Some women plan on becoming business owners practically as soon as they can talk and others fall into it by happenstance, but the motivation is often the same — they want to escape the drudgery of working for someone else and make their own business decisions. Mary Ellen Sheets became an entrepreneur once her sons went off to college, leaving their after-school moving business behind. Before that, she was a systems analyst. “It’s a wonderful feeling,” Sheets says of running her business and watching it grow. “It’s so fun it was like not even working.” Sheets says one of the most rewarding things for her is being able to provide others with good jobs. She started franchising Two Men and A Truck in 1989, and the company now has about 190 locations.
Because so many women have already spent years in the work force by the time they’re ready to take the leap, becoming a franchisee is a great way for them to jump into business ownership without having to spend several more years doing research. Choosing a franchise still requires lots of due diligence, of course, but the biggest bonus of franchising is that it’s a proven system. For a lot of women, especially those supporting a family, knowing they won’t have to make the same mistakes the franchise’s founders did is key, says Sheets.
Franchising also plays to several traits women tend to have. Women are natural networkers, a skill that’s fundamental to becoming a successful franchisee. Being the new business owner in town, explains Sheets, means going out into the community to introduce yourself and attending events. Women tend to be good at networking within the business community and sustaining support systems with both men and women. Women with a nurturing side tend to excel at customer service — something on which a franchise’s success often depends. At Two Men and A Truck, Sheets has also noticed that women are very good at managing other people, an ability that’s vital to training and retaining employees.
Nikki Sells spent 14 years as a franchisee herself, and is currently vice president of franchise development at Tasti D-Lite, a soft serve frozen dessert franchisor. She’s seen firsthand some of the strengths and weaknesses women and men bring to the table as franchisees. “When [women] find the right brand for themselves, that passion transfers [to the business],” says Sells, who believes that women have the ability to be passionate about whatever business they own, be it a frozen yogurt shop or a janitorial service. “They’re great ambassadors for their brands. They talk about it, they live it, they breathe it.”
Another advantage of franchising is that it gives women a way to leave the corporate world behind and take charge. “Franchising offers [women] that opportunity to really create their own destiny and call their own shots,” says Sells, who believes that in the corporate world, women still face real obstacles in some industries. As franchisees, women have the opportunity to own their own progress 100 percent — be it success or failure.
One reason both women and men are drawn to franchising is the flexibility it provides, as franchise systems of all kinds allow franchisees to work from home, part time, or flexible hours. Even though the numbers have changed drastically over the last few decades, more women than men are still primary caregivers in households. Being in charge of their own work schedules gives women the chance to have more balanced personal and professional lives. And being the primary caregivers all these years has also given women an advantage in business, says Sells: They’re really good organizers.
An area some women need to work on, Sells cautions, is finances. She’s seen a lot of women who aren’t financially prepared to open a business. In the past, it was easier for women to get loans, since they’re considered a minority in business. But with the recession in full swing, even the Small Business Administration has cut back drastically on its lending. Women who are thinking of becoming franchisees need to take a close look at their personal finances — the sooner the better. Advises Sells, “Know how much money you have to invest, make sure your credit is really good, and make sure that you’ve got enough cash upfront to invest in the startup fees you need.”
Carrie Brenner is a writer and editor based in Southern California.