If you’ve been itching to learn more about franchising or think you might be ready to buy a franchise, you can spend hours and hours reading about franchising on the internet (including on this blog), or you can go right to the source. A franchise expo, especially the national and regional shows that are endorsed by the International Franchise Association, present a veritable smorgasbord of franchise opportunities (and sometimes non-franchise business opportunities (known as Biz-Ops). This is a great opportunity to sample a wide variety of business concepts—even if you don’t find your perfect match, you may well be inspired by an industry segment, or a kind of business that may suit your career aspirations.

A franchise expo can feel overwhelming, especially to someone who hasn’t prepared for the experience. Here are just a few tips for navigating your first franchise expo and making the most out of your experience:

There’s No Need To Be Frightened

Walking onto the expo floor can feel intimidating, but you really don’t need to be afraid of getting swayed by a good sales pitch into handing over your life savings. Franchise laws prohibit any deals being closed on the expo floor. Franchisors must properly qualify all prospects and comply with substantial pre-sale disclosure laws before you can legally be asked to pay any money. (If you are asked for a deposit or any payment, head for the nearest exit. That means you will have plenty of time to consider a franchise opportunity before making the big decision. Consider the franchise expo your opportunity to acquire information rather than to make a franchise purchase.

Come In With A Game Plan And Questions

If you wander to a franchise expo with no game plan, you’ll end up drifting around the show floor packing your free tote bag with colorful pens, brochures, magnets, and other useless knick-knacks. In other words, you’ll waste your time. Before you visit the show, go to the expo’s website and take a look at the list of franchisors that will be attending. Review franchisor websites that catch your eye and start making a list of all the franchisor booths you want to visit at the show. Check out each franchisor’s franchisee requirement qualifications (almost all of them have their requirements somewhere on their website) to make sure you can meet their qualification standards. After all, if you are willing to invest only up to $250,000 into a franchise, then you really don’t need to visit the booth of a franchisor that requires a minimum $500,000 investment. Once you have your list, write down some questions for each franchisor so you don’t get caught flat footed when you actually visit the booth.

[box]Neat trick: If a franchise opportunity looks interesting, give the company a call. Contact information will be on the website. All exhibitors have been given a liberal number of tickets for expo admission, and if you ask, it is very likely you will score FREE admission.[/box]

Keep An Open Mind. I know I just advised you to come into an expo with a game plan, but you also need to have a little flexibility. Give yourself some time to walk around the show floor. You may be surprised to find some hidden franchise gems that strike your interest.

Be On The Lookout For Service Providers

A franchise expo isn’t just a place to find a potential franchise opportunity. It may also be a place to begin building your franchise team. Every smart franchisee needs a franchise attorney in their corner. You may also want to consider hiring an accountant or a location specialist. Keep your eyes open for the right service providers who can help your franchise succeed.

Keep in Mind The AAFD has developed a vetted network of franchise attorneys, our AAFD Franchisee LegaLineSM. All of our LegaLine attorneys offer a FREE consultation and discounts to AAFD members, so take advantage of this resource!

Educate Yourself With Seminars And Classes

Almost all franchise expos also include seminars, trainings, and classes for participants. This is a great opportunity for you to listen to experts discuss a wide variety of franchise-related topics. You may, for instance, find a panel discussion that focuses on latest trends in the industry of your interest or a seminar about how to choose a franchise. Review all of the seminars and sessions available and make time for the ones that are the most relevant to you.

A Franchise Expo Is Not The Be All And End All Of Franchise Buying

Most importantly, keep in mind that a franchise expo show floor can only fit a limited amount of booths within its walls. That means you will only be exposed to a small portion of all the franchises available for purchase. Don’t limit yourself to just the franchises present at a specific expo or the service provider that gives you the nicest keepsake. Use the franchise expo as one of many information sources. Do your homework and make sure you review as many franchise opportunities in your chosen industry as possible so you can make the franchise choice that is best for you. And most important, finding an interesting opportunity is the beginning of your investigation into a franchise investment. Do your due diligence and follow the steps provided in the AAFD’s Road Map to Buying a Franchise, available as a public service on the AAFD website.

Jessica is a professional freelance writer and copy-editor and is the owner of Endeavor Writing. Jessica writes blogs, newsletters, website content, press releases and more for a wide array of clients.