Do You Want a Business or a Job?

Subway Franchise

Here’s a proposal for you: raise a quarter of million dollars through withdrawing your life savings, borrowing from family members, and maxing out your credit cards. Pay that to a company that will “give you a business.” Operate that business precisely how they tell you– no exceptions are allowed. Every decision from whom you hire to what services you offer to where you locate your store is defined by the company.

They’ll even tell you what color shirt you are required to wear to work in “your own business.”

If the business works well, you’ll make an average of $47,000 a year after scraping by for three years working the same 50-hour work weeks you could spend at someone else’s company with a lot less stress. In this winning scenario, your ultimate success won’t be having started a business. You’ll have bought yourself a job.

If the business fails, which happens quite often, the company will take back the store from you and resell it another sucker… I mean client. When they do this, they won’t even count your failure as a store closure in their statistics, so when you hear that 95% of franchise locations stay open, you have no idea who is operating them and who owes their family $250,000 that they have no way to repay.

How does that proposal sound to you?

Probably not so great, but companies that franchise themselves are great at persuading people otherwise. These franchises make money by selling to franchisees. They spend that money on marketing to other would-be franchisees (just look at Entrepreneur magazine).

Think this doesn’t happen? Take a look around. Subway, Quizno’s, UPS Store, vending machines, etc. Pick up Entrepreneur magazine and flip to the back. You’ll find literally hundreds of franchise opportunities that promise exactly this scenario.

What’s the way out of this trap disguised as an opportunity? There are two options:

1) After the $250,000 investment and three years of hard work, your business is profitable and you can truly outsource its operation. You can then open multiple locations, which most franchise owners say is the only way to achieve long-term, six-figure profitability. It does work for some people; it’s just hard.

2) Start a real business. As in, your own business that belongs to you with your name on it. Success or failure is entirely up to you. Don’t go into debt if you can help it, but if you have no choice, at least your debt will go to your own venture instead of a corporate sandwich shop.

In the long term, this is the only way forward for most independently minded entrepreneurs. I’ve never been good at following directions, so unless you want a color-by-numbers business, you should stay away too.

If a business opportunity is a) high risk, b) high stress, c) high maintenance, and d) low on growth potential, why would you even consider it? Don’t believe the hype! Eat the sandwiches at Quizno’s, get a mailbox at the UPS Store, but leave the franchise brochures behind.


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  • Duff says:

    Wow! I’ve never seen such a devastating critique of franchising. I suspected it wasn’t nearly as easy as I’ve heard, but that’s wild.

    Thanks for this!


    p.s. Found your blog via

  • Chris says:

    Thanks, Duff!

    I’m sure some people will disagree with the critique, but I suspect only a small minority of franchise owners are successful enough to defend the system. At best it is a lot of work for small rewards, and at worst it is exploitative.

  • Greg says:

    Great post Chris!! Definitely turns the tables on what I thought franchises were and how they worked. Excellent job =)

    (found your blog through zenhabits)

  • Jon P says:

    Chris, not that I ever considered a franchise (although I do have my own business), but for some reason this post makes me feel good that my instincts were right.

  • Ben Kelly says:

    Excellent post.

    In the defence of franchsing, I think they are a very attractive prospect for someone who has been working in a job for a long time, has family and financial obligations, and yet still wants to be his own boss. These people may feel security in having routines to follow, and having a strategy and plan set-out for them.

    Personally, they have no attraction to me at all, but I have met some very happy franchisees who would recommend them as a good way to earn a living.

    It may come as no suprise, that none of these owned a branch of the increasingly popular sandwich shop…


  • Neil Matthews says:

    A while ago I was looking into franchising and it seemed a flawed model, you have to buy your products from teh franchisee and then pay them a comission on top for selling the stuff they sold you.

    Solopreneurs rock, do your own thing in your own style

  • curiousjessica says:

    I’m just reading through all of the archives and wanted to add my 5 cents to this discussion.
    Franchises SUCK. They suck you in, they suck your money, and then they suck the life out of you. I’ve worked for a family who bought several drive-thru coffee franchises, looking to make a buck – and it all went horribly wrong after hundreds of thousands of dollars. The company selling the franchises doesn’t care. You buy a franchise at your own risk! Ask yourself this – if the franchised outlets were really going to be that great/successful, wouldn’t the company want to run them by themselves and reap all of the magical profits?

  • nancy says:

    Franchises are a place where people with a sh*tload of money can put it to make even more money off the backs of people being paid very low wages. Often the wages paid by franchise owners are so low that workers are eligible for government welfare benefits. What good are jobs created if they are service industry jobs that don’t pay people enough to take care of themselves, much less a family?

  • Vivek Jazz says:

    Thank you.

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  • Nate Bannon says:

    After 20 years in the franchise juice bar business this article is spot on. The founder sold the company to an investor who robs franchisees. In franchising you also have to think about the franchisor selling out and having to reinvest in new store upgrades, logos, etc which are just lateral moves in terms of profitability. In franchising you just get old pushing someone else’s name.

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  • Alanna Martinez says:

    Real business is no joke. All responsibility for success or failure lies on you. It’s not something you can leave unaffected.
    But it’s still worth the risk. Young entrepreneurs who were not afraid to start their own businesses are a real inspiration to me: And maybe their experience will make someone rethink their attitude to entrepreneurship.

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  • Allen says:

    Start a real business. As in, your own business that belongs to you with your name on it. Success or failure is entirely up to you. Don’t go into debt if you can help it, but if you have no choice, at least your debt will go to your own venture instead of a corporate sandwich shop.

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  • Dolores R. Shanks says:

    Thanks for the interesting information about the option of starting a business. I just read the article How many savings accounts can you have from and wondered how to properly use my savings. I think opening my own business is a good option. And the profitability is high, that it is very important for me. And I agree that in the long term, this is the only way forward for future entrepreneurs.

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