TaxAssist Accountants: The franchise opportunity

The award winning small business accountancy franchise tells Startups the essential qualities it looks for in a franchisee

Franchise: TaxAssist Accountants
Description: TaxAssist Accountants is a multi-award winning franchise with the largest network of accountants specifically servicing the small business market.
Started in: 1995
Founder: John Westgarth FCA
No. of franchises: 198
Coverage: UK (International opportunities also available)
Average cost per franchise: Franchise fee is £36,950 + VAT & working capital
Website:  www.taxassistfranchise.co.uk

It was whilst working in practice in 1995 that TaxAssist Accountants’ chairman and founder John Westgarth FCA saw an opening in the market place. He figured out that small businesses would need help with their accounts in the wake of self-assessment and anticipated that the demand for such a service would be ideal for a franchise network. And so TaxAssist Accountants was formed…

Moving into franchising

So how did TaxAssist Accountants move into franchising?

After taking specialist advice from experts in the franchising arena, Westgarth made use of his experience and knowledge of how to build up a successful accountancy practice to develop the TaxAssist Accountants business model. With his own accountancy practice Westgarth had built up a client base of 500 with a turnover of £300,000.

Through franchising Westgarth knew he could maximise growth potential to the mutual advantage of both TaxAssist Accountants and franchisees. Franchising helps to minimise the risks and pitfalls usually associated with business start-ups by providing specific guidance for franchisees newly into business.

Where did the business open its first franchises?

The first franchisee joined TaxAssist Accountants in 1996 when the franchise was very different and franchisees were able to work from home. A pilot franchise-owned shop front office was launched in Norwich in November 2002 and was subsequently bought by a franchisee. This pilot proved to be so successful that we now have a network of over 160 shop fronts around Great Britain and Northern Ireland and 25 in the Republic of Ireland.

How successful were those original franchisees?

The franchise today, in terms of support and growth potential, is almost indistinguishable from how it was when it started back in 1995. As the network has grown, so have the aspirations and achievements of our franchisees.

The franchise opportunity

What makes the franchise different / unique?

We are the leading franchise accountancy organisation with over 15 year’s experience of operating a substantial national network of branded offices that are well recognised and respected. Unlike some of our competitors, our entire support centre staff are 100% committed to supporting the franchise network and have no other business interests to take their focus away from the importance of assisting the network.

We have a highly visible presence with nearly 200 franchises. Traditionally, accountants lack visibility, positioning themselves behind closed, brass plaque doors. Our shop front concept, designed specifically to appeal to the small business market, in terms of accessibility and visibility, positively encourages walk in trade and is a breath of fresh air in the accountancy world.

Clients of our franchisees receive fixed fee pricing, paid monthly to spread the cost, and are made comfortable with the use of clear and jargon free language. Our franchisee accountants proactively look to save clients money wherever possible – perfect for our small business customers.

With our bespoke in house training, CCH software, marketing techniques, and a raft of bolt on relevant business services, our franchisees can offer their clients accountancy services at significantly discounted prices. In our opinion, we are market leaders whose offering far outweighs the competition.

What services do you offer?

TaxAssist Accountants work with small businesses and the self-employed with a turnover of up to £2m. Our services include year-end accounts, tax returns, bookkeeping, VAT returns, payroll and cash flow projections amongst other things.

How big is the market opportunity?

Huge. The small business sector has traditionally been ignored by larger accountants and is poorly serviced by smaller practices. By establishing a unique network that focuses solely on smaller businesses, we are targeting a market that has a need for our services. Operating from key shop-style premises and office-based locations also makes us more accessible.

How many franchisees do you have today?

We have franchisees covering 198 areas. Some franchisees have an area and a half or a double area.

How is the brand marketed?

TaxAssist Accountants continually strives to be at the forefront in terms of marketing and technology and we are proud of the initiatives we have instigated to allow our franchisees to flourish. We provide franchisees with a marketing toolkit containing everything they need to run topical campaigns throughout the year. These toolkits include support with social media presence, PR, advert templates, initial and ongoing training, telemarketing and an unparalleled internet presence. These and other initiatives will generate inbound leads for our franchisees.

How do you divide the regions?

Each franchisee operate in an exclusive territory, based on population.

The perfect franchisee

What do you look for in potential franchisees?

