Like the small business sector, current and prospective franchisees have entered the new year with a sense of cautious optimism - major financial institutions are loosening up lending requirements, the federal government is increasing aid and consumers are beginning to spend again.

In fact, a recent report from the National Retail Federation forecasts a 4 percent increase in consumer spending for 2011, excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants. Thanks to a robust holiday shopping season, the organization is saying that these figures and the potential for growth are becoming increasingly better.

"With retailers leading the charge, the economic recovery appears to be gaining some steam," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "The fate of the Main Street resurgence ultimately rests with policymakers on Capitol Hill. As Congress begins tackling key issues like deficit reduction and tax reform, it is critical we support policies that encourage job creation, consumption and business investment."

Keeping this in mind, many franchisors are looking to last fall's Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010 to spur franchisee growth and prospects. While the Economic Stimulus Plan provided little assistance to franchisees, the Jobs Act set up a $30 billion small business lending fund and created $12 billion in tax breaks, which Congress hopes will drive the economic recovery and create more jobs.

While many experts have focused on what this bill will do for the small business sector, Ronald Feldman, CEO of Siegel Financial Group, believes it will prove a boon for those investing in a franchise opportunity.

"[It] could have a profound positive effect on franchising. Many multi-unit operators have the ability to grow, but have not been able to get conventional lending due to the market," he told "SBA lending could be a great solution to support their growth efforts."

However, for franchisees who are unable to access additional funding, it may be the perfect time to switch focus - from growing without to growing within, the website explains. Franchisees have made improvements in training, customer service and franchisee-franchisor communication, exemplifying the shift from quantity to quality.

While the recession has forced many franchisees to enter "survival mode," it has also caused unit owners to begin running more efficient operations. With no time, funds or help to spare, franchisees have adopted methods to satisfy any investor or potential lender - strategies that will bear well in a better economic future.

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