X-Press Legal Services is a specialist franchise that provides solicitors and other conveyancing professionals with property searches and reports which are an essential part of the property-buying process in the UK. It is a family firm employing five members of the Lister family in key roles, headed by managing director Lynne Lister, previously editor of a UK franchise magazine for ten years, and husband Dave, from a financial services background. The franchise was launched in 2005 and has a nationwide network.
We launched in 2005 and have a network of 26 franchisees throughout England and Wales. The business can be run from home, for minimal overheads. In time franchisees may need to employ staff and an office base may be preferable.
Franchisees are from all walks of life and many different former careers. No previous experience is necessary; comprehensive training covers everything, with an exceptional support package.
To date the majority of the initial franchisees have re-signed for a further term, with four resales.
Three-week training course at the company’s Warrington head office. The course includes both classroom and in the field training and continues throughout the life of the franchise with refresher and continual development training and support.
An X-Press Legal franchisee’s day is varied; liaising with solicitor clients, visiting local councils, compiling reports whilst paying close attention to detail and accuracy within a given timeframe. Franchisees will also operate an effective marketing strategy which will include telephone calls, meetings and professional seminars.
In 2016, Liz and James Ferguson scooped the top accolade of Franchisees of the Year in X-Press Legal Services’ annual awards. The franchise specialises in providing property searches and reports – a vital part of the property buying process in the UK – for solicitors and conveyancing professionals.
Former New Franchisees of the Year award winners, they have also been finalists in the Business Development and Brand Builder award categories.
The couple, based in Looe, have been franchisees for almost 10 years, providing a service across the whole of Cornwall and Devon. Their business has been built – and grown – on exemplary customer service, solid hard work and continuous marketing.
But it was Liz’s brainwave last year to start a networking group, exclusively for professionals working in conveyancing, that enabled their business to really soar.
She explains: “Over the years we have been franchisees, the search sector has expanded and changed greatly with the introduction of many new specialist and niche searches covering a wide range of eventualities that might adversely affect a property. We can research all these risks – including, for example, flooding, contaminated land, proposed new standard rights of way, new sustainable drainage proposals, tin mining, Japanese knotweed and other invasive species.
“It is very time consuming for property sector professionals to keep up to date, especially when there are often changes in legislation, but it is essential that they do so. We have created a specialist advisory service to help fill this ‘information black hole’ in the form of a networking group specifically for solicitors, conveyancers, paralegals and legal secretaries.”
Now there are local groups all across the two counties, meeting once a month regularly to hear presentations on specific search-related topics – both potential threats and solutions – from senior industry specialists, environmentalists, council heads of department and local Chambers of Commerce. Liz and James provide the breakfast for delegates and there is no charge to attend.
“We realised that solicitors and conveyancers don’t often meet each other and that they might welcome the opportunity to talk to others, swap ideas and share best practice,” said James. “It has proved to be very popular, especially combined with the value of a talk by a well-known and knowledgeable speaker about a specific problem. Now the groups decide which topics they would like covered and often choose the speaker as well.”
Liz and James changed their promotional strategy when they decided to launch The Tamar Conveyancers Group, as it is now called. Instead of selling their service directly, they set out to attract new clients by being recognised as an authoritative voice in the local property and search sectors, with a wealth of knowledge and experience. They handle routine searches and can also offer advice, information and guidance on which specific searches to choose to address specific problems.
The new approach has been successful: their business almost quadrupled in a year as breakfast group delegates recognised Liz and James’ expertise and appointed them to handle property searches. Investment in time, effort and money has been well rewarded by this impressive growth of their business, creating a much larger client base and significantly more awareness of X-Press and their service in the West Country.
The couple became X-Press franchisees after they moved to Cornwall to escape the south-east rat race, a decision which enabled them to realise their dream of working for themselves. James commented: “We wanted a business that would excite us and bring the passion back into our working lives.”
Before joining X-Press, Liz and James worked for major corporations, in senior and demanding roles in supply chain management and in warehousing and distribution. They worked long hours and were frequently on call.
James commented: “We felt increasingly frustrated. We considered various possibilities and continued to look for new ideas until we discovered franchising. We recognised its many advantages and benefits, including training and ongoing support.”
