, a few years ago, during which a client was talking to a franchise owner who was one of the top earners in a system. And the owner was being so negative on the Validation Call. But then the client asked “Knowing what you know now, would you do it all over again?” And the owner said yes. Their standards were just so high, and that is where the negativity came from. That is why it is important to read between the lines.
If you want to be the “valedictorian,” so to speak, of your franchise, nobody is stopping you from growing, and growing, and growing. But if you look at the middle of the pack and it seems way better than a crappy corporate job, then maybe that is your happy place.
It is not always money that is the driver. So if you are talking to someone who built the business bigger than you want to or smaller than you want to, that does not mean that your path has to be the same as theirs.
Franchising is not just about the paycheck. It is also about taking back control of your life – creating more time to spend with your family, setting yourself up for a comfortable retirement, enjoying your day-to-day life, allowing for flexibility. Everyone will have a different sweet spot from the money perspective.
Validation Calls provide an opportunity to learn things about where you fit in and how to create your path.
The Franchisor Side of the Equation
We always remind our clients that franchises are awarded. You have to earn them. So we asked Rob more about Validation Calls from the franchisor’s perspective. He shared an important piece of information: Whe owners you talk to will often give the brand feedback from the Validation Calls as well. In other words, this is a two-way validation street.
“If our owners talk to someone who they don’t feel like is the right fit for the brand, they’ll certainly tell us,” Rob said, “and we’ll take that into consideration. Our brand is only as good as the owners who represent it.”
Most owners are pretty bullish on wanting to protect their brands. But on the flip side, if you talk to a great owner and they really connect with you and think you will do an awesome job as well, then that’s a good sign that you are on the right track. Rob added that he almost always follows up with the franchise owners that he knows candidates have spoken to.
Going in With the Right Mindset
Getting into a business concept is scary for a lot of people. They have not done it before, and it may feel overwhelming. Many people will try to poke holes in the business model. But if you go into it trying to poke holes or figure out what is wrong with the model, that is probably not the right way to go about it – especially if you are talking to a franchise owner who has been wildly successful.
If someone is trying to look for a reason not to do it, then maybe they should not be at the Validation Call step in the process. Franchising is not for everyone, and that is okay.
You will always find a reason to not do something if you choose to look hard enough. Without question. But making the most of Validation Calls requires going in with the right mindset.
It is crucial to understand that this process is mutual. Both franchisors and franchisees are trying to find the best fit and create very long-term partnerships. Get this: If you look at the overall stats of franchises that are still in the business after five years and marriages that are still intact after five years, those rates are roughly the same.
Tim Parmeter, founder and CEO of FranCoach, always equates it to dating. You would not go on a first date and immediately run off to Vegas to get married. You have to vet the person first. After all, they might end up being batshit crazy.
Even when you get to the end and you have decided to marry someone, you can nitpick your significant other all you want, you can always find that “thing,” you can always find that negative piece.
But also understand that the franchise owners, when you are talking to them, do not care if you become a franchise owner or not. There is no incentive for them there. They are going to get really protective of the brand, and they want to make sure that only the right people become fellow owners.
One thing that can really kill an agreement with a franchisor is comments from a franchise owner after a bad Validation Call. “This person was negative, this person did not get it, this person is not going to follow the plan…”
Things like that can have a really strong impact. Those franchise owners will really step up in almost any system. Why? They will step up and share their concerns because they are really protective of the brand and protective of the system. The brand is made up of the owners, and they are who represents the brand.
One common thing people also want to get a handle on during Validation Calls is the money. It is a difficult needle to thread when we are looking at the money. People in Rob’s shoes, again, are legally limited. There are guidelines by the FTC (the Federal Trade Commission) on what Rob can and can not say. There is information in the FDD about cost, fees, and reports of revenue owners make – but talking to owners is a real opportunity to learn a little bit more.
That is certainly one of the reasons why folks want to get to a franchisee. If it is not in the FDD, then liaisons like Rob can not really legally talk about it. But if an owner is willing to share their experience otherwise, in what their costs, profits are etc., it is up to them.
