Has Anybody Seen My Manual? I think I may need it!
Question: What do you read absolutely last when all else fails?
Universal Answer: The Manual
You've seen it, remember? It was that giant book (or set of books) that you got during training. Don't you remember what a wonderful counterweight it made when you were trying to balance that uneven bookshelf? Can't you just picture it in your mind? It was that large blue book with the vinyl cover.... or was it red?. But one thing you know for sure. It was BIG!
M-A-N-U-A-L-S---Even the name seems to conjure up some kind of distant foreboding. Almost like a set of laws or truths that you once were taught, but have somehow gotten away from. M-A-N-U-A-L-S ----Guaranteed to be the thickest (dustiest) book(s) on the shelf. THE M-A-N-U-A-L---- It stares out at us from its unmolested, unsullied resting place with its unshakable truth: it has the answers!
So far, whenever the urge strikes you to see if there is an easy way to find a solution to your business needs, you have successfully fought off the temptation to check the manual. But lately, hasn't there been a growing sense that perhaps you should listen to your inner voices?
But do you want the answer that badly? After all, it means exposing yourself to all that dust, debris, grime, and built up sediment. It means digging through the piles of long forgotten updates on things you meant to do. What if you find something there that will add more work to your day? What if you find that you have been doing something foolish for all this time. Worse yet...... what if you have to admit a mistake!!!!! OH NO!!! Not that....anything but that!
Silly, you say? Perhaps. Yet perhaps not nearly as silly as one might believe. It is amazing how often people forget to look at information, help, guidance, and solutions that have already been provided, and instead seek solutions and salvation in some different, far away place, simply because they think that no one could possibly understand their business problems.
If you become a franchisee in a particular system, you are probably doing so because you are anxious to acquire the accumulated knowledge, experience, insight, mistake avoidance, and wisdom of the franchisor. Nowhere is this information more completely documented, and more routinely updated than in the franchisor's manuals.
Franchise companies pay thousands of dollars to document their companys' policies and procedures. As a potential franchisee, you probably never ask the franchisor, "How good are your manuals?" (Secretly, we all hope that they are short, easy to read, and have lots of pictures.)
Those manuals, however, are at the heart of your success. They contain the keys to your future; and the diligence with which you read them may govern how fast you grow.
A few months ago while sitting in a seminar given by Cottman Transmissions, a young man (who happens to be their top-grossing franchise), Wayne Martella of Mesa, Arizona, got up to tell how he had become so incredibly successful. His story was remarkable not only because of the results he had achieved, but because of the powerful message it delivered about how near at hand, yet overlooked, help can often be. Wayne said, "Well, I was twenty-two when I bought the franchise, and I didn't know any better, so I just did what the manual said to do."
He added, "After about four years in the business, I thought I was growing too slowly and that I should do something about it, so I hired a marketing person and some other help, and started to develop some new ideas.
"One day I was cleaning out my office, and I saw the old Operations Manuals sitting there, so I dusted them off and glanced into them - I COULDN'T BELIEVE MY EYES! There were systems sitting there to do the very things that I was trying to accomplish. So I fired my marketing guy, went back to the tried and true, and my business doubled in a year or two."
It all comes down to how committed you are to your business whether you read the manuals or not. You buy the franchise because they have a successful system. You'll study that site selection manual with a magnifying glass - getting every last tip about picking the best possible location. And at training you will be studying the chapters that get you up and running, plus some of the basics of the business.
But after you have conquered the first three or four months, you'll need go back and read it all again, and this time it will make a lot more sense. Only the best franchisees do this, though, because it requires commitment and discipline.
If you have that drive to succeed, you'll be amazed at how much you don't know!
The ideas that screamed "INFORMATION OVERLOAD" to you at training, now can be implemented with the security that they have worked for many others.
In training, you picked up just the first, most needed information - now you can fine-tune your operation with the tips that were extraneous that first time around. And it all seems so easy when you read it - just "common sense." Of course it is, but it has been tried and proven by perhaps hundreds of other people. You take it all for granted.
Many of those one-line tips that you read so nonchalantly can save you thousands of dollars! A line that says, "Put your location near the source of your employees" makes such perfect sense when you are going into the temporary personnel business. That line would have saved me $10,000 when I opened an independent temp agency - I opened near my customers, which made me two bus rides and a two-block walk away from the people I was trying to hire. I had to move, and it cost almost $10,000.
How do you know if your franchise has good manuals?
Here are some things to look for:
1. There should be separate books, or at least separate sections, on the major functions of your business:
Pre-opening Manual -- to help you through the first days of your business. It should include demographic analysis, site selection, lease negotiation, design, construction, and organizational information on your business. It should get you up to the point where you go to training, and it may include the planning elements of grand opening that you need to take care of before you go to training.
Operations Manual -- this must include the vision of the company, your duties as an owner and/or manager, your employees' functions, legal considerations, cash handling systems, accounting systems, and operational trade secrets, such as recipes, sales tips, etc. It should have solid advice on sales, working with customers, coping with government regulations and requirements, and heading off potential problems before they become toxic.
Human Resources Manual - this should guide you in your quest to hire and manage employees. It should have job descriptions, how-to up-to-date legal guidance in handling employee problems.
Employee Training Manual - this includes the day-to-day activities for each job performed, but it excludes all trade secrets that only you should know.
Employee Human Resources Manual - this is a brief manual that you give to new employees to acquaint them with the franchise and with your policies and benefits.
Marketing/Advertising Manual - how to find customers, bring them to you, and keep them isn't cut and dried. Your franchisor has probably tried many things over the years, and there should be a discussion of what works most efficiently for the money, as well as information on all types of advertising media available and a success rating on each type. Examples of camera-ready materials, ads that worked, brochures, stationery and business cards, promotions, and guidelines for purchasing any of the above should be included.
2. Manuals are only as good as the people updating them! If you haven't received any new ideas or updates from your franchisor in some time, you may be at risk with some of your employment tactics, the EPA guidelines, or technology changes that are leaving you behind.
3. Updates are only as good as the people receiving them! If you have been getting additions to the manuals and throwing them inside the binder without looking at them, you are doing yourself, and your franchisor, a great disservice. If the information weren't important or useful, they wouldn't spend the money to send it.
Have you ever noticed that often the people who whine the loudest in a franchise are the ones who do the fewest things "by the book?" Many of these people never read "the book" at all and then complain because their businesses don't work very well. However, if you read the manual and do it their way, and it doesn't work - get on that phone fast and feed in the new information!
That's what franchising is all about - trading information on the best way to do things. You need to do your share to help the franchisor to be responsive to the marketplace, and the franchisor should reciprocate by correcting the manuals and sharing the insight you have earned the hard way. That's the most efficient, and sometimes the only, way that franchisors can stay ahead of the competition.
If you feel that your set of franchise manuals is hopelessly out of date, call your franchisor and ask if you can trade for more recent ones. They should be happy to oblige, since helping you to earn more money puts more money in their pockets - it's the whole premise behind franchising and the reason that franchisors write the manuals in the first place.
If you feel that you know your business inside out, read the manuals and find out if you do or not. If you know MORE than the manuals, your franchisor should appreciate your assistance in an update, offering your knowledge to others in the franchise. (This helps you, too -- the more successful people in a franchise, the more valuable each franchisee's business becomes.)
So dust off those books and be prepared to be surprised! Manuals can give you the answers to questions you may never have thought to ask - and a whole new outlook on your business.
Written by Cheri Carroll and Howard Bassuk
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