Encouraged by seeing the number of proven and established franchises in a wide range of market sectors, Liz and James took a closer look at X-Press Legal Services. “We were very pleased to have found a franchise with so much potential and one in which we could work together to build a substantial business, with plenty of promise for the future.”
Announcing their new award at the company’s recent annual conference, X-Press director, Dave Lister, said: “I am delighted to make this announcement and praise their initiative. Liz and James have not allowed anything to put them off reaching their goal. They have shown dogged determination, maintained consistent effort and standards and, overall, been totally committed to their business.”
Linda Mannion, X-Press Legal Services franchisee for Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire, is celebrating her 2015 success of achieving the highest increased turnover in the franchise’s prestigious X-Cellence Club.
She receives the accolade in recognition of her consistent success, despite having to overcome extreme difficulties in the past. In the 10 years since she became a franchisee, Linda has been nominated for all categories of her franchisor’s annual awards and has twice received the Franchisee of the Year award.
Linda and her Club colleagues are influential within the franchise, working with the franchisor and advising other franchisees. There are 27 offices across the UK.
Director Dave Lister said: “Linda truly deserves recognition and she continues to achieve outstanding results. She has great determination and tenacity with a “can do” attitude that has enabled her to grow her business so well. She is extremely generous with her time and willingness to help and encourage aspiring franchisees, a true team player.”
Linda commented: “I have always had great support from my family and colleagues which helps me to stay focused and I also feel secure knowing the X-Press “safety net” is there if I need it.”
Linda had never expected to run her own business. She is a former prison education contract manager, and had worked happily in the sector for some years before discovering franchising and X-Press Legal Services. But times and circumstances changed and she looked for other options.
She said: “One big advantage was that the X-Press service could be run from home, at least initially, keeping start-up costs and overheads to a minimum. I never expected the business would grow so much and so quickly but naturally I am delighted that it has.
“X-Press has always provided tremendous support. In my view the key to successful franchising is to have a good relationship with your franchisor and to follow the system, which in our case is excellent.”
Helena and Neil Bedford have been awarded their franchisor’s Business Development Award 2015 for business growth and outstanding success.
They have received recognition in each of the three years since they started their business: Newcomers of the Year 2012; Business Development Award 2013; and finalists in the Brand Builder category in 2014.
To build their business, the couple devised and implemented a proactive marketing programme that includes a range of activities, including social media, business networking and setting up their own business breakfast club. They also provide clients and potential clients with specialist training seminars covering a wide range of legal topics that lawyers must keep reviewed and updated as part of their continuous professional development. The regular seminars are very popular and delivered by professional legal trainers.
“All these activities have enabled us to improve awareness of our services and highlight the extensive range of specialist property reports we can offer clients,” Neil said. “We’ve invested time, effort and money to build and sustain a strong business profile and attract new clients, demonstrating our knowledge and expertise.
“We offer a truly bespoke service, tailored to clients’ individual requirements. We believe firmly in going the extra mile, which clients really appreciate. They know we are reliable and will deliver exactly what they want, which is always accurate quality information, when they want it.”
Neil and Helena’s energetic approach to marketing has brought them big rewards as their business is increasing turnover by around 50 per cent year on year. Announcing their award, X-Press Legal Services director, Dave Lister, commented: “This award is very well deserved. Neil and Helena have worked very hard, with dogged determination and great perseverance. They are natural marketeers and very skilled networkers. Their track record has been phenomenal and looks set to continue on the same course for some time to come.”
Neil had always wanted his own business, ideally one where he and Helena could work together, so when he saw an opportunity to realise this ambition he was extremely keen to find out more. He explained: “I didn’t want to be an employee any more. I wanted independence and the ability to have a direct influence on our own future after many years of working in big organisations and having to deal with internal politics.”
As an engineer and project manager in the oil & gas and communications industries, NeiI had been all over the Middle East and Africa. He had been working abroad for some years and was based in Saudi Arabia when he met Helena, then a midwife in Riyadh.
