Are You A Real Entrepreneur...Or A Franchisee?

This question could be a little offensive, but hear me out.

As I’ve tried to picture in the graphic, a franchise entrepreneur operates on a prescribed track. Everything is fairly set in stone. The owner gets the recipes and the staffing formulas. They get manuals, training, and frequent inspections. They have to source the stainless steel equipment from one of two places. The only thing they control is their rate of growth and thus their success. Everything that the mother ship (franchisor) does is intended to help them grow and succeed, too, because they won’t make a lot of money or protect the brand if the franchisee doesn’t fall into line.

A real entrepreneur isn’t following a prescribed path at all. They get a 4WD vehicle and someone points to the destination and says “get there” but take whatever path you want.

After the massive earthquake in Guatemala in 1976, I flew down to help (that’s where I grew up). I was given a diesel pickup truck and a map. The back was loaded with rebuilding supplies and that’s exactly what they did: put a finger on a map and said “go there”. The roads were mostly destroyed and fuel stations were difficult to find, but that was my job. To figure it out.

Most of you reading this are real entrepreneurs. You got some training in the craft, like journalism or design or coding or marketing or motion graphics. But you received virtually no training in how to run a business that did those things, and so here you are, trying to figure it out. The spot on the map–where you are trying to get–looks more like this. Find some way to:

  • Make $200–600k/year personally, before taxes.
  • Employ whoever you need and can regularly keep fed and clothed.
  • Trade your one boss (the job you quit) for twenty bosses (your current clients) and keep enough of them happy to keep the money coming in.
  • Keep explaining to your Aunt Maggie what you really do for a living, because it still seems a little weird.

But some of you are running a franchise and you haven’t figured it out yet. Cough [HubSpot] cough. There, I’ve said it, and my string of speaking at InBound three years and doing a lot for HubSpot agencies might come to an end.

HubSpot is, finally, a great product. Their support for the product is unrivaled and it’s a remarkable little ecosystem. I’ve worked with more than 40 HubSpot firms and love the owners and their enthusiasm.

But they also prescribe a fixed path for their agencies.

Just like a franchisor. You need to be all in. You need to climb the ladder. You need to sign clients to MRR agreements. You need to suck at the teat of all things HubSpot. You need to keep them happy. You’ll get addicted to the portion of the license fees that are returned to you every month. You’ll swallow your complaints about switching from WP to their system when you build sites.

There are thousands of you and–except for some surface positioning–you all look the same and you’re all fighting for the same crumbs from (largely) unqualified clients who are believing the line that inbound marketing will solve their sales issues.

And in the end, they’ll own you until they don’t, but it’ll be their decision. You won’t be a real marketing firm finding your own way. You’ll hold a license to someone else’s ideas.

While I’m losing friends left and right, here, those of you tied to any platform are also flirting with the same thing: Magento, WordPress, Drupal, etc.

And some of the more formulaic niches also share some of the same dangers: SEO work comes to mind.

I’m not here to pick on HubSpot. I love the people at HubSpot and I really love the agency principals that I’ve worked with, but someone needs to point out that this is a franchise and that some day soon there are going to be a lot of disappointed principals…and clients.

If you’re tied to a platform, you’re in the same boat. If you turn the steering wheel and you’re still going straight ahead on that track, you need to switch vehicles and find your own way. Any SAAS or platform can have a legitimate, valued role in the solutions that you offer clients, but you should always, always, always be platform agnostic. The particular platform should not be a key component in the story you tell clients.

The real entrepreneur is whoever created the platform. Everyone else is a franchisee; a cog in their business plan.

Get off that track and explore the world. Flip over in a ditch or two–you have a roll bar. You need some bruises. You need to be kinda average or kinda rich, but you need to do it on your own terms.

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