In communities across the United States, an increasing number of individuals are looking toward investing in a franchise opportunity as a way of finding financial independence and success.

Consider Mike Haley of Newburgh, Indiana. For years, Haley had worked in the food service business, but eventually he realized he wasn't happy and wanted to be to do something with his wife, Dianne, the Evansville Courier Press reports. With his previous experience as a dog trainer, Haley identified Australia-based company Bark Busters as a potential lead.

After speaking with franchisees and meeting with company executives, Haley and his wife became Bark Busters franchisees in 2006. As in any franchise system, they were required to pay an upfront fee, with 10 percent of revenue returning to the franchisor, Bark Busters.

However, this was a small price to pay for the support network they received as a result of being a franchisee. One way Bark Busters has enabled its unit owners to stay in contact and receive help is through a franchisee-only website where owners can speak with one another.

"Any time I have a difficult situation with a dog ... there's about 500 people you can reach out to," Haley told the paper.

Haley's case is not unique, however. According to the International Franchise Association, franchisors employed more than 7.6 million individuals in 2010, creating $706.6 billion in economic output. Furthermore, this number is only expected to grow, with total number of jobs predicted to reach 7.8 million and economic output to hit $739.9 billion in 2011.

"Owning a franchise allows you to go into business for yourself, but not by yourself," Matt Haller, director of communications for the IFA, told the paper.

Franchising additionally offers business-minded individuals many other options. While fast food restaurants may be the most commonly recognized type of franchise, the opportunities include anything from hotels to auto shops to tax franchises.

And as beneficial as franchising may seem, it does have its ups and downs. Unlike a small business opportunity, franchisees will not have complete autonomy and will often be required to conform to franchisors' requirements for marketing and operating a unit.

"Franchising's not for everybody," Haller said.

"You're not completely independent, and you have to follow the set of procedures and restrictions that are set forth in the franchising agreement," he added

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