In this current economic downturn many people will lose their jobs.  Many of those individuals will turn to franchising as a form of business ownership instead of opting for another position in the corporate world.  While franchising may be a legitimate option for some, it is important for prospective franchisees to remember that it is not often very easy to get out of a franchise agreement.  Investing in a franchise is not a decision to take lightly.

A typical franchise agreement may last anywhere from 5-10 years and have options for renewal.  Often franchisees mistakenly believe they can get out of the franchise agreement if things go bad.  The reality is that the written franchise agreement usually remains in force and often the franchisor has rights to sue the franchisee for lost royalties if the franchisee does not pay.  Not to mention potential problems you will have with your lease and/or other contracts.

So before you buy a franchise follow these steps as outlined on the FTC Website:

  • Study the disclosure document and proposed contract carefully.
  • Interview current owners in person. (They should be listed in the disclosure document.) Visiting them in person may help you identify any that are "shills" — people paid to give favorable reports. Don’t rely on a list of references selected by the company because it may contain shills. Ask owners and operators how the information in the disclosure document matches their experiences with the company.
  • Investigate claims about your potential earnings. Some companies may claim that you’ll earn a certain income or that existing franchisees or business opportunity purchasers earn a certain amount. Companies making earnings representations must provide you with the written basis for their claims. Be suspicious of any company that does not show you in writing how it computed its earnings claims.
  • Sellers also must tell you in writing the number and percentage of owners who have done as well as they claim you will. Keep in mind that broad sales claims about successful areas of business — "Be a part of our $4 billion industry," for example — may have no bearing on your likelihood of success. Also, recognize that once you buy the business, you may be competing with franchise owners or independent business people with more experience than you.
  • Shop around. Compare franchises with other business opportunities. Some companies may offer benefits not available from the first company you considered.
  • Listen carefully to the sales presentation. Some sales tactics should signal caution. For example, if you are pressured to sign immediately "because prices will go up tomorrow," or "another buyer wants this deal," slow down. A seller with a good offer doesn’t use high-pressure tactics. Get the seller’s promises in writing. Any oral promises you get from a salesperson should be written into the contract you sign. If the salesperson says one thing but the contract says nothing about it or says something different, it’s the contract that counts. If a seller balks at putting oral promises in writing, be alert to potential problems and consider doing business with another firm.
  • Consider getting professional advice. Ask a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor to read the disclosure document and proposed contract. The money and time you spend on professional assistance, and research — such as phone calls to current owners — could save you from a bad investment decision.

In representation of a new franchisor I have recently been on the other end of this investigation process. But it is clear to me that a good franchisor will not discourage you from conducting due diligence.  You should be very wary of high pressure sales tactics.  Don’t be in a hurry.