Tanya Maher, Managing Director of Supporting Strategies|Hartford Connecticut, spoke about her experience of owning a franchise and the importance of networking.
NAN PRICE: When did the entrepreneurial bug hit you? Did you always know you were going to do your own business?
TANYA MAHER: I never thought I would be a business owner. I worked corporate jobs and I was a stay-at-home mom for a while. Once my kids were older, I was ready to return to work. But I had parameters. I wanted to work part time and I wanted to work in my field, which is accounting.
It was difficult to find a position; however, I found that and more at Supporting Strategies. I went to work for the Boston office in July 2015.
NP: What prompted your transition from part-time work to owning a franchise?
TM: I knew the company was offering franchise opportunities. I just didn’t think it was the right thing for me to do. I was just getting back into the workforce.
I worked for Supporting Strategies for about nine months and had an opportunity to talk to the Founder and CEO, Leslie Jorgensen, at the annual office outing that March.
I told her how much I love the business model. We tap an employment market that is underserved. Mostly women work for us because we only offer part-time employment. We offer a full suite of accounting services to business owners that includes controllership regardless of the level of work we do for them. We are truly their partners, supporting the success of their business.
Most of the people who work for Supporting Strategies have their CPA or their MBA. They are generally stay-at-home moms who are either trying to exit the workforce because they want a better work/life balance, or—like I was—they’re trying to get back into it. Through Supporting Strategies they find work in their field, and are able to use their skills and do so on a flexible basis working from home.
I remember telling Leslie I was jealous that she came up with this business idea instead of me. She pointed out that there were franchise opportunities in my area. So there was a seed that existed. She sprinkled a little rain and sunshine on it.
NP: She grew an entrepreneur!
TM: Exactly! I remember leaving the outing with so many questions: Can I do it? Should I do it? What would go wrong? How would it affect my family? What do I need to put in place for a support system to make it work?
I already knew the product, the services we offered, the people we hired, and the technology we used—all of that works really well. I just didn’t know if I could make it work as a business owner.
What it just came down to was my thinking: I need to bring this to Hartford because it’s not in Hartford. It can’t be anybody else. It has to be me.
NP: You really saw an opportunity.
TM: Yes. Opportunities present themselves. It’s just a matter of seeing them as real opportunities.
So I went for it. March 2016 was when I decided I wanted to own the franchise. I opened my doors on May 1.
NP: Tell us a little about what it’s like to own a franchise.
TM: Every franchise is set up differently. In my circumstance, the support I get from the corporate office includes marketing, recruiting, mentoring, a workflow tool, and IT and system support. For recruiting, the company will screen resumes and screen candidates. If candidates meet certain criteria, they get presented to me and I decide if I’d like to interview them.
Aside from that support, everything else is me. So I have to do the business development. I negotiate with clients. They are my clients. I do all my billing. I pay my own bills. It really is my own business. I’m taking Supporting Strategies’ model, technology, processes, and mission and putting that into my business. I also have to hire and train my employees.
NP: How many employees do you have?
TM: I currently have two. I’m hiring another, which is exciting because I really need a manager to take control of the service delivery aspect of the business so I can just focus on business development.
NP: Tell us what’s unique about owning a franchise within Supporting Strategies.
TM: All the employees work from home. Nobody works in an office. They don’t have to go visit their clients. And what we do for our clients is more than what a traditional bookkeeper can provide to them. Because of our experience and background, they get more of a consultant when it comes to accounting operations. We set up their accounting systems, identify technology, and improve their processes so that it will be efficient.
When you think about it, entrepreneurs usually don’t have a big staff. Many companies outsource a lot. There’s a lot of technology they can leverage to help them control costs. And that’s one of the things we offer.
Our goal is to help our clients grow. We look to streamline as much as possible within our clients’ organizations so we save them money.
Also, we have a really great collaborative community where we help solve each other’s problems. Because the other franchise owners’ success is my success and vice versa. We really want to bring the most that we can to our clients. And helping our clients grow their business contributes to the overall economy.
NP: Although it’s a franchise do you consider it a startup?
TM: I do very much so.
NP: What are some startup challenges you’ve faced?
TM: When I said we get support from marketing, Supporting Strategies doesn’t advertise at all. The real challenge in a startup is getting your name out there and letting people know you’re here and what you do.
That’s where you start with the networking events. The only way to do it is to go to Chambers of Commerce and join networking groups to let everyone know that you are here.
Because our referral partners are largely CPAs and other business to business services companies, the hope is to get introduced to people within these firms that don’t offer small business accounting to let them know we are here, we offer another option—and we’re not a traditional bookkeeper.
You build your clientele that way. So really that’s the biggest challenge, is getting in the door. Letting people know we’re here and we’re new—this is something you haven’t seen before.
NP: Because you were coming into a franchise, did you have to tap into any of Connecticut’s startup resources?
TM: I didn’t have to raise capital. The idea and the brand were already there. The website was already there. And the processes were already there. That’s a large part of what franchising is all about. A franchisor has the package. You buy the package, implement it, run it, and you make it successful.
NP: Let’s talk about your future goals.
TM: One of the things I want to do is to partner with startup organizations like reSET. I admire how they support entrepreneurs. I’d like to speak or offer a workshop that explains what startups and entrepreneurs need to know in terms of bookkeeping.
NP: And that would be something you would do pro bono just to give back?
TM: Yes. A lot of these entrepreneurs—including me—go into business having to wear many hats. And you don’t necessarily have the skills to wear all of those hats.
NP: I’ve definitely heard that before.
TM: I’m sure. It’s really important to understand the value of hiring an expert to do some things for you so you can then focus on what you do best.
This is why I am hiring a manager now! I’m doing all things and I can’t do all things.
The other thing I am doing within the business community is to bring education to business owners. I will be providing a half- or full-day business boot camp where I’ll bring in different speakers from all different business aspects to help educate local business owners.
I’m really excited about that because then it’s getting people connected. And also the business owners will walk away with practical advice they can immediately use in their businesses.
NP: Can you tell us about the business trajectory?
TM: We are doing really well. Supporting Strategies currently has 37 franchise owners across the country who collectively own 57 offices. Some people own more than one office. It’s pretty big and we’re getting bigger.
I recently received a growth award at our annual meeting. It was really fantastic because I’ve only been doing this a year. So I’m really excited and I just want to build the team and continue to bring in clients.
Sometimes I still ask myself: Am I really doing this? Because I really like it. I’m feeling very fulfilled in what I’m doing. I’m hoping we really become a bigger part of the community within the Hartford area.