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Imagine this television commercial: a bunch of teenage kids in a house, eating junk food, playing video games with rap music blasting.

The narrator says: "Hey kids: tired of listening to your parents? Why not do whatever YOU want to do? Join the Army!"

Ludicrous, right? (Imagine the kids' surprise when their hair gets buzzed off, they're issued identical uniforms and that whole "reveille thing" is explained for the first time.) No one in their right mind would advertise so foolishly, would they?

That would be like recruiting a franchisee, one who must faithfully comply with a system of rigid rules and guidelines, with ads that say:

"Entrepreneurs Wanted!"

"Imagine the freedom! Imagine the opportunity!"

"Promote yourself to President!"

I call it the BYOB! (Be your own boss!) marketing myth. Warning signs include phrases like: "Own your own business!" "Be your own boss!" "Achieve financial freedom!" "Fire your boss!" "Take control of your life!" or similar variations.

Marketing the BYOB! myth is one of the most dangerous mistakes franchisors make. And it's the cause of much of the conflict in franchisor/franchisee relations.

Many franchisors attract prospects with the promise of freeing them from oppression and giving them the chance to gain control. There's only one problem: Franchise systems are built on adherence, not independence. Franchisors want implementers, not rebels. They often recruit individuals who are yearning to break free from their harness, but as soon as the contract is signed the franchisor expects them to docilely slip into their harness.

Requiring conformity, adherence to an established system and a shared identity is not necessarily a bad thing. That's what gives franchising its power. So why do franchisors work so hard to attract the wrong people and set the wrong expectations?

The mything link

Why, you may ask, do we sell the opportunity to join a conformist system via a dream of individualism? Why have we, as an industry, perpetuated the link between BYOB! and franchise ownership?

First, because it's an easy sell. It makes ad copy pop. The dream of being freed from day-to-day tyranny is a powerful one. Telling one's boss to take this job and shove it is the real American Dream. It's Easy Rider. It's Thelma & Louise. It's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Unfortunately, it often delivers the same outcome.

Second, too few franchisors have actually given much thought to their franchise marketing message. They tend to just say what everyone else says: B.Y.O.B.! Many commission marketing research and branding platforms at the consumer level; more need to create a thoughtful strategy and platform for their franchise brand.

The third reason for the prevalence of the myth is the influence of commissioned franchise salespeople and brokers who are compensated for short term sales, not long-term franchisee performance or satisfaction. By the time the franchisees start storming the castle, the commissions are spent and the salespeople are long gone.

Another reason for this myth is that many founders are themselves entrepreneurs who are guided by what would motivate them. But the fact is that few founders could survive very long as franchisees of their own systems. Those who are looking primarily for implementers should not seek entrepreneurs. One franchisor per system is enough (and, according to some, one too many).

A "Never-ending Battle of Wills."

Army recruiters say Be all that you can be. They don't say "Be your own boss," or "Do what you want." They appeal to the individual's self-interest: Communicating what the prospect will gain by trading in their freedom for the benefit of being part of something greater than oneself, of being disciplined and following directions. In Army recruiting, there is a regard for the brand, the team, even the rules themselves and the benefits they provide.

Franchisors must realize that the importance of avoiding the BYOB! myth goes beyond effective recruitment and setting realistic expectations. Its importance goes directly to establishing and preserving the trust that is critical to their success. As Peter Birkeland states at the end of his book "Franchising Dreams," establishing high levels of trust with franchisees is the most critical problem for franchisors. "For those who cannot achieve that," states Birkeland, "The problem of control is a never-ending battle of wills."

Prospective franchisees must do their homework and understand the true nature of the relationship they are entering. There are no do-overs in franchising. Once they sign that big fat agreement they are giving up their autonomy, and are expected to be team players even when they disagree. If they don't want to end up posting on UnhappyFranchisee.com, they'd better make sure the system they are joining provides benefits that outweigh the costs, and is run by people they trust.

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