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5 Expert Tips on Creating a Brand Standards Manual

One of the most attractive aspects of franchising is that business owners get to work within a proven brand and business model, which eases the pressures of entrepreneurship. One resource that makes this possible is the brand standards manual.

The brand standards manual contains information on brand positioning, products, labor, training, marketing, cost control, management and other integral elements. It is a franchisee’s best resource to quickly access best practices, and it’s a franchisor’s best resource to sustain an established brand.

If you take the time to craft an effective brand standards manual and update it periodically, it will play an active, ongoing role in your franchisees’ businesses. If you don’t, it might get left to gather dust, leaving you wondering why your franchise system does not adhere to your policies and standards. Here are five ways you can make sure your brand standards manual is a helpful resource for franchisees:

  1. Cross-Reference

When formulating your brand standards manual, be sure to reference and weave in your Franchise Disclosure Document and Franchise Agreement. These three documents should work together to create a comprehensive framework for franchisees. Make sure that the content in all three is complementary, but also check that the voice - or the spirit of your brand - is consistent across the board.

Sometimes, franchisors misunderstand the brand standards manual and write it as if it’s a training manual for corporate units. Remember that the purpose of the operations manual is to help franchisees and safeguard your brand. Using the brand standards manual to build your Franchise Disclosure Document and Franchise Agreement will help keep all three documents focused on your brand, the system and the franchisees’ unique needs.

Man Pointing Pen at Papers

  1. Keep it Updated

If your manual were a work of art, it would be a collage, not a snapshot. If you “finish” your manual, send it out and never return to it again, it will soon be of little use to your franchisees.

As a good franchisor, you know how important it is to continually fine-tune your operations based on data and feedback. Your manual should be consistently updated to reflect these changes so that all franchisees have access to the same best practices and operating standards. You do not want a situation where new franchisees and existing franchisees are adhering to different operating models – that negatively affects the strength and consistency of your brand.

  1. Make Guidelines, Not Rules

The specificity of customer service guidelines in your manual should depend on the type of business, but always leave room for franchisees to determine what works best for their customers.

You can’t expect to know your franchisees’ customers better than they do. However, this is an opportunity and not a constraint. Use your manual to set up brand standards for customer service, but give your franchisees the flexibility to tweak their practices for their particular employees and customers. Offering options to franchisees lets them take your established guidelines and optimize them for their businesses. If your manual is filled with rigid rules, franchisees are more likely to miss the mark or end up with different results than your corporate units. In addition, rules increase the likelihood that you’re seen as a joint employer of the franchisee’s employees. You never want to set up rules that put you in direct control of your franchisee’s business or employees.

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  1. Go with the Pros

You know your business model inside and out, but that doesn’t mean you’re the best person to write the brand standards manual. These manuals can be tricky, as they must work in tandem with your Franchise Disclosure Document and Franchise Agreement and strike the right chord with franchisees. Even if you perfectly transcribe the technicalities of your business, your manual still might not be the living, breathing guidebook that franchisees need.

Seek the help of a professional writer or project manager who has experience writing franchise brand standards manuals. This person or persons will be responsible for gathering procedural and brand information, identifying any missing elements or outdated practices and synthesizing everything into a digestible format.

It’s advantageous to hire a third-party writer because this person will see your organization from an outsider’s perspective – just like a new franchisee. Your writer might notice discrepancies or confusing directives that you take for granted. This will help you iron out any unclear language and make your manual useful and accessible for franchisees.

  1. Highlight Best Practices

Finally, use your franchisees and company employees to turn your manual into a showcase of best practices. Talk to trainers, successful franchisees and managers at your best company-operated locations. You can even create a franchisee focus group composed of high influencers and best operators to help you develop the manual. If franchisees in the field know that the practices laid out in the manual will help them achieve more, they will be more likely to implement them.

Your manual should be an easy-to-read reflection of the best practices across your entire franchise system, and franchisees should be able to reference it daily for their operational questions. A well-crafted manual is a win-win for franchisors and franchisees: They can run a business with minimal trial and error, and you can rest assured that your brand’s standards are on the books.

For more help creating franchise brand standards manuals, contact Winmark Franchise Partners. With 30 years of franchising experience and more than 800 franchise owners representing 1,200 locations for five brands, Winmark Franchise Partners can help you build a strong franchise system. Contact us here or at (844) 452-4600.