“Be Your Own Boss!” “Entrepreneurs Wanted!” “Imagine the Freedom!” “Promote Yourself to President!” “Call Your Own Shots!” “Control Your Own Destiny!” “Achieve Independence!”

There are a great number of prospective franchise owners who work unsatisfying jobs for bosses they don’t respect in companies they don’t trust. Appealing to that longing for freedom and independence would be an obvious way to attract and convert franchise prospects, right?

Absolutely! If you’re a moron, an outright scammer, or are driven to self-destruction, exploiting the BYOB Myth of franchising is the way to go!

The BYOB (Be your own boss!) Myth, like its first-cousin the OYOB! (Own your own business!) Myth, is distinguishable by the use of these tell-tale phrases: “Own your own business!” “Be your own boss!” “Achieve financial freedom!” “Fire your boss!” “Take control of your life!” or similar variations.

What’s wrong with telling franchise prospects what they want to hear?
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 and be in charge of your own life!”

Imagine the kids’ surprise when their hair gets buzzed off, they’re issued identical uniforms and subjected to that whole “reveille thing.” They’re told when to rise and when to turn the lights out. Do you think they’d harbor a little resentment? Think they’d be eager to follow their leaders into battle?

The Army’s effective recruitment advertising does not say “Be your own boss,” or “Do what you want.” It says “Be all that you can be,” and, more recently, “Be an Army of One.” It appeals to the individual’s self-interest: Communicating what the prospect will gain, what he or she will learn, how joining the Army will make him or her look to others and feel about his or herself. But it sells the benefit of being part of something greater than oneself, of being disciplined and following directions. Above all, there is a regard for the brand, the team, even the rules themselves and the benefits they provide.

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 logoed harness.

Requiring conformity, adherence to an established system and a shared identity is not a bad thing. That’s what gives franchising its power. So why do franchisors often attract the wrong people by setting the wrong expectations?

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 your 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 promises about 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 the 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 could be that many who founded and lead franchise companies are, indeed, entrepreneurs and project their own values onto the franchise prospect. They assume that what would motivate them would motivate a prospect. 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, still one too many).

Another is the use of the BYOB Myth by bona fide scam artists who don’t plan to be around long enough to deal with the fallout.

Ultimately, 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 between franchisor and franchisee that is critical to their mutual 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.”

Sean Kelly is President of IdeaFarm and Publisher of FranBest. He can be reached by emailing him at info[@]

8 Responses to “Franchising’s Deadly Be Your Own Boss Myth”

  1. 1

    This is a great post Sean. I would like your authorization to post it on my blog…

  2. 2 Debby

    I do agree with most of what you say. However, there are some good franchises out there that do not promote in a way that takes advantage of people.
    Unfortunately they are in the minority and are lost in the shuffle.

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