Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Franchise Myth

One of the important things I learned this year was how some of the popular business books I was reading were just wrong for the game trade. E-Myth Mastery and The Four Hour Work Week teach the theme that small business owners should aspire to not actually work in their businesses. The have become victims of their business and they should be lying on a beach somewhere or in the case of a game store owner, playing in the back all day. Build your business as a way to do what you love, as opposed to your business being what you love to do. Business advice and process then become methods on how to create a kind of franchise that you can hand off to your employees while you follow your passion.

The problem with these types of books, I think, is you'll actually harm your business as you attempt to remove yourself from it. They assume that your business is consuming your life, that you should instead work on your business instead of in your business. There is certainly some good advice here, and everyone should attempt to own their schedule and work as much as they like, but the end premise, like a lot of things, goes too far.

Customer service is in the details and streamlining processes eliminates the exceptions that makes small business relevant. Sure, you get a consistency of experience, which every business owner should aim for, but you also create a system that doesn't respond well to change, which is a small business top strength. Exceptions are the bane of flow charts and processes. Many of the changes we made this year, related to listening to customers, would not have been implemented in such a scenario. They're too messy for a franchise. They come from intensively working in your business.

These books do have value however. As I mentioned consistency of experience is a core business value and these kinds of books tutor you on how to do that. Special orders come to mind as a key failing point of most retail stores. Some don't do them. Most do them poorly. A few get good consistency. As you've seen in my past posts, it's the hardest thing to do, as you're chaperoning a product across the spectrum of the game industry to be placed into the hands of your customer. It's remarkably difficult and mistake prone, but essential for customer service.

The other value is actually controlling how many hours you spend in your business. Many store owners are reluctant to delegate and work ridiculous hours, unnecessarily. Perhaps they've been ripped off by their employees, or have trust issues. Maybe they just don't think they can afford to do it, which might be true in their scenario. Books like these preach the value of handing off work to capable employees, and focusing on training them to do that work through clear processes. However, I think if you're tempted to delegate all your work, you might want to consider if you've lost interest in your business. The phrase from a book I read decades ago comes to mind: Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow.