Business franchises are everywhere! You see several in the form of fast food chains whenever and wherever you get off the interstate. And while I’ve talked about scaling your business on the show before, I haven’t gone deep into more traditional ways to do it like this.
Today, I’ve invited The Scout Guide co-founders Susie Matheson and Christy Ford onto the podcast. They’ve built an enterprise that showcases small businesses nationwide for people in their own cities, with the help of over 70 local entrepreneurs. In this episode, you’ll hear some incredible takeaways as they talk about their journey, which you can learn from even if you’re not interested in turning your business into a franchise.
On this episode of Promote Yourself to CEO:
1:22 – I give a short introduction to The Scout Guide. It actually started near my town of Richmond, VA.
8:29 – How did Susie and Christy come up with the idea for The Scout Guide? Listen as they describe exactly what it is they do.
11:20 – A lot of people think of traditional print advertising as dead. Why has The Scout Guide turned that idea on its head, and how does it complement social media marketing?
20:18 – The Scout Guide is also a resource (and source of inspiration) for small business entrepreneurs across the country. Christy and Susie explain how.
23:43 – Why did the co-founders decide to pursue a franchise model instead of doing everything themselves?
28:22 – Susie and Christy discuss some considerations when making the jump from owning a single business to forming a franchise.
33:03 – The key to making a franchise work is what also makes it easier to sell your business down the line.
37:11 – What did the co-founders struggle with as they launched their franchise? They talk about getting clear on your long-term vision and setting yourself up for success.
43:21 – What’s next on the horizon for The Scout Guide? Christy and Susie reveal their ultimate goal.
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Racheal Cook: As much as we love talking all things scale here on Promote Yourself to CEO, I have to admit that I haven't gone deep into alternative ways to scale, or maybe I should say more traditional ways to scale your business, including the idea of franchising your business. So when I was contacted by Susie Matheson and Christy Ford of The Scout Guide, I knew I had to bring this incredible conversation to you. If you have been considering whether franchising is a great idea for you and your business, there are so many incredible takeaways here as we talk about their journey. Let's go.
Are you ready to grow from solopreneur to CEO? You're in the right place. I'm your host, Racheal Cook. I've spent the last decade helping women entrepreneurs start and scale service-based businesses. If you're serious about building a sustainable business, it's time to put the strategy, systems, and support in place to make it happen. Join me each week for candid conversations about stepping into your role as CEO, the hard lessons learned along the way, and practical profitable strategies to grow a sustainable business without the hustle and burnout.
Hey, CEO. Have you ever gone into a really beautiful boutique or an incredible hotel and seen this magazine called The Scout Guide? The Scout Guide has become so incredibly popular here in Richmond and it has grown all across the United States as a curated advertorial magazine that showcases local small business owners and doesn't just pack it full of the traditional ads you might be thinking of, these ads are all individually curated, styled, designed, and shot just for The Scout Guide. In fact, it has become such a well-known little book that people collect these. They will have multiple issues of these in their homes or in their businesses because they know if they need to figure out “Where do I go for the best design? Where do I go for the best clothing? Or where do I go for the best haircut?” that service provider, that business is in The Scout Guide.
I first started seeing The Scout Guide pop onto the scene probably right when they started because they originated in Charlottesville, Virginia which is right down the street from Richmond, so literally an hour and some away. Richmond has had this for quite a while and it has become something that more and more and more cities are starting to get. When I was introduced to Susie Matheson and Christy Ford, I knew I wanted to talk to them because what they are doing is so interesting to me. It's a print advertorial product in a time where so many people are talking about taking everything online, doing everything automated, all of this online marketing, online advertising, social media advertising.
They took a completely different approach. They said, “What if we could design this guide that highlighted truly the best of the best, that did it in a way that no one else was doing, and that could become a conversation starter, it becomes a tastemaker, a place for anyone to pick up this guide and know where the best things are in the city?” So I'm really excited for this conversation because whenever things are going in one direction and everything seems to be swinging so hard into online, virtual, automation, to have somebody who's doing it differently always gets me excited. We've never really talked about, here on Promote Yourself to CEO, the power of considering a franchise model for your business, but that is how they have been able to scale their business.
