Since founding Smith & Henderson in 2011, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the world’s best franchisors. I’ve attended many franchise conferences, listened to inspirational leaders and watched them masterfully scale their systems.

Here are the seven top lessons that I’ve learned:

1. Become unstoppable

The story of Cononel Sanders is truly inspirational. At the age of 65, Harland Sanders received his first retirement cheque and questioned how do I live on this? With little resources but a treasured fried chicken recipe he travelled door-to-door to restaurants, pitching they could use his recipe in return for a basic royalty. Needless to say, he wasn’t met with much enthusiasm – the first 1,009 restaurants he approached said no!  Undeterred, he kept going and after 1,010 approaches got his first “yes”. Today, KFC has over 19,000 locations.

When I first set up Smith & Henderson, I drew up a list of exactly 1,010 franchisors. I then contracted with myself that if I spoke with all 1,010 and they all said the Best Franchise Awards was a rubbish idea, I would stop, but not a moment sooner. Luckily they didn’t.


2. Focus on your mission, vision and values

One of the BIGGEST differences between franchisors that stumble ahead compared to those which are consistently growing is down to clarity. Their leaders, franchisees and front line staff all know why they’re doing what they’re doing (your mission), where they’re trying to go (your vision), and how they’re going to go about it (your values). This is the glue that holds their organisations together.

The best franchisors turn their mission, vision and values into a recruitment weapon. Learning from them, when we recruit at Smith & Henderson, we really emphasise our vision and values. We can’t always compete with large blue-chip companies in terms of salary and benefits, but we can punch above our weight in terms of culture and our sense of purpose.


3. Be the hedgehog

The famous essay by Isaiah Berlin, “The Hedgehog and the Fox” describes how the world is divided into two types. The fox knows many things – it is cunning, able to devise complex strategies to sneak an attack upon the hedgehog. The hedgehog knows one big thing, rolling up into a perfect little ball and becoming a sphere of sharp spikes, pointing outward in all directions. The hedgehog always wins despite the different tactics employed by the fox.

Jim Collins famously said good to great companies are more like hedgehogs; they know one big thing and stick to it. The best franchisors don’t try to be all things to all people – they have a narrow focus and obsess about being the best in the world in their niche.


4. Set BIG Goals

Love him or hate him, it’s hard to disagree that Donald Trump is mega successful. One of his best qualities is thinking BIG. Aged 27, he pulled off an $85million deal to transform the dilapidated Commodore Hotel on 42nd Street in New York into the Grand Hyatt, when no one else shared his vision. At Google’s “X”, also known as its “moonshot factory”, it’s focused on launching technologies that could someday make the world a radically better place but knowing most of these will fail.

Similarly, inspirational franchisors set big, audacious goals that they know they can’t yet reach, because they know that by stretching to meet them they can get further than they expected.


5. Invest ahead of the curve

Growth – the extra office space, IT and infrastructure, costs money. It’s not surprising that many franchisors and indeed their franchisees put off hiring decisions until they really need that new member of staff. The bad news is, often by then it’s too late. By the time you’ve selected and hired your new team member, months have gone by with customer service affected and no time for training.

Successful franchisors know they need to make investments earlier and their short term profits will decline, but in the long run, their businesses will flourish.


6. Reinvent yourself

As a business grows the role of the leader changes, or at least it ought to. At the beginning, the founder is hands on, winning business and serving customers. As the company franchises, the leader must provide a clear vision for the future, recruit the right franchisees and build the support infrastructure. With layers of management eventually needed, the leader must reinvent themself again, operating in a strategic leadership role, setting strategic priorities, looking at external threats and ensuring that the entire organisation is aligned behind their vision.


7. Treat suppliers like partners

No business is an island – external companies can play a critical role in helping you support franchisees, delight customers and scale your business. By treating your suppliers as partners, they’re will better understand your business, sense your challenges and feel emotionally invested to go the extra mile.

Ask yourself, does your business always pay on time; provide adequate lead times; take an interest in suppliers as people and share information?

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but hopefully gives you some food for thought as we enter 2017.