Liz Leonard Of Your Franchise Fast Pass: Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Make sure you have enough working capital for the business. You need to be well funded, so it’s critical to match your business choice to the level of investment you can afford.

The world of franchising offers a unique blend of entrepreneurship and established business models. However, navigating the franchise landscape can be daunting, especially for those embarking on this journey for the first time. There are lessons to be learned, pitfalls to avoid, and success stories to be inspired by. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Liz Leonard.

Liz Leonard, an esteemed Franchise Advisor and author, is a dynamic force in the world of franchising. Her expertise honed over nearly two decades of focused work in entrepreneurship and franchising, positions her as a leading authority in guiding individuals toward business success. She is also the author of the new book, Your Franchise Fast Pass

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about succession, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I had a corporate career in senior healthcare for a long time. But, when my girls were about 7 and 4, we realized the only way for me to increase my salary was to spend more time on a plane, away from my family. I had no interest in becoming a road warrior, so we began exploring other options.

Eventually, we decided to start a childcare center — launching our business in the middle of a recession! We quickly grew it into a thriving organization we sold several years later. I then went back to the corporate world and was laid off (on our wedding anniversary!) just a little while later. That layoff was really hard on me, and I realized I wasn’t cut out to work for someone else anymore. I’d gotten the taste of being independent, and I didn’t want to go back.

We then acquired an existing self-storage business, which we ran successfully for several years before my husband and I both decided we still wanted to diversify our portfolio. We knew that we did not want to start from scratch again. We began looking into franchise options since they provide robust systems and support.

Our years of business experience helped us be very clear on our decision criteria and selective in our due diligence process. Ultimately, we purchased a Kitchen Tune-Up franchise for my husband and I fell into franchise advising, where I’m able to use my educational background and lived experience to help others looking to make the jump from corporate America to business ownership.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

My career has had many different phases, but I think the part I look back on with the most gratitude and pride was conquering my fear of leaving my job for that very first business. My position paid really well, I had an incredible group of colleagues — on paper it looked completely crazy to leave. In fact, I had lots of people asking, “Why would you leave?!”

But I really wanted to do my own thing, and most importantly I really wanted to have something more, something better, for my family. It was a family decision; a family goal. It wasn’t just about me, and with that conviction and confidence I was able to overcome and conquer the fear — which led to great and amazing things!

Now, in my work as a franchise advisor, this moment gives me incredible understanding and empathy for my clients. We all struggle with this fear of the unknown and uncertainty and, having been there myself, I’m better equipped to help them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I love The Entrepreneur’s Credo taken from Thomas Paine’s “The Common Man.” The end of the credo states, “It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid; to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations and to face the world boldly and say: This, with God’s help, I have done.”

That is the future my family and I envisioned back at the very beginning when we decided to make a change. We started by deciding how we wanted our life to be and then let what we were going to do (jobs and businesses) become the vehicle for helping us arrive at our chosen destination.

This is the future I work hard to help my clients achieve as well. As a franchise advisor, my role is to help them find the right fit so they can be successful on this new path.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

As a franchise advisor, I stand out for the educational background I bring as well as my varied personal experiences. Over the years, we’ve launched, built, and sold a successful start-up; acquired an existing business; and bought a franchise. I’ve seen business from many different angles and have personally been the business owner in many different situations. I share what I’ve experienced in one-on-one calls with clients as well as my dedicated learning platform that walks clients through all of the different aspects of the franchising industry so they too can have the background necessary to make informed decisions and be successful.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What factors did you consider when selecting your franchise, and how did you determine it was the right fit for you?

When my husband and I decided we wanted to move into franchised businesses, we were looking for an opportunity for him and one for me. We first worked with a franchise advisor and then we found a great fit with Kitchen Tune-up — we wanted something that fit my husband’s experience and skills and wasn’t another brick-and-mortar business. My husband now runs the day-to-day in this business while I’ve helped here and there with marketing and other small projects.

Can you share a significant challenge you faced while establishing your franchise? How did you overcome this obstacle, and what did this experience teach you about running a successful franchise?

Our first franchise business was our third time as business owners. We were already well acquainted with the world of entrepreneurship, so we were able to anticipate and solve challenges before they became big problems.

This experience has enabled me to help my franchise advisory clients head off their own challenges. I recommend paying close attention to people and profits. It’s critical to ensure you have qualified people and that you keep an eye on profit margins. For example, in our franchise business, we decided to invest more in our people right from the get-go, making them W2s rather than 1099s because that was incredibly important to us. This was a higher investment, but worthwhile in the long run. We’ve also paid close attention to profit margins to ensure they’re where they need to be — even working closely with other franchise owners to learn what’s worked for them and how we can improve.