As we get into the conversation, you'll see that even if you aren't franchising your business, even if that's not the scale model you choose to go after, there are a lot of similarities in scaling. No matter which direction you're scaling, there are a lot of similarities. I will circle back around after the conversation to dig into it. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. I found it just so timely as I'm looking at how can we stand out more by doing things differently.
This series is brought to you by the Get Paid Calculator. I have several different resources I'm sharing in this series, but this one calculator I promise is going to make so much of an impact for you in your business. Because if you are looking for a predictably profitable business, one that consistently brings in clients and cash flow month after month, we have to start by really understanding the numbers behind that. Too often I see entrepreneurs who pull a revenue goal out of thin air and then when it comes down to it, they don't have enough money in the bank to hire the team they need or to buy the technology or the tools they need and often they're paying themselves just whatever happens to be left over at the end of the month.
I want to put an end to this and help turn this ship around, get us all out of the entrepreneurial poverty of time, energy, and money by helping make it incredibly simple to crunch those numbers so that we can start with your goal lifestyle and what you actually want to bring home to your family and then set a revenue goal that will ensure that you are getting paid like a CEO. Not only that, we’ll take that revenue goal in this calculator and break it down into the specific sales goals so you will have the clarity to understand how many clients you need to get, at what price point, and how many people you need to get that offer in front of in order to make this revenue goal and your take-home salary a reality.
I highly encourage you to go over to rachealcook.com/calculator. The link will be in the show notes. Grab the Get Paid Calculator along with the other resources I mentioned in this series and you will be absolutely on the path to a predictably profitable business.
Hey there, CEOs. Welcome to a very special conversation. Today, I am joined by the founders of The Scout Guide. If you have not heard of The Scout Guide, then maybe you haven't been checking out your local small businesses because I know where I am here in Richmond, Virginia, almost every single one of my favorite small businesses that I go to regularly, that I'm browsing regularly have this beautiful guide sitting up front on the counter, on a table, somewhere prominently displayed and it's been such an amazing tool just to find the best small businesses that you can patronize.
Susie Matheson and Christy Ford, welcome to Promote Yourself to CEO. I'm so excited to talk to you both today.
Susie Matheson: Thanks for having us.
Christy Ford: Yes, we're looking forward to it.
Racheal Cook: Well, I have heard of Scout Guide for such a long time as I was telling y'all before we pressed record because you started this in 2008-ish here in Virginia. You're in Charlottesville so you're not very far away from me here in Richmond, Virginia. I started to hear of it over 10 years ago now but it has grown dramatically. I would love to know, how did you decide to start The Scout Guide? Can you describe what exactly it is so that everyone understands what you're doing?
Susie Matheson: We launched The Scout Guide officially in 2010. I was a blogger prior to the print guide really focused on supporting small businesses in Charlottesville, Virginia. We started as a locally-focused print city guide following the blogging and advocating for small businesses on my own, and then we have now expanded into a national publishing franchise with owners in 73 markets across the country with the same strong mission, which is supporting small businesses and supporting women through The Scout Guide franchise.
Racheal Cook: That's so amazing. How did you come up with the idea for The Scout Guide? Was there something out there similar to it or did you just have this idea of “I'm going to create a print publication to promote small business?”
Christy Ford: When Susie came to me, we set out to create a vessel that would break the traditional advertising mold. I was a small business myself. I was running an antique and home store with my mom. Beyond our local newspaper, we had that or we had a Veranda or Elle Decor to advertise in. There really wasn't a great platform. So we set out to, in our eyes, create a really high-quality book that would live on and last in our community and would leave outside, leave our community as well.
Our hope was that people would shop locally from afar because they'd take it home with them. Through beautiful photography and elevated branding, we produced what we feel is just a beautiful coffee-table-worthy book and our mission is to tell compelling stories about each small business owner, feature their business through beautiful photography, and then promote them to an audience that we believe can drive sales to them.
The result is what we now know as The Scout Guide and it's a beautifully designed coffee-table-worthy guide that's filled with fabulous photography of the people and the places that make each town so unique.