The tricky thing about money questions is that it often comes down to how an owner structures their business. In the Senior Helpers model, for example, it is typically an owner-operator system out of the gate. They have different owner profiles, so the first thing people do is usually hire someone.
And as the business scales and grows, owners need an organizational chart that can grow with them. Then, as they hire more people, that is taking on costs, too. So it is important to understand that businesses in different phases of growth will have different structures. And those costs are not associated with the brand’s revenue-maker. For instance, an office with higher revenue might have a lower margin if they have their office structured differently.
That is why it is always important to talk to a newer owner too. Otherwise you might get information that would never pertain to you in a Validation Call if you talk to the wrong person.
There is not an X marks the spot – go here and you will see your financial future – with any given franchise. You have to look deeper into the line items. For instance, net profit is not what you take home. That is what is left after you have paid everything, even yourself and all of your bills.
From a franchisor standpoint, that is tougher for somebody in Rob’s shoes to talk about, but we want that to be clear to owners. It is important to understand what terms like “net profit” and “revenue” actually mean so that you understand what owners are really talking about. You don’t want to misinterpret anything along the way.
The bottom line is, if you do your homework, the Validation Calls will give you a lot of the answers you want – but not all of the answers. The things that sometimes seem like they are negative or bad are not always the case, and sometimes they are in fact really positive signs that you are in the right place.
The Get Out of Bed Test
The last thing we always talk about with our clients throughout the process is the Get Out of Bed Test. It does not matter how happy this owner is or how much money they are making – even if they are bathing in thousand-dollar bills, they have so much money. If YOU can’t see yourself getting your butt out of bed in the morning tomorrow to go do the things in that franchisee’s day in the life, none of that matters.
You have to be honest about yourself with those things. If the vision of the day in the life doesn’t match up, that is how you will struggle in a franchise system short of not following the plan or being lazy. If you are following the plan but you didn’t do due diligence on that “day in the life” aspect (or maybe you were lying to yourself about it) that is just as important as really anything else.
Really, that should be the #1 thing people look for. Would you get out of bed and would you be excited about doing this? There are thousands of franchises out there that can bring you profit, but finding the match for your purpose and what you are meant to be doing is more important. With most established franchises, you will be able to find success stories all over the place. If you find the right things and you are passionate about it, the rest will take care of itself.
That is not to say that you should not do your homework, but do not get caught up in the weeds with it. For some people, making that transition from the corporate world to franchise ownership is scary. It is a leap of faith, especially if you have a family to support. But if you find the right brand and find something you are excited to get out of bed to do and validate it, that shift is absolutely worth it.
The Most Important Question
That is why it is important to ask owners, “Knowing what you know now, would you do this again?” – and then ask why or why not. That is one of the best questions. They are going to let you know why they made the right choice and they will tell you about mistakes they made in the beginning (usually somewhere they deviated from the plan) – and usually that validates the plan. Just follow the plan, put forth the effort, and then trust in that whole Discovery Process to find your fit.
People sometimes forget that the franchisors are vetting them as well. It is not just your decision; you do not just wave a magic wand and say, “Hey I approve Tim.” It has to go through feedback from the owner and the franchisor’s whole team.
At the end of the day, franchising is a two way street. But that union, when you have the right fit, is awesome. That is where people get really excited about being a part of a successful brand and finding other people who have the same mindset – and Validation Calls can help you do that.
Who the Heck Are We?
You might be wondering where all this great information about Validation Calls is coming from. The answer? FranCoach. We are a national search firm dedicated to working with individuals who are interested in owning a franchise. We have partnered with over 600 of the top franchisors in the country, spanning nearly 70 industries.
Our goal with clients is to help them find the absolute best franchise for them to own. Our goal with our Franchising 101 podcast series and this series of informational blog posts is to help educate people on all aspects of franchise ownership.
Reach out to us to learn more about potentially becoming a franchise owner. There is never any fee for our service, so why not take the first step today toward your better tomorrow?