How to Leverage Operations Manuals to Maximize Franchisee Success

Welcome to another episode of Atlanta Franchise Today with host Leslie Kuban, expert franchise consultant and owner of FranNet Atlanta. Atlanta Franchise Today is dedicated to bringing entrepreneurs and business owners the best practices and tips for their franchise goals.

The value proposition of buying into a franchise is being able to take advantage of proven systems. Today we’re going to learn about how those systems are documented and shared. Leslie is joined by Lindsay VanderBroek from Manual Makers, a company that specializes in helping franchise brands with their manuals, guides, and playbooks.

Transcription: 

Leslie Kuban:
Lindsay, welcome to the show.

Lindsay VanderBroek:
Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

Leslie Kuban:
So Lindsay, tell us a little about your journey in franchising. How did you get started?

Lindsay VanderBroek:
Sure. So like many, I stumbled into the industry. And right out of college, I started working for an advertising agency and that’s what I always thought I would do and would love doing, but after a few years there, I realized something was missing and I wasn’t really being fulfilled in my career. So I started looking for a new position and a new opportunity and found a role as a franchise development and marketing coordinator for an emerging franchise. And I instantly just, once I was in the role, connected with the role, the franchisees that I was able to work with, and the industry, and the people I met through the industry. And from there, it was just smooth sailing. And after a few years in development, I transitioned over to operations.

Leslie Kuban:
And that’s the beauty of working with an emerging brand is because you’re in the middle of all of it. Because it’s a young brand, it’s a small team, you’re involved in marketing, in development, in operations, you work with the franchisee, and so you kind of get exposed to all of it. So, that’s great. You’ve moved into an area of passion now more on the operations behind the scenes side of franchising, which is where the magic happens. And so you’re in a part of a really important aspect of franchising is the foundational aspect in helping brands create all their different manuals and playbooks, and that’s what you guys do at Manual Makers. So tell us just a little bit more about that, what you do?

Lindsay VanderBroek:
At Manual Makers we help franchise companies and franchise clients of all shapes and sizes with three different things, which is creating, managing, and publishing their franchise manuals and any kind of franchise documentation. So for emerging brands, it always starts with the franchise operations manual because that’s a requirement for their FDD. And what I really love about working with emerging brands on their franchise operations manuals is guiding them through the process of getting their brand ready to scale. And that’s really rewarding and fulfilling to me because it’s going on in the background and you’re helping them lay that foundation for their offering. And then with the mature brands, it’s a little more customized because as franchises grow, they start developing needs for, to speak, have their manuals, guides and playbooks speak to individual audiences. So for example, there’s a trainer, trainer’s guide, or a construction guide, or first year opening guide. And it’s speaking to a specific audience for a specific purpose. So a lot of what we work on when they’re at that size, not only building the manuals, but managing their content library.

Leslie Kuban:
So what is the purpose of a franchise operations manual?

Lindsay VanderBroek:
It really outlines the required operations, the processes, systems and procedures for running the franchise, and the keyword there is outline, because a good operation as manual should really be the evergreen foundation to help with training and other more specific guides from there. So it allows franchise owners to self-service information and it’s really the foundation and the beginning of their franchise library.

Leslie Kuban:
So if I’m a prospective franchisee and I’m doing my due diligence, do you have any advice on questions I might ask the franchisor about the operations manual since I’m not going to really have access to it prior to my decision?

Lindsay VanderBroek:
One thing I’ll say is don’t be scared to ask questions, because the franchise operations manual is such an important piece. And what you’re really looking for is signs that the franchisor is operationally sophisticated, no matter what size it is. So for an emerging brand, you want to ask how often they update their manual, if they have a few units already. So you’re not really looking for a certain amount of time. You’re just looking for the fact that they have a process for the updates, and you might ask how the manual will be distributed to you and when it will be distributed to you.

Lindsay VanderBroek:
And for a larger franchise, you might, at that point, the franchise should have specialized guides and playbooks outside of the operations manual. So you might want to ask, will there be a marketing guide for my marketing team, or something like that. And even if there’s not a marketing guide for your marketing team, you’re looking for signs that the franchisor, they might reference some other playbooks or guides that would be helpful for you in operating your business. So just asking those questions, and doing your due diligence is definitely a good move.

Leslie Kuban:
So you want signs that there’s obviously been a level of sophistication, a level of advanced thinking around this operations manual, this is a living document, and it’s going to change, it’s going to be different when you have 50 franchisees versus when you have 10. So getting a sense of their plan and commitment for continuing to improve the system and how it’s memorialized.

Lindsay VanderBroek:
Yes.

Leslie Kuban:
… in the operations manuals and other supplemental, it sounds like training and marketing and labor playbooks and all the other supplements that go along with it.

Lindsay VanderBroek:
Yeah, because like you said, it’s the heart of the system. So it’s similar to how all the other elements will come into play, and you want it to be strong and useful.

Leslie Kuban:
I bet it’s all digitized now too, isn’t it? By and large. I remember back in the good old days, it’s literally a book this thick, which may still exist, but I would imagine it’s come into the 21st century very much now.