Racheal Cook: Yeah. It is really I think the branding that elevates it from anything else and that stood out to me when I first saw this because when you think of traditional advertising, like you said, that was the backbone of how so many small businesses had, to get the word out. It was like you put something in the local newspaper or the local, I always think of them as the grocery store magazines, the ones that are on the entryway, you pick them up, they're free usually, you can put ads in there or you can try to get publicity from those types of things.
What has changed in the advertising world for small business owners? Because I think a lot of us start to feel like traditional print advertising is dead, but your business has turned that completely on its head. All you do is print advertising, like that's the bread and butter of your business, and you've grown during a time when most small businesses have pulled back on print advertising.
Susie Matheson: I think print advertising really aligns with small businesses. At a high-quality print publication, our goal was really to build that small business community, knowing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If we can get all of our small businesses and all of our communities to band together, our franchisees, being small business owners themselves, are bringing the community together.
Then we are creating a beautiful publication so the businesses can focus on what they need to focus on, we can be busy promoting them through this beautiful publication, but don't forget, we definitely started digital first, so with the blogging and the online, we still have a very strong presence online through thescoutguide.com and all of our city pages and advocating for them through all of the social media channels of our franchisees.
Every city has The Scout Guide Charlottesville, The Scout Guide Richmond, The Scout Guide Jackson Hole, and The Scout Guide Dallas where you can really go along and follow every day what's happening with small businesses. The boots on the ground, that advocate is so important for small businesses. I feel like we have a lot of legs with, again, the print being our core business that drives you online to remember those small businesses.
Christy Ford: I think one of the silver linings of COVID was it opened the aperture for everybody to really recognize how important small businesses are to our communities. Without them, it was a totally different landscape. Where we've been trying to beat people on the head with our mission, the fact that people lived it and recognized and I think there's such an amazing appreciation for small businesses now more than ever that we hope will never go away that I think presenting them in a high-quality way, we believe that small businesses are just the bread and butter of the country. They're the real deal, they're the ones the big boxes are copying and trying to rip off.
They live it. They breathe it. It's their passion. It's their livelihood. So we love giving them a vessel that's so high quality and has lasting power. People don't throw them away. They actually collect them.
Racheal Cook: Yeah. That's the amazing thing when you're advertisement becomes something that people actually cherish and hold on to. I see this all the time like when I walk through the offices of my friends here in Richmond or go to different shops, they're lined up like series here, which is amazing and it really makes me think, I think a lot of small business owners that I talk to feel like the only way to market their small business these days is to be on social media 24/7. How has the rise of social media, which has really been right in alignment with the rise of The Scout Guide, how have those two interplay together do you see for small businesses?
Susie Matheson: I think they're a nice match honestly. I do think that there is a lot of traffic online. I think that the ongoing advocacy is so important but I think what small business owners need to see and reflect on is that if you go into a store and buy a pair of Hoka shoes or you're looking, let's just say it, a pair of Hoka shoes, Hoka is going to directly target you and give you 20% off and 30% off. What we find is so important is to really advocate as a third party for these small business owners and get people to start consciously consuming; understanding why it's so important to support small businesses in our community and really reflect on what it would look like if we only lived in a digital world.
The connection in the community is so important to The Scout Guide and I think that's part of bringing the people together in the book. I think it makes the book beautiful because every page is unique with their individual faces, stories. There's a vulnerability about it that you're putting yourself out there, you're exposing yourself, everybody hates getting their picture taken, they're putting themselves out there saying, “Hey, I'm a small business in this community. Please support me,” the value of that versus getting a direct discount online.
I think that we're going to see a major shift here with some of the everyday ongoing promotion of “Buy this and this store or do this,” and stepping back from that and saying, “Really, how can I connect more with my community and get them to support me?”
Christy Ford: I think they're a really nice compliment. The print, as we've just said, lasts and people don't throw them away. Online, what we battle as small businesses is that it's here today gone tomorrow, and that's very true for small businesses because we don't have the advertising budgets that A car dealers have and they can constantly sponsor and keep their presence at the top of the feed.
