The Back Story to “Profitable Parnerships”

Many people think about writing a book or a story, and more of us are blogging on social media these days. I am regularly asked what it takes to a publish something that people will read. So I thought I’d share the story of how I came to write my most popular book, Profitable Partnerships, with some interesting lessons.

In the early 1990s, Bryce Bell, CEO of the Franchise Council of Australia (FCA), asked if I could write a guide for franchisors on how they could better manage their franchise relationships. At the time he was being driven crazy by franchisees saying their franchisors were behaving badly. Common complaints were autocratic leadership, poor communication, lack of empathy and not delivering on promises. At this stage I had 10 years experience as a franchisee and franchisor, as well as my psychology training, and had started writing out my thoughts into models, articles and education programs. Over a few months I organised this material into a guide called “Managing the Franchisee/Franchisor Relationship”. It was an immediate success with its franchisor audience and was reprinted several times.

Lessons from the first book

This first publication worked because I had taken the time to reflect and to draw out the lessons from the many interesting experiences I’d had — some successful and some not so. Experience is only useful when we reflect and learn from it. I had also deliberately practised writing in simple, clear sentences, the same way I would speak. I remember visualising specific franchisor clients as I wrote, as if I were talking to them. I still use this technique today — in fact I’m doing it now — maybe I am thinking of you!

I was then approached by a publishing company to write a book for both franchisors and franchisees. This seemed like a great idea because many franchise conflicts were clearly being exacerbated by franchisees with unrealistic expectations, and who did not understand the nature of the franchise relationship. At the time I was on a number of committees, as well as running my own business, so the new book concept sat on the back burner for several years. Up until then I’d been fortunate in making a success of most projects I’d taken on, but suddenly I had a bad run. Two large philanthropic projects I was leading hit major problems and had to be closed. I was devastated and angry, feeling I had let others down. Here’s the rub. Strong emotions, especially those associated with your identity, need to be managed or they will consume you.

For weeks I was in an emotional hole, trying to rationalise these failures, and not getting anywhere. My wife came to the rescue. She could see that, rather than focusing on the past, I needed to focus my mind on the future, into something meaningful and creative. As I sat morosely at the kitchen table one evening she said, “Why don’t you write the new franchise relationships book you’ve been talking about for ages.” This was exactly what I needed to do. Raking over past mistakes and disappointments might seem useful, but in reality it is a waste of time.

Writing as a therapy

So for the next three months I channelled all my time and energy into this new book. I took great care that every idea and sentence was expressed clearly and would be appreciated from the perspective of both a franchisee and a franchisor reader. The manuscript started to take on a life of its own and the more energy I poured into that book, the more positive my mind became. Writing Profitable Partnerships was definitely the best therapy I could have had.

When I finally emerged from my office triumphantly holding the manuscript our bookkeeper observed dryly that, due to my lack of billable work, we were now $30,000 in debt. I didn’t care. My confidence was back and I was convinced of the value of this new book to the franchising sector. But several obstacles still had to be overcome, because the publishing company had new owners who did not believe there was a big enough market for a book on franchise relationships.

I made the decision in a flash to publish and distribute the book ourselves. Just like when I originally started my business, it felt like the right thing to do. All we needed was a graphic designer and a printer who would back us. I approached a printer we knew and he agreed to provide us with 60 days to pay for an initial run of 1,000 books. The layout and design wasn’t as easy to nail. I offered our graphic designer $600 but, given the size of the job, he wanted a minimum of $2,000. As we discussed options, his assistant, Sue, was thumbing through the manuscript. I had a brainwave and offered to pay him $1 for every book we sold. He thought this was a dumb idea as, in his experience, most self-published authors never sell more than a few hundred books. Then Sue looked up and said emphatically, “We should take the deal, this book is awesome!” Swayed by Sue’s enthusiasm, and wanting to help me out, he agreed. As we shook hands I said, “By the way, it’s only fair the deal cuts out at 3,000 books”.

From sales of 100 to 100,000

A few weeks later I dropped off a freshly printed copy to the FCA’s new CEO, Jim McCracken, who had read the manuscript and been encouraging. He rang the following day with an order for 100 books to be given to participants at an international franchising seminar the following week. At the end of event, several franchisors who had glanced through the book, approached me with bulk orders. They wanted to give copies to all their franchisees and support office people. From there, word about the book spread. The rest, as they say, is history with sales today approaching 100,000 copies.

I was particularly delighted to be able to pay the printer in 20 days and he got the business for many reprints. The graphic designer was also soon paid his $3,000. This book gave me and my business a new lease of life and, based on the many emails I have received over the years, it has been a source of inspiration and support to a great many people. To celebrate its 15th birthday I recently updated Profitable Partnerships in a new 8th edition, which is now available from our website at www.franchiserelationships.com.

To summarise, here’s what I learned from writing Profitable Partnerships:

  • When faced with disappointment, by all means reflect on the lessons, but then move on by channelling your thinking and emotions into something meaningful and creative.
  • Write like you talk, have your audience in mind and ensure your ideas are clear and simple.
  • Cultivate supporters for your work and call on people to help you out when necessary.
  • Be fair and generous with agreements, but don’t give away the farm.
  • Finally, if you think you’re onto something good, have the courage to back yourself.
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