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Positive information about a specific business opportunity on the Internet is readily available and easy to find. But as a potential franchisee, affiliate or licensee, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of the risks and so learn the bad as well as the good. In fact, it may be even more important to insuring a positive outcome when performing due diligence. Here are the secrets to uncovering the hidden risks of a franchise or business. These tips will lead you to unflattering testimonials and comments. Comments made by those who have first hand experience with the business opportunity you are considering.
The key to finding disparaging information is choosing the right keywords and proper use of the search engine. Since Google is the leader, I will use them as an example but these techniques will work for any search engine.
Start by going to www.google.com and entering the company’s name in square brackets “[“ , “]”. Using square brackets makes the search engine look for web pages with the words in that order. This will avoid having to sift through unrelated results that have nothing to do with the franchisor or business. Then add one more word or phrase to the search to focus on pages with that word in addition to the company name. You want to use a word or phrase in this case that has derogatory implications such as:
Before you click the “Google Search” button, add a plus sign “+” in front of each phrase or word. This tells Google that the results must include both company name and the negative word or phrase. So for your first search it would look like the following -> +[Acme Franchise Company] +complaints. After reviewing all the results, you can conduct a second search using the next negative word and so on down the list. Add any you can think of.
Execute the same searches above using any informal company names in square brackets say for example [Acme] versus [Acme Franchise Company].
Finally conduct another set of searches using the company owner’s name, both formal and informal, with the same negative words and phrases. Surprising information can be learned this way such as if the owner had legal proceeding against them for previous businesses.
For some searches there may be no results. Of those that do have results some may not link to pages. This occurs because some web sites remove pages from time to time for various reasons including pressure from lawyers representing franchisors who want to blunt criticism. If so, select the blue “Cached” link under the result. If Google has stored it themselves, you can still access the information this way.
If you just want to see the results from discussion boards or forums, hopefully first hand accounts, click the down arrow next to the word “More” in the left column of the Google search results. Then select “Discussions”. The page will refresh to show just those results that are from such sources.
Only by reading the results will you know which ones are relevant. The relevant ones generally fall into two categories, legal and opinions. Read the legal ones closely and the opinions with some skepticism. The skepticism is merited for two reasons. Some affiliates or franchisees may be venting without justification. Or conversely, you might see a negative comment followed by a glowing, scripted response in a style different than the initial posting. This may indicate not so much that the individual who posted the negative comment regrets it; but, that the business’ lawyers may have pressured them to retract their statement and provided the words with which to do it.
Doing the research above fails to alert you to new information posted afterwards. Google’s Alerts ( www.google.com/alerts ) solves this. It does so by daily monitoring the web for new content based on your queries above. Once something new is found, Google sends you an email with the results. This is the best method for keeping updated. Often the most recent intelligence is the most valuable.
Learning of information critical of a business opportunity or franchise can be tricky and time consuming. However, it is vital knowledge to be aware of and consider along with the positive. These tips will help you avoid surprises, or at least reduce them, on your way to qualifying your opportunity and making a more informed decision.
Randy Lewis is founder of Cost Analysts Enterprises ( www.CostAnalystsEnterprises.com ). Mr. Lewis and his company are celebrating 19 years of utility and telephone bill auditing. Cost Analysts Enterprises trains people to start their own business of reducing utility and telecom costs for their clients. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.