It's been fun and we always say the story starts in print. Every guide that we curate becomes like a family and so it's word of mouth, you're sitting next to these businesses that you're proud to be a part of this curated collection with for the year. One, you're promoting each other as kind of a banded network which is just invaluable to a small business, having been one for so long, word of mouth is everything. The online component is great because we continue the story online. We're constantly looking at every angle we can. We have an amazing audience, very loyal.
They want us to uncover the rocks in their town. They are looking to us to tell them where to go, who to meet, who to use, and that's beautiful. We continue that online and do it through cheat sheets. If you're going to Richmond, what to do in 24 hours? Constantly thinking of ways, and social media allows us to continue to bubble these small businesses up so they're always front of mind to the community. They're beautiful together, they're really great. But I think we believe in print today more than we ever have in the 12 years we've been around.
Susie Matheson: It becomes a beautiful business card honestly for all of these businesses. You have a great experience in New Orleans, you love it, you pick up The Scout Guide, you go online, and then you're finding all of these businesses again to support year-round. That's been fun to see our national network of small businesses all over the country connecting too. It’s so exciting.
Racheal Cook: I love that. It is so interesting because I feel like the predominant conversation for a lot of small business owners has been the push to be online, to be on social, to do the online advertising, all the digital marketing, which is great until we hit that critical mass where suddenly, it's just like everybody is doing it, there's all this noise. It becomes harder to differentiate yourself. What you just hit on is so key, it's that this is a beautiful business card. It is a network you're tapping into. It's almost like a new spin on really old-school marketing, just elevating it and bringing something different to the experience.
I love that. I really think the things that worked five years ago, especially online with social media with digital marketing are not as effective if there's not another layer on top of it that helps you stand out as a small business. I think this is really fascinating as a different idea, a different approach to promoting small businesses.
Everyone who listens to the podcast, you all have heard me say this over and over again, business grows at the speed of relationships. By being in a guide like this, it's almost like a built-in networking guide for you too because you become this cohort of small businesses that have all been featured in your local Scout Guide. So awesome.
Christy Ford: Well it’s a trusted relationship as well. We've become a resource for small businesses across the country. With the World Wide Web making everything so big and accessible now and everybody can see everything, I think it's really nice to have our curation and to really simplify it and say, “Hey,” because we have earned a reputation of getting really reputable small businesses in our network.
When they're looking to hire a landscape architect that they could pull from anywhere, we've heard time and time again, “I liked what she looked like. I liked that she was vetted through you guys.” I think that's a really nice thing that just naturally evolved too in this time.
Racheal Cook: I love that.
Susie Matheson: And of course, I remember we were speaking, Christy and I were at this art gallery speaking to a bunch of small businesses and this woman stood up and she said, “You all have the dream job. You guys have the best job. You get to go and meet all of these incredible small business owners in your communities, connect with them, see what's going on, you have your finger on the pulse of the town, you come in here with your kids, you're running this business, you're working with photographers. Literally, we want your job. We don't want to sit here in retail jail trying to connect with the audience.”
But it's been so fun to watch our franchisees actually, just really connect all of these businesses together, realizing that a lot of these people are not out and about as much as they want to be and would like to be because they're running their businesses. The Scout Guide and that owner really become the glue bringing that community together like, “What's working over here? How are they promoting themselves?” That's what people want is community and connection than anything I think.
Racheal Cook: Absolutely. It's so hard, it's like trying to make friends as an adult, trying to find other small business owners who are as serious as you are, who are at the level you're at. It can be really challenging to find those rooms and people to connect with. It's like a hidden benefit that you all have provided here to your participants in that you’re Scout Guide.
Susie Matheson: Well, we have that and then we have our franchise network which is 100% female owned. We have 73 markets across the country and it just is this great support system for somebody who wants to come in and own a small business but just needs that extra level of support that we offer as a franchise. That's awesome as well as the women are incredible that are running these Scout Guides all over the country.
Racheal Cook: Here's what I really want to dig into, because a lot of the women that listen to Promote Yourself to CEO, that work with us in The CEO Collective have started their business from scratch, just like you started The Scout Guide from scratch, had this idea, executed on it, now you have this thing, and they're ready to grow it, they're ready to scale it. There are so many different ways to grow and scale a business, but franchising is not something we have dug into here on Promote Yourself to CEO and it is such an interesting model. I'd love to know why did you decide to pursue a franchise model versus doing it all yourself or all the different avenues you could have scaled this business?
