One woman’s journey from employee to small business owner to H&R Block franchisee
When Nury Saenz was a tot, she bounced between Mexico and the United States as effortlessly as a tennis ball across a grass court.
Born in Mexico, Saenz went to kindergarten in California. Then, bounce. Back in Mexico, she completed high school and started college. Then, bounce. Back in the U.S., she finished college, earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
“For me, it was easy to go back and forth,” says Saenz, an enrolled agent, a former independent tax preparer, and now an H&R Block franchisee based in Chula Vista, California.
Today, Saenz is a U.S. citizen who owns six tax offices near San Diego – all within 60 miles of the border with Mexico.
“I owe my career to the U.S.; it is my country,” says Saenz, one of H&R Block’s Featured Franchisees of the Year for 2016 – an award that celebrates community involvement along with business success.
A learning curve
While the U.S. provided the accommodating backdrop for her 20-year career, it was Saenz’s determination and drive that built the H&R Block business she owns today, which offers tax prep and year-round small business services.
Like many small business owners, Saenz started out working for other people – in her case, a local accounting firm in San Diego. It wasn’t long before Saenz discovered that her job juggling numbers was really about empowering people.
“I wanted to do something that would help someone else,” says Saenz. “I liked getting involved in clients’ financial situations and helping them accomplish their financial goals, and since I was good at numbers, the job was a perfect fit.”
Until Saenz decided to go out on her own.
Drumming up business
“It was a challenge to be more successful,” says Saenz. “I worked hard to get people to listen to me and learn what my business could do for them.”
That task did a number on her feet and her knuckles.
“I’m a high heel girl and I like to dress professionally,” says Saenz. “So, I put on my high heels and literally knocked on people’s doors. And I called them. And I went out in the neighborhoods. I did everything possible to gain one client at a time.”
And – like the cliché – Saenz got involved. “Instead of waiting for clients to find me, I found them,” says Saenz, who is active in the California Society of Tax Consultants, Fender Center for the Arts and Las Damas de San Diego – and spends at least four hours a week promoting her tax offices.
“From Day One, I got involved in my community on all different levels: PTA meetings at my son’s school, community fairs, business presentations. Because wherever my offices are, that’s my town and my community,” says Saenz. “It paid off.”
Then she met Tony Tavantzis, “the love of her life” and her business partner. Together, they set up a second shop – where they prepared taxes and provided services for local small businesses.
Bigger and better
But Saenz and Tavantzis longed for something more.
“Our own business was going at a good pace, but we wanted to open more offices and hire more people,” says Saenz. “So, we looked into franchising with H&R Block. We really liked their business model, the way we could take advantage of their national marketing efforts, and we appreciated all the tools and training the company provides.”
But perhaps most important, “We wanted to be part of a company that believes in serving the community. That was a big part of how we operated on our own, and we wanted to maintain that connection.”
So, in 2013, Saenz became an H&R Block franchisee and Tavantzis became her franchise associate. “I didn’t feel like we were giving our clients to a company, I felt like we were bringing more to our clients,” she says. “It was a perfect fit.”
Today, Saenz relishes the business she and Tavantzis have built.
“We continue to run our tax offices in a personal way,” says Saenz, noting such touches as free candy and high-end coffee for clients and co-workers, an abundance of family photos and mementos and more.
“Serving clients is not about crunching numbers, it’s looking at the big picture. We look for things clients might miss.”
For example, says Saenz, “A client who just had a baby came in to file taxes, then realized they hadn’t received the baby’s Social Security number yet. So, we prepared the return, put it on hold, and filled in the number when it came.”
Later, the client came back with flowers and said, “I felt so dumb.”
“‘Not at all,’ I told them. ‘You have your hands full. You take care of your baby and we’ll take care of your taxes.’”
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