Franchising is a juggling act – success depends on managers, franchisees and staff all being able to communicate and work towards one key goal in a business. The stories of failure are well known here, which is why it’s worthwhile asking those who do it well for the secrets to success.
Smartline Personal Mortgage Advisors has received no shortage of pats on the back for its franchise system and is today collecting its eighth consecutive TopFranchise award from SeekBusiness and 10 Thousand Feet. The awards rank businesses based on their marketing, expansion opportunities, workplace culture and systems – with Smartline coming out on top for its focus on communication with franchisees.
Founder Chris Acret has watched the mortgage space explode since he and his co-founder launched their own broking business in 1999, and Smartline now generates around $80 million each year.
So how did management harness this growth effectively? Here are five tips from Acret for expanding and hanging on to good franchise talent.
1. Look for happy staff
“There’s no easy way of attracting good people,” Acret told SmartCompany, likening the problem of recruitment to “my golf swing – there’s no way to solve it”.
But what franchisors can do is look to the mood of their franchise owners and ensure they’re satisfied with the day-to-day.
“We have successful, happy franchise owners,” Acret says.
“The best thing someone can do is talk to people in the network and see how happy they are”.
2. Don’t become fixated with a brand name
“Smartline’s not a household name, but that’s not part of the strategy,” says Acret.
While the business is a network of around 300 mortgage brokers, from the beginning the team focused on word-of-mouth marketing instead of big ad campaigns.
“We’ve never had an aspiration to build a large consumer brand,” he says.
This approach has also led to a greater focus on having strong people around the operation, Acret says.
“It’s a nice business to be in because there’s a lot of good people in the group. That’s important.”
3. Mix systems with service
In an ideal scenario, each franchise delivers a consistent service across each branch, while also providing a solid one-on-one customer service experience. For the mortgage broking business, this means giving clients straightforward options, while being supportive.
“We find people the right loan and battle with the banks for them, really,” Acret says.
“A lot of people think of a franchise as a shopfront – we think of it as a system.”
This extends to ensuring that each franchisee works with the same processes, goals and discipline – but achieving this is an ongoing process.
“You need to work very, very hard on the overall culture of the business. We’re always thinking about ways to make it more effective and efficient.”
4. Share knowledge
Smartline avoids pitting mortgage brokers against each other in terms of performance. Acret says instead, the priority is encouraging communication both between management and franchisees and between franchisees themselves.
“It’s like any culture – It doesn’t all come from the headmaster – over time the kids develop the school spirit. We really encourage franchisees to do that,” he says.
This involves a variety of forums in which franchisees can speak their mind and are encouraged to share information and best practice about the business. The hope is that franchisees will feel listened to and problems can be resolved easily.
“In terms of the relationship between us and the franchise owners, it comes down to trust and proving you’re on the same side” Acret says.
5. Be disciplined about your purpose
Acret and his business partner struck out on their own after time at Mortgage Choice – and were always on the lookout for more efficient models for mortgage broking.
“The overall aim was around the quality of what we did – and what sort of business and service would achieve that,” he says.
With that clear purpose in mind, the business was able to expand and work with satisfied franchisees to make the most of Australia’s property boom.
“At the moment it’s a really good space to be in. we definitely haven’t looked back,” he says.