Christy Ford: Well, it started with Susie coming to me. I've been a photographer in New York and Susie came to me and was like, “Let's do this,” and again, it just rang so true to being a small business. Our inception happened in 2009, 2010 in the recession, so we were having all these people come to move. Charlotte always ranks in the top 10 best places to move to and everybody would walk into our store and be like, “Finally, a store I can relate to. Where's Prada? Where's Gucci?” and we're like, “If that's for you, we're not the town for you. But we have amazing businesses, we just don't present ourselves on main street like other towns do.”
We were constantly always drawing maps. I was like, “If you sell it, Susie, I will make it beautiful using my photography skills.” We did that and it was beautiful. She sold it instantly and we were off and running. This was a labor of love for the town we both loved so much. We were caught off guard when people came to us and said, “I need this in my town.” We're like, “Well, I don't know how to do that.” Susie sold it, I created it, I don't know how we do that in Charleston.
But we thought, “Okay, let's give it a whirl,” and we started as a license agreement and realized, just given the nature of the aesthetic and the high quality of our product, that it was really important we have massive control so that each guide met the quality standards across the country. Quickly, it was pointed out to us that we'd like to operate in more of a franchise realm and it allowed us to grow. It just allowed us to create a network fast and furious.
Franchising is beautiful and Susie can speak to how we were so embarrassed to be promoting small businesses. Our whole mission was supporting small businesses and we were shyly a franchise and we were so mortified by that. But we've come to really honor, respect, and appreciate the franchise world and what it does. What is it? 95% of businesses are a franchise, it's a beautiful thing.
Certainly, for women and moms that want to do something or have grown something already that want to make it blossom, it's a lot of legalities that you have to weed through, but it allowed us to separate ourselves in the marketplace because we've had a lot of copycats come along but nobody could compete with the vast network that we had quickly created.
Racheal Cook: Ooh, interesting.
Susie Matheson: And thankfully, a lot of what started, Christy, we never had to be in the position of taking that giant leap, we had people, women calling us from all over the country saying, “I think I'm you in your city. I'm a connector. I'm the glue. I love bringing businesses together. I love having my finger on the pulse. Can you help me do this in our city?”
Very quickly when we began, as Christy said, the license, we didn't want somebody going [inaudible] copies and printing The Scout Guide. Exerting that control and creating the guides ourselves was something that forced us into a franchise and it literally was the effort. Just whatever you do, don't tell anybody we're a franchise. It just is like McDonald's, it really cheapens our brand.
Then as we've evolved, now we do love franchising. We understand what it is, then the support that goes along with owning your own business. You have that independence, you can be a mom or dad, but a woman that wants to do it all. Christy and I, and I think I can speak for probably all 73 of our franchisees, we want to show up at every game for our children, we want to travel with our children, we want to take a summer vacation but we are hard workers. We're workhorses. We love the work and we love connecting with people, so The Scout Guide just was that perfect job opportunity.
We've done Charlottesville, running the franchise, we have also been doing The Scout Guide Charlottesville just because we love the job. We love connecting with our small business owners. I think that that support is why the franchise is so successful. I think it would be very hard as a business owner if I had, let's just say, an exercise studio, to make that leap to just open franchises because there is a large expense that goes along and a lot of support and training that goes along with owning a franchise that we have definitely evolved into.
Christy Ford: But I think we’ve encouraged business owners interested in doing it to take that step. I think it can be scary to think about all the legalities that go along with it. But absolutely, we knew nothing and we've gotten thus far. I think a franchise isn't necessary for all businesses, maybe a license suffices. Just to give you a sense, I think our license agreement was like a nine-page document and our franchise agreement is probably well over a hundred now, but you know what's right. I would encourage everybody to not be scared to look into that and just get with a lawyer, pay him for an hour and say, “Here's what we've got. This is what we're thinking,” and take that next step because if we can do it, anybody can do it.
Racheal Cook: The biggest thing I'm hearing from you is you decided that it was integral to maintain the quality, the level of quality of what you are delivering. The licensing agreement alone didn't necessarily protect all of that, didn't protect the brand as a whole as well as a franchise agreement.
