Best Practice: TaxAssist Kingston’s Bruce Burrowes

WE ALL KNOW about franchises.

The industry is worth around £12.4bn a year turnover, with more than 35,000 franchised outlets across the UK. But accountancy?

Well, various business models have kicked around the profession, whether just marketing tie-ups and referrals, or deeper and more formal relationships. So the basic concept of franchising certainly isn’t alien to practices.

Ruffling the feathers of more established practices is TaxAssist Accountants.

The ‘firm’ operates across nearly 200 areas, employing more than 700 staff. Founded by John Westgarth, its cumulative turnover places it at 29 in the Top 50 accountancy firms table for its 2010 figures, with 2011 earnings of £21.8m.

Its beauty lies in the breadth of people looking to run its franchises: accountants with practice or business experience; or senior managers looking to run their own business.

Some might suggest that such variety will lead to a variety of experiences for clients. For TaxAssist, they would argue that their initial intensive training programme sets up franchisees with the basics. It’s then up to franchisees’ discretion to decide which skillsets are needed to help them maintain a good service level, and to grow.

This applied to Bruce Burrowes, franchise holder for TaxAssist Kingston.
His route is probably more unusual than most, being CIMA-qualified and having a background as an FD – at credit card specialist, alongside senior positions with Johnson Wax and ICL.

“I was looking for something else, and was minded to run my own business,” he says.

But his business accounting skills would not satisfy all the demands of personal client matters, let alone getting the business up and running.

“There’s a fog you have, where there are lots of questions you have and don’t have the answers at hand, so it’s about support.”

Taxassist’s intensive six-week training, plus Burrowes’ common-sense approach to hiring technical specialists in areas out of his expertise, have helped attain good performance since taking on the office in 2008.

“My [knowledge] hole was in personal tax, so I spent time on the training programmes.” He is more than ably assisted by his technical staff.
Clients tend to be micro-businesses, and this negates potential issues around how you would deal their expansion into other regions or geographies (each franchise keeps control of its own client data).

So stepping onto other franchisees’ ‘turf’ is not really a concern. In fact, there is a culture among some of the franchisees of spreading knowledge around Taxassist.

“The franchise agreement sets the legal framework – they don’t own my clients. But it’s also based on trust. It’s up to me to make it work – [but] they’ve sent me business, leads, helped me find clients, how to talk to them and understanding what you’re offering.

“I get together with other [TaxAssist franchisees] to talk about best practice.”

The central office is very ably manned, says Burrowes, and usually more than capable of dealing with the typical range of marketing and technical queries.

But despite all the benefits it must be tempting, once the office is at a certain point in the cycle, to retain all revenues rather than pass a proportion onto the franchisor? Why not go it alone?

Burrowes accepts that the issue is worth consideration, but the whole picture of being a franchisee – and the positives and negatives it entails – must be taken into account. The level of service and advice, plus the branding, are all important. “The fee is just part of the equation,” he explains.

“I try to leverage power from within the network.”

Practice: TaxAssist

Partners: None (175 franchisees)

Offices: 192

Fee income: £21.8m (y/e 2011)

Specialist sectors: self-employed and small limited companies

Top50+50 ranking: 29

Source: Accountancy Age Top50+50 survey and TaxAssist

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