They got married, had two children and stayed in the Gulf, returning to the UK only when their children reached a critical stage in their education. Neil joined a multinational organisation based in Hampshire but, despite being UK-based, the job required Neil to travel extensively. Then, in 2010, the business merged with another company and in the subsequent rationalisation of the two workforces, many people were made redundant, including Neil.
“I thought that this could be the ideal time to realise my ambition to have my own business,” Neil said. “I was very keen and considered various options, including franchising, which particularly appealed to me. I began researching the industry, visiting a franchise exhibition where I met X-Press Legal Services for the first time and was very impressed by them.
“I felt that my skills and experience of engineering and communications would be relevant in the search industry: total accuracy, meticulous attention to detail and the ability to get on well with all kinds of people from those working in local councils to the most prestigious client.
“I liked the idea of working in a white collar professional services business that is based on developing business relationships as much as on delivering the service. The training we received was very thorough and covered every aspect of the business, from learning about the search market to mastering new computer systems and marketing. We were very fortunate that the location we wanted – South Hampshire – was available and that we didn’t have to move. Everything just fell into place.”
Helena shared Neil’s enthusiasm and now works full-time in the business. She commented: “We set up in a home office but as the business grew and we needed to employ people we realised that we needed more space. Now we rent an office not far from home and employ two part-time staff as well. I enjoy the work very much and the longer and more complicated the search, the better I like it.”
Tom Mannion, a 24-year-old London-based franchisee with property search specialists X-Press Legal Services, has scooped his franchisor’s Social Media Award for creating an innovative social media campaign that has significantly raised both the profile of his business and his own reputation in the property sector.
After less than two years as a franchisee, Tom now heads a team of five people providing property searches and reports for north, south, west and central London and parts of Hertfordshire, and the business is growing fast.
He says of his award: “It was a great surprise as I didn’t expect to win anything. I just had an idea I thought I would try – and it worked!
“There is so much going on in property at the moment, especially in London, I thought there was a good opportunity for a blog to help keep people up to date. There are many potential threats and risks to property which purchasers and their advisors need to know about. We have considerable knowledge that will help them so I was keen to set up an industry news blog offering more detail than a short tweet can. I have been amazed at how well the blog has been received and the positive impact it has had on our business.”
Announcing the award, Dave Lister, director at X-Press Legal Services, said: “Tom is a great example of the rapidly growing number of dynamic young people going into franchising and are successful. Tom is hard working and enthusiastic. His business is growing fast, thanks to his imaginative and energetic approach to promotion.”
Tom always wanted to be his own boss business but was not sure how to get started. He graduated from Royal Holloway, London, with a degree in classics but had no clear idea of what he would do in the world of work. Realising he needed to get some business experience, he took a job with a London estate agency and later began thinking about a career in the property sector.
His life suddenly took a different turn when he learned about a franchise with X-Press Legal Services that had just come up for sale in the London area. “Immediately I could see that this chance to have my own business, especially at such a young age, was too good to miss,” Tom said. “I researched franchising to make sure I understood how it works, then met Lynne and Dave Lister, the franchisors, as the first formal step to becoming a franchisee.
“The meeting was very positive and I was delighted later when my application was accepted. As part of the X-Press network, I would be building a business for myself and, ultimately, I would benefit greatly from that investment. The great thing about franchising is the comprehensive training you receive. You learn to follow the proven system that will equip you to run your own show, backed up by a fantastic support network provided by the franchisor and other franchisees.”
Studying classics has proved invaluable in conducting searches: the meticulous attention to detail and need for accuracy required in this discipline are also vital in property searches. “Sometimes you have to patiently unravel information that is not immediately clear or available. You have to be like a dog with a bone and dig really deep to get what you want,” Tom explains. “So my degree is very helpful in an unexpected way.”
Tom appreciates the support he has had from his franchisor and also other franchisees in the network, including occasional advice from his mum Linda, who joined X-Press 10 years ago. He says: “Mum is supportive but leaves me firmly to my own devices. We both recognise that this is my business and I must run it independently.”
He continues: “I enjoy being my own boss. It’s great being independent and having autonomy but with the support of a network and working to a tried and tested system. I do work hard but I enjoy what I’m doing. I was happy to leave university and start earning money and, as a franchisee, I am likely to make more than I would do otherwise – as long as I keep following the system!”