Christy Ford: Correct.
Susie Matheson: Exactly.
Racheal Cook: I think a lot of us know a bit about franchises just through like, again, McDonald's, fast food, all of those are franchises, a lot of boutique fitness right now is franchises. If you've been to any corporate boutique fitness studio that's not just something local that somebody created, the thing I see over and over again that helps those small businesses thrive—because they are still small businesses, they are still owned by an individual even if they're a franchise—it's just the immense amount of training, SOPs, and standardization of “This is how we do this thing,” instead of just slapping a logo on it and then you have to figure it out yourself.
Susie Matheson: Yeah, and the financial goals. Setting those financial goals and having somebody hold you accountable to meeting your goals and helping you reach your goals has been just what's so amazing about a franchise network. Our system, I would say, I feel like we're a sexy franchise because some of them maybe aren't so sexy, Roto-Rooter or something like that, but it's the training and somebody that's there to say, “What are your financial goals? How much money do you want to make this year? Let us help you get there. Here's the formula for success. These are the six things you have to do to be successful. If you're having a hard time and you feel like you're failing, we're here. We've seen it. We can get you through it.”
I think it's that level of confidence that pushes you over to want to be a small business owner without feeling isolated on your own and starting a boutique hoping that people like what you like. We know the tools for success having done this now for 12 years.
Christy Ford: Well, and as a small business owner thinking about branching into franchising of their business, it forces you into creating a system and a foundation that you really do once. You're always evolving and you're always growing with it. But the model, it was a couple of years of just nitty-gritty process, foundation building, system building, all that, but then you've got your core business right there. The beauty of a franchise is it's repeatable so you're just building off legs of the mothership.
It's a lot at once but then you get through that chunk of putting the document together. As you put the franchise document together, you're creating the backbone of your business model and why it's going to be a successful franchise. Unlike maybe a small business evolution, you're forced to chunk it, it's fast and furious, but in a lot of ways, it's nice because you're forced to get through it and then you're on easy, not easy street, but you know what I mean, it's like you kind of have to do it all at once to add on the layers then that come after.
Racheal Cook: Yeah. This is something we talk about all the time with my clients. It always feels like you're slowing down when you have to sit down and get all those processes in place. For a lot of us entrepreneurs, we tend to be very visionary, very creative big picture, and the idea of sitting down and writing out like, “This is the process for XYZ” feels terrible. We don't want to do it. At the same time, anyone who comes to me and says they want to scale but they don't have that foundation in place, I'm like, “You're going to have a real hard time scaling because nothing is rinse and repeat. You're going to be creating it over and over and over again, overworking your team, overworking yourself, not being very efficient, probably wasting a lot of money in the process.”
I think even if y'all who are listening aren't interested in franchising as your scale opportunity, I really want you to take away that one of the reasons franchises work so well, one of the reasons a lot of small businesses are franchise-based is because of those systems because they make it easier to rinse and repeat, because they reduce the errors, they increase the brand awareness and brand acceptance, they make sure everything is really, really consistent throughout all the different things that you do.
If you are thinking about selling a business down the road, this is going to be a key component of it. You can't sell something if there's no clear operations manual for how this thing works. That's another thing I was thinking about with franchises. There's a whole marketplace for people to buy a franchise. If somebody decides they don't want to do it anymore, they can buy and do it.
Susie Matheson: Exactly. We teach you how to keep your books correctly, grow your business year over year. One of the things a franchise also does, and this is just a personal experience, especially in the exercise realm, for the reader, consistency is so important for our reader. If you pick up a Scout Guide in Jackson Hole or in Dallas, any of our cities, it's very consistent and you know it's The Scout Guide. The same if you go to a Pure Barre. The Pure Barre exercise class all over the country, you can understand what you're going to get; if things are clean, if things are sanitized, if it's organized exactly the way it looks. It makes you feel very comfortable.
I think if you just go out there on your own and try to do something, it is more difficult. The devils and the details, all of those little things do matter when you're running a small business and owning a small business. I think that franchise just helps you literally do that effortlessly.