We take on franchisees from a range of ages and backgrounds but they all have plenty of energy, a friendly persona, are technically competent and have a desire to succeed and reach their goals. Fully and part qualified accountants as well as those from the finance, corporate, banking and insurance world have all made successful franchisees. You don’t need to be an accountant to join us.

So do franchisees work from an office, or are they home-based? Is it part-time or full-time?

The franchise is very much a full-time business opportunity. Franchisees have the choice of operating from an office or a shop front premise to start with but are required to be in a shop front before the end of their third year.

How are franchisees vetted?

Franchisees are required to submit their CV and complete an application form before attending our open day which we call a ‘Discovery Day’. The discovery days are very much a two way process and we work extensively with each candidate to establish if taking on a TaxAssist Accountants franchise is the right thing to do.

How much do franchisees pay and what are the ongoing franchise fees?

This depends on whether the franchisee operates from an office or a shop front initially, but including the initial start-up costs and initial franchise fee, it is between £50,000 to £100,000. Banks are usually prepared to offer up to 70% of this figure.

Ongoing costs are lead charges, a management service fee, a brand awareness and client acquisition fee, a training fee and software costs. We offer comprehensive support to help franchisees complete and submit their business plans to the banks.

Success and growth

How successful are some of the franchisees today?

One of our most successful franchisees who operated from Harpenden and St Albans broke the million pound barrier in a resale in 2012. We currently have one other franchisee with a turnover of over £1m.

Certainly franchisees that commence their business in shop front premises will have a big advantage with regards to client growth compared with those who start from a conventional office, who will build up their business more slowly. Of course, we cannot guarantee what a franchisee will achieve – ultimately it is down to each individual franchisee to set their goals and, with our help, ensure these goals are achieved.

How is the brand looking to grow?

These are exciting times for TaxAssist Accountants in the UK as we expand our support centre staff in order to support our growing network of franchisees, their staff and sometimes multiple shop front premises. We are also continuing to expand internationally but will never take our eyes of the UK. We will continue to work hard to deliver a first class service to our franchisees who can in turn offer a first class service to their clients.

What is the potential of the business?

TaxAssist Accountants will soon be going global.

In 2009, TaxAssist Accountants was awarded its first master franchise rights to a firm of accountants in the Republic of Ireland. Having established the pilot operation, the master franchisees in Ireland have successfully recruited franchisees who cover 25 franchise areas and have taken on 4200 clients with a fee of €4.2m (as of February 2014). All of the franchisees have opened shop front premises.

Having now proven that the TaxAssist Accountants concept can be replicated in the Republic of Ireland and that ongoing training and consultancy support can be given to a master franchisee, we are now in a position to be able to offer our master franchise rights to selected international markets.

TaxAssist currently has master franchise opportunities in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and will soon be launching in the USA. TaxAssist Accountants was awarded its first master franchisee licence for part of Canada in January 2014.

What will the challenges be in achieving that?

Whilst there are many differences between the UK and our target countries, both culturally and legally, there is one constant – every country has a high number of small businesses and the employed which have to pay tax and are in need of a professional accountancy service.

Over the last few years there has been a global recession and house price crash, coupled with a down turn in banks’ willingness to lend. However, TaxAssist continued to perform well during this time and our growth rate has in fact outpaced many larger firms.

What awards has the business won?

TaxAssist Accountants has won numerous awards over the years from both the franchising, accountancy and marketing arenas. We are particularly proud of winning the 2010 Franchise of the Year award from the British Franchise Association. This was on the back of winning the runner up award for the previous two years.

2013 was a particularly good year for the franchise. For the third year running TaxAssist was shortlisted and won Best Training & Support beating fellow finalists McDonald’s and ActionCOACH, both of which are global brands with large corporate support. TaxAssist was also the runner up in the Best Overall Franchise category.

In the same year, we were awarded the Accountancy Firm of the Year award from the Association of International Accountants.

We were also awarded with five star franchisee satisfaction as part of the Franchise Benchmark surveys and Awards run by Smith & Henderson, which recognises excellence and encourages greater transparency in UK franchising. TaxAssist Accountants was awarded the Best Franchise and Continuous Improvement awards at the Smith and Henderson Awards 2014, as well as being finalists for the bfa Franchisor of the Year Awards 2014.

Finally, is the company a British Franchise Association (BFA) member?

Yes.

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