Lindsay VanderBroek:
Yes. And it’s interesting because what I’m seeing right now is a demand for what we can do with not just the building operations manuals, but also the content strategy behind it and the publishing, which is one of the three components that I mentioned, create, manage and publish, is franchise lawyers are looking for that online franchise manual. And there’s, just through a combination of content strategy and technology, which there’s many different options for technology. So one thing we do at Manual Makers when we are working with larger brands, because for the most part with emerging brands, what we do when we build their content is we future proof it and we input it into a content management system to set them up when they’re ready to go digital. But when you only have a couple franchise owners, a paper manual or a PDF is okay to have, but as your system grows and you’re able to identify areas where you can reuse content, maybe across your, something that lives in your franchise operations manual might also live in your construction guide, or your marketing guide.

Lindsay VanderBroek:
So, that’s what the content management system does, is it allows you to single source updates. So there’s a lot of cool developments going on in both franchise operations manuals and franchise manuals and just knowledge management in general.

Leslie Kuban:
So you work with a lot of emerging franchise brands, and is there something, is there advice you would give that entrepreneur who’s just getting into franchising, they’re going to use franchising as the platform to scale their brand? What can that entrepreneur do to prepare to make best use of your services? You help them prepare, but what’s their preparation so that it’s a good experience in working with you guys?

Lindsay VanderBroek:
So one thing that even before we begin working with them is to get out of the mindset, if you’re in the mindset, not everyone is, but there, because the operations manual is a requirement for the FDD, there’s sometimes a tendency to view it as just a checkbox to check off without because you’re still understanding the world of franchising at that phase, and the importance of building the manual right the first time and how it can save you time in the long run, is reason in itself enough to not view it as a check box. So to really focus in on those processes that you’re documenting and coordinate with your team, because it requires a lot of back and forth with the clients when we build those operations manuals, especially if they have no existing content and documentation to work with. So it requires a bit of time from their team and it can go much faster if everyone’s willing to commit five hours a week for specific topics when they’re the subject matter expert is what we call them. And to just really view the operations manual as the solid foundation for your system.

Leslie Kuban:
I’m hearing from you that it’s really important to prioritize it and to carve out adequate time because if you throw it together, it’s not going to well. And you’re going to end up down the road after you have a few franchisees revising the whole thing again. So better to take the time and do it right the first time.

Lindsay VanderBroek:
One thing that’s interesting that I learned through coming onto the Manual Makers team and working with franchise operations manuals is actually after the first couple franchise owners is when you see the first major update to your franchise manual, because they start their businesses, and that’s where we get back to the collaboration piece. And then they’re getting feedback from these owners as their system’s smaller. And the operations manual is just bound to change at that point. But actually from there, the frequency can be pretty on an annual basis, or semi-annual basis, because you are making the manual evergreen and you are referencing if you have a certain checklist that changes more frequently, you’ll just reference it in the manual, that’s one strategy, so that you’re not having to update the whole manual when whenever that checklist gets updated.

Leslie Kuban:
Right. If TikTok matters for your business, there’s a whole TikTok section in the operations manual, which didn’t exist a couple of years ago.

Lindsay VanderBroek:
Yeah. So marketing is one of those sections that is really like a brand standards and reference guide because of how frequently marketing changes.

Leslie Kuban:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, in franchising, as you know, is a big happy family and we meet tons of people, I always love to ask, is there any particular person in franchising you see as a mentor or someone you really admire?

Lindsay VanderBroek:
This year coming on to the manual makers team and switching over to the operational side of franchising, there’s two women in specific that have been really amazing mentors for me for everything operations, and that is our CEO and founder, Michelle Newcome. She started Manual Makers in 2011 when she was getting her MFA in poetry. I know.

Leslie Kuban:
Wow.

Lindsay VanderBroek:
She stumbled into it herself. She was asked to build the first operations manual for Planet Smoothie and knows just through people who worked there knowing that she had amazing writing capabilities. And from there she saw a need for Manual Maker services. And I just have so much respect for how she’s built such a great business. And she’s so helpful in building me up to really grow the brand even further. And I’ve really enjoyed being under her as a mentor for me. And then another woman in franchising that has really reached out and been awesome is Megan Allen. She is the president.

Leslie Kuban:
Love Megan.

Lindsay VanderBroek:
Yes, yes. She’s also FranNet and she is just such an amazing connector. She has connected me with so many other inspiring women in franchising and has really reached out because she also like us has that operations and sales background. So those are just a few.

Leslie Kuban:
There’s so many, and it’s such a good point that whether it’s in operations, or development, or franchisee, or franchisor, franchising is a wonderful career path for women. There’s a lot of us who’ve been around the horn, there’s many who are new, but it’s such a collaborative community that I encourage women who are interested in an entrepreneurial career path with some safety beneath it, franchising is a great opportunity for us indeed.

Lindsay VanderBroek:
Definitely. And it’s great to be a part of that community and it’s really awesome to see how other women really focus on empowering and building up their teams.

Leslie Kuban:
Well, it’s so great to see you and thanks for joining us.

Lindsay VanderBroek:
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

Leslie Kuban:
Folks, thanks for joining on another episode of Atlanta Franchise Today, and we will see you next week.


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