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Melbourne, Australia

Interview with Karl Sandall, TaxAssist Accountants

An Australian Franchisor Interview


Franchisors name: Karl Sandall
Name of franchise: TaxAssist Accountants

Tell us about how/when TaxAssist Accountants was started and the motivation behind establishing the company.
It was whilst working in practice in 1995 that the Chairman and founder John Westgarth FCA saw an opening in the market place, when 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.

John made use of his experience and knowledge of how to build up a successful accountancy practice specialising in looking after small businesses, having himself built up a client base of 500 with a turnover of £300k, to develop the TaxAssist Accountants business model and support infrastructure.

When and why did TaxAssist decide to go down the franchise route?
Through franchising we knew we could maximise growth potential to the mutual advantage of both TaxAssist Accountants and our Franchisees. Franchising helps to minimise the risks and pitfalls usually associated with business start-ups, by providing specific guidance for franchisees newly into business.

What have been the TaxAssist’s biggest achievements/successes to date so far?
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 5 star Franchisee satisfaction, as part of the Franchise Benchmark surveys and Awards run by Smith & Henderson, who wanted to recognise excellence and encourage greater transparency in UK Franchising. TaxAssist Accountants were amongst the first franchisors to be recognised with this accolade.

What challenges have you had to overcome?
Over the last few years there has been a global recession and house price crash, coupled with a down turn in the banks’ willingness to lend. However, TaxAssist continued to perform well during this time, in fact our growth rate has outpaced many larger firms. In 2013 we recorded 12.4% growth in the Accountancy Age Top 50 listings, beating the “Big 4” international groups and achieving the fifth highest growth across the whole Top 50. Indeed, TaxAssist was placed 26th in the table on UK fee income, which has now risen to £31 million. The strength of our business model for our franchisees is that there is security in operating with hundreds of small business clients, each with a modest average annual fee in that if some of the clients leave, the risk to the overall business is negligible.

What marketing/promotional tools do you use to grow your franchise?
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, social media presence, PR, advert templates, initial and ongoing training, telemarketing and an unparalleled internet presence. These and other initiatives will generate inbound leads (business opportunities) for our franchisees.

What differentiates TaxAssist Accountants from the competition?
We are the leading franchised accountancy organisation with over 15 years’ experience of operating a substantial national network of branded offices that is well recognised and respected.

Unlike some of our competitors, all of our 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 over 190 offices, including over 160 shop fronts and growing around the UK. Traditionally, accountants lack visibility, positioning themselves behind closed, brass plaqued 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. We offer the clients of our franchisees fixed fee pricing, paid monthly to spread the cost and speak in clear and jargon free language, proactively looking to save money wherever possible – perfect for our small business clients.

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

In your opinion, what makes a successful TaxAssist franchisee?
We take on franchisees from a range of ages and backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common. 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.

What does the future hold for TaxAssist Accountants?
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 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 expansion plans have you got nationally and internationally?
In 2009 TaxAssist Accountants awarded our first Master Franchise Rights to a firm of Accountants in the Republic of Ireland.

Having established their pilot operation, the Master Franchisees in Ireland have successfully recruited franchisees who cover 25 franchise areas, have taken on 4200 clients with a fee bank of €4.2million (as at February 2014). All of the franchisees have opened shop front premises. TaxAssist Accountants Ireland is managed by a team of two full time Directors who are supported by personnel from their existing practice and newly recruited Technical and Marketing Managers.

Having now proven that our 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.

We currently have Master Franchise opportunities in Canada, Australia and New Zealand and will soon be launching in the USA. We awarded our first Master Franchisee licence for part of Canada in January 2014.

What advice would you give to someone considering franchising their business?
Ensure that you know your business inside out and have a thoroughly successful and suitable model for franchisees to follow. Take good advice from specialist advisers who can walk you through the step by step process to establishing a support centre and all that this entails.

If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?
In 2005, with full network agreement, we changed our name from TaxAssist Direct to TaxAssist Accountants. This decision was made so that our franchisees’ potential clients could more clearly understand the core services we provide. Clearly this involved a lot of work and expense, so is something to be avoided if possible.

Naturally any business grows and evolves with time, but we are happy to say that there are very few regrets and areas we would change.

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