Franchise Development Leader: Stephen Schultz
Franchise Development Leader: Stephen Schultz

Supporting Strategies’ director of business development on what he loves about franchising.

Supporting Strategies opened its first bookkeeping firm in Boston in 2004. At that time, small businesses were experiencing a sea change in how they approached bookkeeping. For the first time, the internet allowed small businesses to completely outsource their bookkeeping rather than employ a staff to manage the duties full time. Supporting Strategies’ director of business development, Stephen Schultz, likened the change to the outsourcing of payroll clerks years earlier.

“Thirty years ago, every company in America had a payroll clerk, now almost none do,” he said. “Payroll is now managed by third-party vendors, and it’s a huge industry. The same thing happened with bookkeeping.”

Supporting Strategies grew rapidly in its first ten years and eventually turned to franchising to take the brand into new markets across the country. Schultz says the decision to franchise not only helped the brand grow, it fundamentally changed what kind of business Supporting Strategies is.

“We started as a bookkeeping company. We’re not that anymore,” he said. “Now we are a franchisor. It took us a while to learn that. Our job isn’t keeping books anymore, it’s supporting franchisees.”

We talked to Schultz to learn what he loves about franchising and what he would change if he could. Here’s what he had to say.

When did Supporting Strategies decide to franchise?

Throughout our first ten years in business, we thought of ourselves as a growing company; we never expected to become a franchise. But at a certain point, we felt we had perfected our system and we wanted to expand nationally. We looked at all of the different ways to do that. We could have hired salespeople in all the major markets or taken any of the other available avenues, but ultimately we decided franchising made the most sense.

By that time, we had seen firsthand how small-business service providers become trusted advisors within their communities, and we knew the best way to penetrate any market would be to go locally. A local business owner would be far more influential in their market than a large corporate chain.

We also knew that franchising would be the fastest way for us to grow. We’re close to 90 locations today. If we had taken the money we’d raised and grown internally, without franchising, we might just have 10 or 20 locations right now. Franchising allowed us to capture markets at a much faster rate than we would have on our own.

We completed our FDD in March of 2013 and sold our first franchise location the following September.

What do you love about franchising?

I love my job. I have the greatest job in the world, which is to find franchisees. I’m working with people who are excited to do something new with their lives. It’s fascinating to hear people’s stories. The people I work with are entrepreneurs, all hoping to start a business, and in many cases, they are leaving secure jobs in other industries. I love that, and I love educating them on what we have to offer. I always tell people, ‘If you tell me that you’ve decided Support Strategies is not a good fit for you, I’m just as happy as if you tell me it is, because I know I’ve done my job and shown you exactly what we’re all about, whether it works for you or not.’ It’s a journey that I really enjoy.

Is there anything you wish you could change about the industry?

I love the industry, but I do wish there were one central franchise board and that I could be registered to sell in all 50 states. If there were a single federal agency that would approve us for all markets, it would make a lot more sense. It can also be cumbersome and expensive just to update the FDD every year. I think there should be a quicker amendment process.

What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in franchising since you started?

The technology that franchise brokers are using is probably the biggest thing. Looking for qualified franchisees for Supporting Strategies is like looking for a needle in a haystack. It’s not like a yogurt franchise where you don’t need to know anything about yogurt. But brokers are working with incredible tools these days, and they are able to filter through all the portals and all the data to put only the best candidates in front of me. That’s the biggest change I’ve seen, and it is without a doubt a change for the better.

What makes a great franchisee?

Great franchisees follow the book. They know the value of the system they bought into, and they follow it. We’ve built a system that works, and if you follow it, you will be successful.

What’s the number-one thing that sells franchises?

Transparency. That’s really what it comes down to. You’ve got to listen closely to the candidate and have the courage to say, ‘no, this isn’t right for you; you don’t have the right background,’ if that’s the case. You need to be able to put people at ease on the very first call by being totally up front with them so they know you aren’t hiding anything or taking advantage of them.