Russell Brown has received the Brand Builder 2015 award in his franchisor’s latest annual franchisee awards.
He joined X-Press Legal Services 10 years ago and has since received several accolades to mark his business’s growth and development in that time. Previous awards include: Business Development Award in 2006, the Franchisee of the Year in 2009, and citations in 2013 and 2014 for his outstanding business success and services to the network that qualify him to be a member of the X-Cellence Club, representing all the most successful franchisees.
Announcing the award, X-Press Legal Services’ director, Dave Lister, said: “Russell is very dedicated and hard-working and is also an enthusiastic marketer. In short, he is a great ambassador for the brand. His success is reflected in his turnover which is already 25 percent up on the previous year.”
Russell joined X-Press after many years of a jet-setting lifestyle as an export sales manager, spending half his time abroad. He had always wanted to have his own business and the ambition to be his own boss became stronger as time went on.
He comments: “I’m not afraid of hard work but I didn’t want to make profits for someone else anymore. I wanted to control my own destiny and reap the reward of my own efforts. I also craved a more normal life based in the UK so I could spend quality time with my family.”
He thought about various things he could do but felt that franchising offered a real opportunity, with many advantages and benefits. He researched the sector very carefully, studying newspaper and magazine articles and he went to franchise exhibitions with a list of criteria for his ideal franchise and another of his own skills and attributes.
He considered the impact of a franchise on his family, especially the possibility of working from a home office. Instead he chose to set up in business premises, so that work and home could be kept separate.
He researched all the initial and ongoing financial implications, as well as the potential long-term rewards, consulting his partner Elizabeth before making any further investigations or commitments.
“I wanted to move into a business to business market that could be built up,” Russell explained. “I was looking for a niche product or service and eventually I found X-Press which was the only franchise that ticked all my boxes. I had several meetings with them and they gave straightforward answers to my many questions.
“I felt I had found a real opportunity to make something special and I’ve discovered that my confidence in the X-Press Legal Services’ team was well founded. From initial interview to finishing the training, it was a completely pleasurable experience.”
When Russell set up his franchise in February 2006 his previous sales experience was invaluable in marketing the service to solicitors. He built up a solid client base and has steadily expanded ever since, overcoming difficulties on the way.
He says: “I am very pleased with progress to date. We have acquired new areas and we grew well until the big crash six years ago but we weathered the storms, consolidated the business, and came back stronger than ever.
“Today we have more clients and I can see more opportunities to grow. We invest heavily in local marketing, especially in the very popular CPD events we host in unusual locations to make the sessions fun and enjoyable as well as important and serious learning experiences. We make sure that solicitors know who we are, about the wide range of services we can provide and the many ways we can help them.”
Russell is looking forward to the future and says: “I am continuing to develop the business with a plan that includes bigger premises, a big investment in new IT, and recruiting more staff to add to the existing experienced and dedicated team.
“I am creating a better life for my family, both financially and emotionally: having spent many years away from home, it’s fantastic to be able to enjoy work and family life. I am very happy in my work and really value the support I get from my franchisors. I have no regrets about changing direction when I did.”
Award-winning franchising couple, Penny and Graham Brierley, had no intention of doing more than finding a “little job” for Penny to fit in around her family – and then they discovered franchising.
Nine years later, the husband and wife team are the top performers in the X-Press Legal Services network, with a turnover exceeding £1,000,000 and 15 employees.
Their exceptional growth within the original territory based in Gloucestershire has been achieved by a combination of hard work, proactive local marketing, continuous networking, providing exemplary customer service and having a ‘can-do’ attitude.
As well as a special award for achieving a £1m turnover in 2014, Penny and Graham have twice previously received X-Press’s Franchisee of the Year accolade; the first after a phenomenal start to the business, and a second in 2012. In all, Penny and Graham have earned a clutch of 10 awards from their franchisor.
X-Press managing director, Lynne Lister, said: “Penny and Graham are very dedicated and provide an excellent service to their clients. They work hard, not just in their own business, but they also contribute greatly to the network as a whole.”