Christy Ford: I think a franchise and building a franchise system, I equate it to building a house. You have to have a strong foundation. At some point, as you just said, Racheal, the foundation is key. If you ever want to go sell your business, if you ever want to scale, you have to do that foundation and make sure it's solid before you can build on top of it. Taking that step to think about franchising just forces your hand at that and gives you that solidity that will be beneficial in every way.
But I totally relate, it's like life stands still and you don't feel like you're being an entrepreneur in your right mind because you're just forced to get into the nitty-gritty and you've stopped creating, which is what you love and what we all love as entrepreneurs. But it's so important.
Racheal Cook: I just want to drive that home so much, you guys. It is so crucial. As you have gone into this franchise, when did you launch the franchise option?
Christy Ford: 2012.
Racheal Cook: Okay, so pretty early on then from the first one a few years in. What have been your biggest mistakes that you made launching a franchise aside from licensing and realizing that you were going to go with the franchise model instead? Were there any other things that tripped you up as you started to really massively grow?
Susie Matheson: I think you spoke to it because we are entrepreneurs, and allowing people to become franchisees, just being a young business but also not understanding the amount of training a lot of people need, to understanding to how you make money, it was very natural for me and Christy to make money, but some people, I think sometimes women, they're very self-sacrificing so they're going to get the job done through hell or high water, so really stepping back and saying, “What are your financial goals? How much money do you want to make? Let us help you make that money. Let us make you value yourself and value the job you're doing.”
We took that for granted at first. What we have found is that wow, having those really difficult conversations that are a lot about accountability and where your vulnerabilities really are, once you get past that with women, they literally outshine their revenue goals. They're incredible once you deal with those issues. I think once we were able to create the support that our franchisees needed, we were very successful. But it was hard finding that support at first.
Racheal Cook: That's a huge lesson. I think this is one of the things, if anybody has checked out the Business Growth Checklist that I have, I talk about the scale stage, this is such a major shift because now you really have to become a leader, lead other people, and level up other people on your team, whether they're an internal team or people who are franchising your offer. It is so crucially important that we level up our leadership skills, and I think that's often overlooked.
We just focus on selling the thing and don't think about how are we actually empowering everybody on our team to do, not only their best work but to profit from it, to feel great about it, to have a lot of pride in what they're doing and feeling like this is really the path I want to be on with you. That's huge. That's a huge lesson that you have to really dig into training in your own leadership there.
Susie Matheson: And building trust I think is also just so important as well, trusting that we're all rising up, a rising tide lifts all boats, that you have to trust the people that you go into business with and be very well aligned on your mission together.
Racheal Cook: Did you have any challenges with the death grip of control that a lot of us have over our business and our brand when you brought people on as franchisees or did you feel like you could trust them right away? How did that process look for you?
Christy Ford: Well, one thing I was going to add to our struggles was I wouldn't change our path but if you really believe you're a franchise, there is no reason to license. I would really get clear on whether you believe your long-term goal is licensing or franchising. Because I'd say a struggle of ours was converting those licensees to franchisees. I think we had less than a dozen. But that was probably our biggest struggle. That was very much to your control. They had more control as a licensee as they did a franchisee.
We've gotten better and better at vetting franchisees. Now, the quality of the women that we have collected is incredible. We learned so much from them. In the very beginning, it's hard because you're so flattered that anybody even wants to be a part of your business. You're like, “Yes!” So we didn't have a proper vetting system. We didn't ask the right questions about the assets they possess or don't.
I think that control is real but it's a non-issue if you really have great vetting and the right training in place. But I highly, highly recommend you really don't take the route of license to franchise. It woos you because it's a tenth the price and just so much easier but you gotta keep the long-term goals in mind and just go for it. We just think franchising is amazing and it does give you the control, so we'd say go for the franchise.
Susie Matheson: Because we're still control freaks.
Racheal Cook: The answer is if you want all the control as you grow, then you build the system and then make people sign documents that says they'll follow the system. I love it.
Susie Matheson: Exactly, exactly. I think it's just finding the right people that align with your mission. They did have to build trust with us. I think that they thought, “Oh, Susie and Christy are going to start this company and they're just serial entrepreneurs. They're going to sell it to someone and then move on.” We were like, “We're really happy doing this. We feel very privileged to have this job and work with you all,” and so them realizing that we were in it, it has grown through them and they really shine, and we love working with them.
