Have you only worked in non-profits, and wonder whether the skills you’ve gained in those positions could translate into entrepreneurship? Would you have what it takes? Would you be able to succeed? If you’ve asked yourself these questions, you have to hear Debbie Lou’s story.
Debbie Lou’s Journey From Non-Profit to Franchise Ownership
Debbie’s past positions were all in the non-profit world (public good, higher education, etc.), most recently working at the UCSD Cancer Center. When her position was eliminated, she found herself in a professional crisis and realized she had to reinvent herself in order to move forward.
Debbie started by looking into starting a business from scratch. As a frequent volunteer at the Southern California German Shepherd Rescue and dog lover, she came up with an idea for a dog-related business. People always say to follow your passion and the job will follow, so that’s where she started.
Once she started researching to see if there were any businesses out there who had already started working on her idea, she discovered a franchise that was very similar. This was the first time she considered buying a franchise, but the more she thought about it the more it made sense. As a woman in her 40s, starting from scratch was starting to seem too risky.
She reached out to the franchise, but it was going through corporate restructuring and didn’t have any territories for sale when she called. For some people, that would signal the end of the journey, but it was just the beginning for Debbie.
What it’s Like to Work with a Franchise Coach
Debbie turned to Diane Pleuss, a franchise coach with FranChoice. She describes the process as similar to matchmaking – she was interviewed, completed a questionnaire, and was asked about her lifestyle and goals, both business and personal.
Diane was a great resource, and Debbie recommends that women thinking about buying a franchise find a coach they trust to work with. Keep in mind that coaches take a commission (the corporate company will pay this when you sign on to buy the franchise), so find one who truly has your best interests in mind and don’t feel pressured by a pushy coach.
From those discussions, Diane brought Debbie three potential franchise candidates:
- Two Maids & a Mop, a housekeeping franchise
- A recruiting firm for management in the hospitality industry
- College Nannies, Sitters, and Tutors
Debbie chose College Nannies, Sitters, and Tutors because it offered the opportunity to make more of an impact than the other two. It would give her a chance to work with families, be out in her community, and interact with children.
Of course, making an impact wasn’t the only factor that helped her make her decision. One of the others was the fact that College Nannies, Sitters, and Tutors published their financial performance information in the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD). This transparency was refreshing, as many franchisors do not include that in their FDDs.
She also spoke with many current and former franchisees throughout the validation process who made her feel confident in her decision.
Debbie still had some doubts, though. Her prior work experience had so little to do with entrepreneurship. Did she have what it takes? There’s no guarantee no matter how great the data looks…
Finally, she decided she just had to take the risk. If she failed, at least she’d know she’d tried. All she could do was her best – her best to educate herself, learn what she needs to do, and work as hard as possible. Debbie decided to go for it and buy the franchise.
Support Systems for Franchisees
You may be wondering what happens right after signing the paperwork and sending your franchise fee to the company, and Debbie’s experience was definitely unique. The day she mailed everything in happened to be her birthday. When she was out celebrating with her boyfriend Tim that evening, he proposed! It’s all been a whirlwind since then.
Now Debbie’s husband, Tim has been her number one supporter. If you listen to the podcast episode and the way she talks about him, you can just tell how important his support, both emotionally and financially, has been in her franchise journey. Like many women, Debbie says she couldn’t have done it without him – it is so important to have your partner on board when you decide to own or invest in a franchise.
Another great source of support is other franchise owners. College Nannies, Sitters, and Tutors has tons of supports in place:
- A franchise advisory council within each region that leads monthly calls between franchisees
- A closed Facebook page for owners to share advice and experiences
- An annual conference
- A directory with everyone’s contact information so franchisees can call or email each other at any time
These supports have helped Debbie find fast success as a franchisee – she opened her “virtual doors” last November (a brick and mortar location is a goal for a later date), and was already generating revenue that first month. It’s been such a great experience, she hopes to eventually expand and own another territory.
Thinking of following in Debbie’s footsteps? Her top two pieces of advice are to get a coach and know your finances. How much can you afford today? How much could you afford to lose? Lastly, she says there’s so much more involved than finding your passion and turning it into a business. Instead, find what you enjoy within the business you choose, whether it’s the people you serve, the impact on your community, or anything else.
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