Internal communication in a small business is relatively simple. But creating a successful internal communication strategy for franchises under your control on the other hand - that can be a serious challenge...
Hundreds of different locations. Different time zones. Different business leaders.
It all adds up to a lot of things to consider.
But each node on your franchise network has a lot of support and resources to offer you. As well as to give to the other nodes on your network.
Consistent, supportive communication that reflects your brand is the goal.
But how do we create that?
Here's how to improve internal communication in a franchise system:
1. Don’t overdo email - one global weekly is enough
Imagine you're one of your own franchisees. You receive half a dozen emails from head office every day. They're on any number of subjects. They fly in at any time. Because of the sheer quantity of emails, occasionally there's a spelling error. Or a huge stream of responses from other franchisees asking for clarification of the latest tiny change...
Email is a powerful communication tool. But like all power, it needs to be used responsibly.
Overuse of email can result in your franchisees feeling:
- Like they're being bombarded with information
- That they should be checking their email account every few seconds
- Worse, that they should ignore their email account because it's becoming a source of stress
- And worst of all, a sense that you are not in control
The solution is obvious:
The internal communications plan for your franchise should include one weekly global email. This email should be:
- Carefully planned and concise
- Timed to arrive on a fixed schedule (perhaps Friday morning or Wednesday afternoon)
- Thoroughly checked for errors
- Approved by you or another director
- Tracked to ensure it's been received and read by all franchisees
This avoids a continual barrage of information. It still lets you communicate through this ideal medium. And it keeps your entire network on the same page regarding recent developments.
2. Create shared online resources
Online methods as internal channels of communication for your franchise system don't just stop at email. There are a number of cloud-based platforms available - several of which are ideal for multi-location businesses:
- Google Docs - is an obvious solution to many problems, allowing you to create shared documents that can be edited by multiple users in real time.
- Dropbox - is another highly useful piece of software. It lets you store photos, videos, and other types of file, in addition to documents. All will be instantly available through shared online dropboxes stored in the file sharing company's cloud.
- Box/ Box.net - is very similar to Dropbox, if slightly less well known. It's designed with even more business functionality in mind.
These types of software allow you to provide a huge amount of ready information to all of your franchisees. This is information that will always be available at the click of a button - information that your franchisees can access on demand. And critically, access without the need to interrupt their daily services.
It will also mean that you don't need to constantly send out email updates (see Tip #1) regarding changes.
Consider having a regular section of your global email which draws attention to important changes to any of the important Dropbox files or Google Docs that your franchise system relies on.
A franchise intranet. Installing and maintaining a system which needs to be constantly expanded, or change hierarchy when you expand internationally via master franchisees, can be resource intensive. Especially if it's a custom system designed with your needs in mind. But a franchise intranet gives you a great many benefits in terms of internal communication.
Regardless of which you select, any online internal franchise communication system you implement needs to be rigorously maintained and monitored to ensure coherence of tone, message, and accuracy of information.
3. Encourage interaction
Your franchisees need to know they can contact you whenever they need to. And that you - or a member of your office team whom they know - are going to be there to speak to them when you do.
To encourage this, it's helpful if your franchisees have online spaces which they know are the correct channels to contact you through when certain issues arise.
You might consider:
- Online message boards or forums
- Company websites or web portals with templates for specific reports
- Private groups on social media
Frequently Asked Questions can always be directed to specific portions of your online resources (see Tip #2). But if a franchisee has a question, they should be able to get an answer. Otherwise you run the risk of them answering a question for themselves, possibly differently than another franchisee already has, creating inconsistency.
In general, you'll get the greatest benefit from encouraging the formulation of a company culture that's based around positive, ever-ready communication and support. Perhaps the sentiment is overused, but facilitating effective teamwork throughout your franchise network is your internal communication plan's main goal.
This attitude to communication should be part of your core message. We'll take a look at this in Tip #4...
4. Repeat your core messages
It's almost certainly part of your brand ethos that you're a friendly or professional operator. This attitude should be consistent in every aspect of your external and internal communications.
In Tip #3 we looked at encouraging interaction. This should extend to collecting feedback relating to large changes that you're planning to implement. Even if you end up not acting on the feedback, you should make it clear that it's been received, and return a positive, transparent reasons for why you disagree. Not a stock response which only serves to demonstrate that you don't care what your franchisees think.
Your top-performing franchisees are a resource in and of themselves. Get them involved in large and small issues - ask for their feedback, ideas, and then get them to support the ideas and plans they've helped formulate in your global communications.
Franchise communications best practices should include:
a. Listen actively at all times
People like to feel like they're listened to. It's no good a franchisee calling you or your office team with a query and finding you were too busy to speak to them. Or that you gave them no useful information. Who knows? Next time, they might not bother calling at all...
Benefit for you: Franchisees will be happy to contact you when they have issues (through the correct channel) so that problems can be dealt with correctly, and changes implemented network-wide if needed.
b. Take an interest
Imagine calling the head office you've worked for in any job where you've held a senior role. Picture that, despite you being a vital part of their operation, the person on the other end didn't seem to know who you were...
Benefit for you: Team building sounds like a rather trite benefit, but the advantages are there to be seen. Your franchise network will function more efficiently - and more profitably - when everyone pulls together. That's why it's so important to take an interest in your individual locations and the people who are in charge of them.
Plus, satisfied franchisees will breed more satisfied franchisees. And more new franchises, as word gets out that you're the company to be a part of.
c. Be honest and transparent
In internal communication, straightforward and honest responses should always be strived for.
Benefit for you: You'll build up a pool of good will. Through this you'll find future communication - and dealing with future issues - all the easier.
Your internal communication team should be aware of their responsibilities in this area. Establish a clear timeframe of response for every enquiry.
d. Document issues
"But I called and told you about this problem last week!" is not a sentence you ever want to hear from one of your franchisees.
Benefit for you: Problems and issues are resolved rapidly and cohesively. Your franchisees remain happy to come to you with problems, knowing that you take what they say on board and act to resolve them.
Make sure your entire team know the importance of documenting any communication - especially those relating to issues or problems.
By always acting within this core philosophy, you'll remain consistent in all of your communication, and with your brand.
5. Be positive
"Oh no... another moaning email from head office!" is the sort of sentiment you don't want to engender when your franchisees see your latest global email.
There's an easy solution though:
Be positive. Even if you're writing to point out a problem, you need to temper your criticism with positivity. Encouragement rather than brow-beating should always be your go-to method of eliciting improvements.
The links to Tip #4 and Tip #1 are clear - not every email you send should be a negative list of changes. Bear the type of company culture you want to promote in mind.
Highlight the successes of individual franchisees in global emails - or even better, with a handwritten note or personal phone call. Reach out in person to both successful and not so successful franchises. Share ideas as well as issues.
Don't just talk to your franchisees when something is wrong. Don't solely get in touch because you want something.
Promoting this kind of positive interaction will stand you in great stead when something does go wrong. Your franchisees need to know you see the hard work they're putting in during the difficult times as well as the good.
Let them know that you see the big picture. And they'll reward you with a solid relationship, good communication, and greater profits all round as you move forward.
How to Design Internal Communication Strategy For Franchises
Local Fame is your first port of call for franchise internal communication tips and hints - as well as successful franchise marketing techniques and strategies.
Get in touch now and speak to a specialist about how your internal channels of communication are set up. We'll be glad to offer any advice that you need.
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