Penny commented: “Naturally, we are thrilled to receive this special award and have thoroughly enjoyed being franchisees. To be successful, you need an excellent relationship with your franchisor and X-Press has always provided first class support. We also employ a very experienced and competent team of people who ensure everything in the office runs smoothly.”
Penny, formerly an ophthalmic optician, had always wanted her own business but it never crossed her mind that one day she would be heading such a big enterprise. She explains: “I trained as an optician and worked in the sector for 20 years. I enjoyed the work but as time went on I found myself less resistant to patients’ bugs and seemed to be suffering constantly with illness. I felt it was time to do something else.
“I decided to research franchising, because I was cautious about starting something new on my own. I recognised all the benefits and advantages of franchising, including training and support. I liked the X-Press model because the franchise can be run initially from home, with modest start-up costs and overheads.”
Penny’s business grew so fast that just 15 months after setting up in 2006 she needed to move to serviced offices where husband Graham soon joined her. He had been on the X-Press training course precisely so he could step in at a moment’s notice if Penny suddenly needed extra support.
Penny said: “Graham went very much as an ‘in case’, with no intention of giving up his job at the time. However, he was tired of the travelling he did and so he opted to join me.”
Asked about her advice for others, she added: “I believe that one of the keys to successful franchising is to have a good relationship with your franchisor and of course it is crucial to follow their system, which in our case is excellent. You must also employ reliable people so you can delegate tasks with confidence, which is particularly important as your business grows.”
Penny finds it hard to believe how her planned ‘little’ home-based job has grown and prospered. Now with well-trained employees to look after the routine aspects of the business, Penny is the face of the business.
She enjoys meeting clients and attending networking events where she is always on the look-out for new opportunities but has no ambition to acquire another territory. She comments: “Expansion is not in the plan. We enjoy what we are doing and have no regrets; this is the best thing we ever did. We would recommend it to anyone but with the proviso that, like everything else worthwhile in life, it’s all down to you and the effort you put in.
“We believe we could not have grown so fast if we had tried to start this ourselves. It would have taken many, many, more years to achieve so much on our own.”
Karen Underwood received X-Press Legal Services’ Social Media Award in 2014 in recognition of her dynamic social media campaign to drive her business forward.
She agrees with people who believe you must never stand still in business if you want to be successful. She comments: “With social media, the emphasis is on building relationships and sharing information. I’m promoting the X-Press brand and also our ‘Law Plain and Simple’ free legal online service as examples of reliable, quality information from ‘the people who know’.”
“I tweet a great deal – when there is something worth saying! - and put up Facebook posts and send emails on a wide range of topics, both directly relevant to my business and the property sector generally, as well as other items of interest, including legal matters, current affairs, women in business and business awards.
“The impact of social media on my business has been phenomenal and greatly increased awareness of X-Press locally. Using social media alongside conventional marketing methods has made a huge difference to us.”
Two years ago Karen received X-Press’s Brand Builder award in recognition of her dedication and hard work. Her franchise continues to grow with the recent move to larger offices and the addition of new staff.
“I am moving on with confidence to the next stage of our development, so I can be less hands on and able to focus on working ‘on’ the business and not ‘in’ it,” Karen said.
Karen has been a franchisee with X-Press for eight years. Previously, she had been managing director of her family’s funeral director business until it was sold when her dad retired.
She said: “I didn’t know what to do next, except I was sure I wanted to be my own boss. I knew nothing about franchising until I read an inspirational article about a successful lady franchisee. I liked the concept of franchising and all its benefits and advantages over starting a business entirely on your own. I recognised the great value of being your own boss but with training and great ongoing support from the franchisor.
“An additional attraction was that X-Press can be run from home, keeping initial start-up costs to a minimum and offering flexibility to accommodate family commitments. This was a big consideration at the time because I had two little boys.
“I wanted to find out more from the franchisors and I knew as soon as I met Lynne and Dave Lister that we would get along well. It felt like being back in my old family firm and it has proved to be a very successful relationship.”
Karen was keen to go ahead, encouraged by her husband and family. She says: “It’s vital to have support from your spouse or partner, your children and extended family because, without their understanding, life can become difficult at times.
