Hague's Consultation: TaxAssist -We can offer a complete solution

Having originally assisted TaxAssist Accountants in setting up its franchise in 1995, franchise consultant Paul Hague interviews the company's CEO Karl Sandall

Paul Hague: What are the origins of TaxAssist Accountants?
Karl Sandall: TaxAssist Accountants (formerly TaxAssist Direct) was founded in 1995 by a group of dedicated professionals headed by Chartered Accountant John Westgarth who, while working in practice in 1995, saw an opening in the marketplace. He figured out that small businesses would need help with their accounts in the wake of self-assessment. He anticipated that the demand for such a service would be ideal for a franchise network, and TaxAssist Accountants was formed.

PH: What is your own track record?
KS: Prior to joining TaxAssist Accountants, I worked for 26 years at HSBC undertaking a variety of roles including Branch Manager, Area Manager and working within HR. I am a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, have been involved with the Prince's Trust volunteers and Prince's Trust Business Advisors (the Norfolk Board of the Young Enterprise Scheme), am currently a business advisor to the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee and a school governor.

PH: What services do TaxAssist Accountants franchisees offer?
KS: TaxAssist Accountants is the largest network of accountants in the UK who specialise in providing core services of bookkeeping, payroll, tax and accountancy services to small businesses. We also offer a range of add-on services such as Independent Financial Advice, Personnel Services, Asset Finance, plus many more, to make our franchisees the one-stop shop for their customers business needs.

PH: What is the core customer base?
KS: The target market for our franchisees is the small business sector (a small business is defined as any trading entity with a turnover of up to £1 million). This includes sole traders, partnerships and smaller limited companies. The niche of small businesses has traditionally been ignored by larger accountants, and poorly serviced by smaller practices. Establishing a unique network that focuses solely on smaller businesses means that we are targeting a market that needs these services, and operating from key office locations or shop-style premises makes us more accessible.

PH: What is the current status of the franchisee network?
KS: We have an established, widespread network of 150 franchisees in Great Britain. We are taking on a number of national contracts and are looking for more for our network to service. I am also currently in negotiations to take the franchise into Ireland, which is a very exciting development for us.

PH: What training do you provide to prepare franchisees?
KS: We offer an intensive five week training course which takes place in London and Norwich. The training course starts with two weeks in BPP Professional Education's brand new state of the art training facility in the heart of London, covering all aspects of accounts production and taxation for sole traders and partnerships. These two weeks of intensive training are then followed by one week in Norwich covering software training and PAYE. A week's home study follows (which will include reading, case studies, fine tuning the business plan, launch planning, etc.). This will be followed by a further one week residential course at our Support Centre in Norwich to review initial training, cover marketing and sales training, recruitment, discuss queries and review and complete marketing plans prior to the launch of their business.

PH: What support do you offer?
KS: We offer a technical helpline which is staffed by qualified accountants and experienced support staff covering bookkeeping, accounts, tax, VAT, payroll, National Insurance and tax investigation. In the early days of operation this back up will be invaluable, and the continuing help and advice will be of great benefit as and when staff are taken on, who are also entitled to use their help. We have built up a relationship with a total IT supplier in order to supply our franchisees with all the correct IT equipment and support they will ever need from one location. We also operate a fully integrated software suite in our network, which includes practice management, accounts, bookkeeping and tax compliance as well as planning software. Full training and support is provided on an ongoing basis. Regulations mean that qualified accountants and students are expected to maintain continuing professional development (CPD) throughout their working life. It is also strongly encouraged for non-qualified accountants, and may well become mandatory in the future. Again, in close partnership with BPP we can offer a complete solution to this, using innovative online learning aids and face-to-face courses. Twice a year we provide Regional Training Days run by BPP at three locations to cover budget, tax and accountancy updates.

PH: How do you communicate with the network?
KS: We are constantly in touch with franchisees, particularly through our Franchisee Development Managers, one who looks after England and Wales, and one who looks after Scotland. We have Regional Meetings once a year to discuss sharing of best practice and to update the network on planned developments for the coming year. We also hold franchisee forums twice a year, plus BPP training days, Technical visits/CCH Training visits and Directors visits on an ongoing basis. Then there is our Annual Conference which is an enjoyable event for Support Centre staff, franchisees, their partners and staff.

PH: Can you cite the turnovers achieved by franchisees?

KS: To give you an idea of what can be achieved by following the shop front model, a franchisee in only his second month has already taken on 19 clients with fees of £47,000. The increase in visibility, coupled with dynamic business building franchisees has lead to some impressive figures and we are keen to increase the number of our franchisees with shop fronts so that they can share in this success. Of course success depends on the activity and motivation of the franchisee.

PH: How many franchisees do you aim to recruit annually?
KS: We're looking to take on around 30 new franchisees a year. More would be good, but quality not quantity is the goal. We are seeking to have a complete network of 400 franchisees, so there is space for 250 more franchisees nationwide.

PH: What qualities do you look for in a franchisee?
KS: If they have the ambition to build a substantial accountancy practice over five years plus, then we need to hear from them. They will need drive and determination to develop a broad client base, aiming for a turnover of £200,000 - £300,000 and employing four or so staff members to service the clients. To do this they will also need to recognise the importance of either operating from a shop front from day one, or moving to a shop front within three years of joining us. They do not need to be a qualified accountant to be a franchisee, although a good commercial brain, and a desire to succeed are essential.

PH: Do you have export potential?
KS: We never say never. North America and Australia look very tempting markets!