Christy Ford: Very much so. Yeah, we try to do the work that they don't want to do, the nitty-gritty. They are The Scout Guide. So them doing the job and walking the walk, they are the brand. But we help do all the back-end stuff that, like we said, no entrepreneur really loves to take the time and do.
Racheal Cook: I love it. Well, as we wrap up our conversation, I would love to hear what is next for Scout Guide. You're in 73 cities, you've grown tremendously, what do you see as next on the horizon?
Christy Ford: We just want to get better. Every day, we want to improve. I think our goal has always been 100 markets. We feel like every town in America deserves a Scout Guide. The best way to build brand awareness is by having more Scout Guides and strengthening our franchisee system so they are growing, prospering, and doing as much as we possibly can in this constantly changing landscape for all the small businesses.
Susie Matheson: I think we love the small business growth and just knowing that the more small businesses we can bring together to be part of these communities, that can be part of this national network, to support one another and really just lift everybody, I think it's going to save small businesses. I think when people start to reflect on where they're spending their money, how they're spending their money, they want to spend it in their communities, keeping those dollars in their communities is so important and then that network expanding is also so important.
Just getting as many cities as we can and franchisees as we can to bring together these small businesses to support is a worthy cause. We just keep on growing, 100 markets more or more. If you're in even a little tiny town, Charlottesville is only 40,000, we have little tiny towns and we have really big cities that have Scout Guide, so we have the formula for success and we just love watching these women grow, and support the other businesses in their towns.
Racheal Cook: It's fantastic. Well Susie Matheson, Christy Ford, thank you so much for joining me for this conversation. It was so enlightening to hear more about how the franchise model has worked for both of you. For anyone who is listening and wants to get more or connect with either one of you, what is the best place to send them?
Susie Matheson: I think thescoutguide.com/franchise if they're interested in franchising for sure. We do have thescoutguide.com which is beautiful and amazing, and you can follow along, but on the business side, it's thescoutguide.com/franchise I think.
Racheal Cook: Perfect. We will add that in the show notes. Thank you so much for coming to chat with me today.
Christy Ford: Thank you.
Susie Matheson: Thank you.
Racheal Cook: Well, there you have it. I hope your ears were perked when they started talking about the importance of slowing down so that you can get your systems and your infrastructure in place because this is the boring, not exciting, not sexy stuff that is truly responsible for scaling a business. If there's one thing I see from entrepreneurs again and again that holds them back from sustainably scaling their business, it's that they want to just focus on more marketing, more sales, more marketing, more sales and they never give their business the opportunity to truly thrive, they never sit down to truly put the SOPs in place, to put all the systems in place, to document everything, to make sure their team is running like a well-oiled machine.
If you don't slow down to put all of this infrastructure in place, then it's only a matter of time before you are on the path for catastrophic growth where yes, you might be making sales and the marketing is going gangbusters, but you can't keep up with what you've created, it becomes a cash-eating monster because it gets more and more expensive to fix problems that are now emergency mode and you end up with a lot of frustrated people if you let your business get to that point.
If there's anything I took away from this conversation today, it was this: get your systems in order. Get your systems in order before you really put the pedal to the metal and go all in on your marketing and sales. This is not the sexy stuff. This is not exciting. You might have to force yourself to do it. But when you do it, suddenly, you have the foundation, you have the infrastructure in place in your business that can manage and maintain the level you want to do.
I hope that was a helpful conversation for everyone. Again, it doesn't matter if you're planning to franchise or not, systems are everything. Systems are what help your business stay sustainable. Systems are what help you when your team has some churn in it. When people leave your team, new people join your team. Systems are what help make sure they can do their job well. Systems are what help ensure you're not having to constantly fly back in, fix all the problems, and put out all the fires.
I hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you want to learn more about Scout Guide or go pick one up in your local community, I highly encourage you to go check them out. I think the way that they are growing this is just so fascinating and there are so many lessons we can learn. Thanks so much for listening to this episode and I will see you next week on Promote Yourself to CEO.