“My husband and family have always been ready to help and understand that as a working mum I have to juggle on occasions. They are used to me dashing off at odd times to do paperwork in peace.
“I appreciate being able to choose when I work in the office, thanks to reliable staff. Sometimes I work extremely unusual and anti-social hours so that I can take my sons to pre and after school sports activities. Being a franchisee allows me to balance the two important priorities of being a business woman and a mum.”
Karen says she uses every opportunity to broadcast messages through social media. “It’s great,” she enthuses. “It’s so quick and easy to tell masses of people something important all at the same time. It has really helped my business to grow and I’m also pleased to say that winning the Social Media Award has greatly impressed my teenage sons who found it hard to believe that their Mum could be so competent!”
X-Press Legal Services directors, Lynne and Dave Lister, commented: “Karen approaches everything she does with tremendous energy, so it was no surprise that she has been so successful with her social media campaigns. She has worked very hard to build her business since joining X-Press and deserves her success.
“She also contributes a great deal to the network as a whole and is always willing to share new ideas and best practice with other franchisees.”
Just two years after starting her franchise Jo French received X-Press Legal Services’ 2014 Business Development Award in recognition of the fast and dynamic growth of her business.
Jo achieved more than 100 per cent increase in turnover in the second year of trading and the business is continuing to grow at a phenomenal rate. She attributes her success to hard work, providing consistent high standards of service and customer care, and imaginative local marketing that has improved awareness of the brand and brought word-of-mouth recommendations.
Marketing is carefully targeted at the legal sector and includes CPD events offering specialist free training covering legal topics that lawyers must keep reviewed and updated as part of their continuous professional development. Jo also runs a breakfast networking group for lawyers, both clients and potential clients. Both activities have proved very effective in raising the profile of Jo and the service she and her team provide.
As the business has grown Jo has recruited three people to work in the business and help maintain the fast pace. She is looking for another one to join the team.
Before joining X-Press, Jo worked in the finance industry for 17 years, 12 of them in financial product development in the City of London. She had reached a point where she was keen to move on to do something different and although she had always wanted her own business Jo hesitated about moving out of a regular and well-paid job into the initial uncertainty of being self-employed.
When a good friend began to enthuse about the new X-Press Legal franchise she and her husband were investing in, Jo was keen to find out more about the business and the franchisor’s unstinting support she had heard about.
Jo comments: “I felt that this white-collar business was in line with my career to date and I believed it would really suit me. As I looked into franchising, I realised it was a great way to be my own boss, but with less risk. The idea of following a tried and tested business model was very appealing, as was having a support network through the franchisor.”
She considered some other franchises but none met all her criteria except X-Press. She worked out her finances, had meetings and telephone discussions with X-Press Legal asking “a multitude of questions” which Jo says X-Press were very willing to answer. She also spoke to many of the franchisees to learn about their experiences. Re-assured by all she had heard and, confident that she was doing the right thing, Jo produced a detailed business plan before resigning from her job as a product manager with a City firm and began to plan her new future.
Jo says: “I really liked Lynne and Dave, the franchisors, and felt confident that we would work well together. I also liked the idea of an established brand and belonging to an established organisation with the benefits of its support network.”
The skills and experience Jo had gained in previous roles were relevant in running the franchise, since meticulous attention to detail, total accuracy and the ability to get on well with people are all essential requirements in the search industry, where X-Press has gained a reputation of being a well respected and reliable supplier.
As well as the attraction of being her own boss, the ability to manage her own working days ensures Jo can make time for activities outside work. She commented: “I have a lot of interests and even though I have always worked hard, I also believe it’s important to take time out to relax and enjoy myself. I wanted time to sing, which I love. I have been a singer in a rock band for the last 15 years, playing at gigs in pubs and at functions. Routinely, every day I walk my dogs, I cycle and go to the gym. I also like to ski and surf when I have the opportunity.”
Franchisor Dave Lister commented: “Jo is incredibly hard working and determined. She is also very energetic and enthusiastic, with a dynamic approach to business that benefits her franchise and contributes to the network as a whole. She truly deserves this award.”