Franchising, like any industry, evolves and changes over time, with new trends appearing and others fading. However, there are a few new developments that are affecting who invests in a franchise opportunity and how operations are run.

According to the International Franchise Association, three of the most important trends that have emerged in the past few years are the internationalization of franchising, the growing number of women and minorities in the sector and an increased use of technology. All of these, the IFA states, will have a "profound" and "positive" effect on franchising, making it a more dynamic sector than ever.

More than 400 franchise systems operate internationally, the IFA writes, transforming domestic brands into globally recognized symbols of "quality, consistency, service and value." While it may be tempting for prospective franchisees to limit their research to U.S. systems only, they could be doing themselves a disservice.

Increasingly, franchisors are searching abroad for franchisees, potentially offering deals and perks not found with some U.S.-based systems. For example, many foreign-based franchisors will initially offer prospective franchisees a single unit deal and then later increase the number of units and offer an owner "master franchise" rights, i.e. the chance to act as the franchisor for a foreign-based system in the country of operation.

Franchisors are also seeing a shift in demographics when it comes to those who are investing in franchise opportunities. Minorities and women are operating franchise units in greater numbers. The IFA describes that franchising can often mitigate traditional obstacles that have blocked these groups entrance into the world of business, such as a lack of business experience and capital.

Now, however, many groups have emerged to promote the participation of women and minorities in franchising. Organizations such as the IFA's Women's Franchise Committee, its Minorities in Franchising Committee and the IFA Educational Foundation's Diversity Institute offer franchisees training, education and networking opportunities.

Finally, technology is being using in new and creative ways to connect franchisees and franchisors. For example, many franchisors are now using the Internet to share information, spark discussions, manage and gather sales reports. Additionally, it is being employed as a cheap and effective marketing strategy.

Whether or not any of these trends affect a specific franchisee, he or she should always do his or her due diligence before investing in a franchise. Make sure a system offers the support and growth opportunities that a unit needs to be successful.

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