Looking back to when you first started your franchise, what was one aspect that completely took you by surprise? This could be related to the franchising process, customer interactions, or day-to-day management that you hadn’t anticipated.

Again, our prior experience in business helped make the transition to franchise ownership incredibly smooth. There was very little in the business world we had not already experienced, and we knew what to look for when evaluating franchise opportunities to avoid after-the-fact surprises.

This is one of the key reasons I decided to move into franchise advising — I wanted to offer others the benefits of this experienced viewpoint.

In hindsight, what advice would you give to potential franchisees about selecting a franchise that aligns with their personal and professional goals?

These are conversations I have all the time with clients! At the end of the day motivation drives success. Potential franchisees need to be incredibly clear on what they want the business to accomplish for them. Most often I’ve found people are looking for greater work-life balance, which means they need to be really honest with themselves about whether the business will actually help them get there.

We tie this motivation to the other key factors: the money they have to invest, the time they have to commit to the business, and their skills. By blending all of these together we’re able to find the options that have the best chance of empowering them to be successful.

How do you balance adhering to the established systems of your franchise with the need to innovate and adapt to your local market? Can you provide an example of a successful adaptation or innovation you implemented in your franchise?

Honestly, working with Kitchen Tune-Up has the ability to adapt to our local market built in to their systems. They have assigned a Regional Operations Manager to every Franchisee who specifically helps you to innovate and adapt to your market. This is something that I recommend that candidates look for when they are evaluating franchise opportunities.

What are your “Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise”?

You’re speaking my language! I’ve built an entire learning portal for my clients to teach them these foundational principles of franchising and help them turn over every rock as they’re moving forward on this path. This system provides the key learning points they need to walk through the process of evaluating a potential franchise opportunity (which takes about 6–8 weeks!). Here are five things that every potential franchisee should know before they start:

1 . Do a thorough due diligence on any brands you’re considering — and this includes interviewing owners so you can get a feel for what it’s really like to be an owner.

For example one of the clients I worked with on choosing his second franchise purchase didn’t spend enough time on this first franchise purchase and bought based solely on passion.

2 . Make sure you have enough working capital for the business. You need to be well funded, so it’s critical to match your business choice to the level of investment you can afford.

During the franchise validation process clients interview other owners and make sure that they understand the real costs of the business. One of the top causes of business failure is not planning for the ongoing working capital needs of the business.

3 . Surround yourself with the right talent. Your people matter! Make sure you have qualified people on the team and everyone is on board with your vision for the business.

One of the reasons we decided to invest in our people and go the W2 route was to attract and retain the best talent.

4 . Collaborate with other franchise owners in the system. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel — it’s one of the main benefits of the franchise system! So take advantage of the opportunity to learn from other successful owners and replicate that for yourself.

At Kitchen Tune-Up there are regional owners groups to brainstorm ideas and learn from each other.

5 . Work ON the business, not IN it. You can’t be all things to all people, and you can’t do it all yourself. As the business owner, it’s your job to keep the high-level vision of your company and keep everyone moving toward it. It is best practice in most franchise systems to build an executive team and insulate yourself. Don’t buy yourself a job!

As your franchise has grown, what have been the key drivers of its success? Looking forward, what strategies do you plan to implement to ensure continued growth and sustainability in an ever-evolving market

For our franchise brand in particular, we’ve been incredibly successful because we were intentional right from the beginning about being in the home services space.

I share with clients all the time that home services are the best-kept secret in franchising! Too often people only think of food brands when they think of franchises, but there’s so much more. Home services in particular have grown explosively since the pandemic as more people have been spending more time at home and placing a higher value on their home spaces. There’s no end in sight for this growth, so these businesses are excellent choices. They’re essential and solution-driven services that everyone needs.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

No matter the business you’re in it comes down to having enough staff to provide quality services. Many franchise systems have recruiting tools to help support this need. In the end, it still comes down to you. To grow your business, staffing need to be taken into consideration.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Leverage the right people, systems and tools to work more effectively because of the constant problems of business owners.

My entrepreneurial journey began because I was looking for a better work-life balance, something that fit my family’s needs better. And I see that same motivator among most, if not all, of my clients.

However, at the same time, we too often get sucked into working 10, 12, 14-hour days. When you own your own business, the temptation to be ALL in ALL the time is constantly in front of you. I think there’s incredible value in recognizing that self-care is something that can’t be compromised. Are we spending enough time taking care of ourselves? Are we doing the things that make life meaningful and the work worthwhile? We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so I’d like to encourage people to do the things that really matter today.

How can our readers further follow you online?

You can find me on LinkedInXFacebookInstagram, and YouTube.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.