Karl Sandall, Group Chief Executive, gives his take on how being a part of a group has benefitted all, during the events of 2020.
Who could have imagined in January, just how 2020 would have panned out?
Due to the unprecedent upheaval because of the COVID-19 pandemic, TaxAssist Accountants around the UK spent much of the year working flat out to assist their clients with applications for grants, loans, cash flow projections and business continuity plans, becoming very much the go to source for support and trusted business advice.
Since the onset of coronavirus in March, the Support Centre team has worked tirelessly, pulling out all the stops to provide the assistance needed by our franchisees and their clients.
We produced regular bulletins, providing ‘same day’ expert advice and guidance about the latest Government announcements. We created a coronavirus hub – unparalleled in detail and timeliness compared to virtually all competitors. We produced regular newsletters, client emails, weekly network webinars, client focused webinars, video content and social media posts.
We helped franchisees who have joined in the last year with an enhanced marketing package and reduced fees and suspended payments to us for three months for all franchisees.
As a Board, we made the decision to invest over £125,000 to support the Brand Awareness and Client Acquisition budget. We believe the investment was a sound decision, generating good levels of business for across the network, while at the same time protecting each franchisees’ business through the pandemic.
We increased the number of Training Webinars, ran our Regional Meetings virtually and ramped up telephone and video support for franchisees. We created new client marketing campaigns and redesigned our website, even breaking a few new client records for summer months.
We highlighted the plight of directors and shareholders of small, limited companies without a UK Government COVID-19 support package to the Chancellor, a campaign that was picked up by The Times and we championed the ‘Buy Local’ message to support our small business clients.
The reputation of the TaxAssist Accountants’ brand has been enhanced this year on the back of all the support that has been provided to clients.
Client & Franchisee Feedback
We’ve had fantastic feedback from both our clients and our franchise network on the support that has been provided.
In the Summer as lockdown conditions eased, we ran a national client satisfaction survey with overwhelmingly positive results. The survey revealed that the service and support we provided during lockdown was highly rated, with 97% stating they would recommend us to friends and family.
We also received 5 Star-Franchisee Satisfaction, following an independent franchisee survey, for the 8th year in a row, one of only four franchises that can say this, as well as a Continuous Improvement Award, due to the franchisee satisfaction score improving over three consecutive years. Quite an achievement in 2020!
Our level of support and our successful business model have been recognised in 2020 with several award wins.
In October, TaxAssist Accountants won ‘Best Franchisee Marketing Support’ at the Franchise Marketing awards, beating 11 other well-known brands to the top.
So impressed were the judges, with the entry for ‘Best Large Business’ at the Norfolk Business Awards, that they decided to put The TaxAssist Group forward for its flagship ‘Business of the Year’ award – which we duly won.
Both awards are a brilliant pat on the back for the 60-strong team at the Support Centre for their hard work and achievements through the year.
Our network performance remains strong and we are currently 21st in the highly regarded Accountancy Age Top 50+50 industry league table, with a 9% increase in fee income, up from £41.5 million to £45.3 million.
We were proud to be named, once again, as finalists for the British Franchise Association (bfa) Franchisor of the Year. Receiving a nomination is an achievement in itself, proving the business works ethically and in the best interests of franchisees and staff.
Out of necessity, we have seen a massive change in the way we have been communicating with each other this year. We have been delighted with the way the IT infrastructure that we introduced a few years ago has supported our communications and ability to continue talking to each other and servicing clients. It could so easily have been a different story if we had not invested as a network and franchise in the technology suite.
The events of 2020 have not hindered our expansion plans and during the year, we were pleased to be able to sign agreements for both the USA and Canada.
Hal Gross, President of TaxAssist Direct USA Inc and our first Area Representative in the USA in New Jersey, is spearheading our growth plans, and currently in talks with several parties who are interested in both area representative and single unit franchise opportunities.
We are delighted to have awarded our Canadian Master Franchise rights to the Internationally known and respected QX Global Group. The team are all highly skilled individuals who share our passion and vision, and the Master Franchise team are currently looking to acquire an existing accounting practice and convert this to a TaxAssist Accountants shop, by April 2021.
For personal reasons, our Australian Master Franchisees relinquished their roles this year, but I am delighted that experienced businesswoman Mandy Sigaloff has now taken on the role of Managing Director and we will be working closely with Mandy to drive up the growth of the network there.
We have also been in discussions regarding expansion to further countries where we believe the opportunity for the TaxAssist Accountants brand is significant.
Franchisee success stories
Among the lockdowns and restrictions, we’ve seen some fantastic franchisee success stories in 2020, with everyone in our network deserving praise for staying open and assisting their local communities so well.
Of particular note, following a Management Buyout, Hannah Campbell became a franchisee in 2020, seven years after joining as an Assistant Practice Manager at 24 years of age. She now manages four shop fronts in Scotland.
Olivia Palios, our youngest ever female franchisee who joined us at 22 in 2015, recently opened her fourth TaxAssist shop.
Congratulations also to John Mayer in Weston-Super-Mare who celebrated 20 years with TaxAssist and also the six franchises who celebrated 15 years with us this year.
We’ve continued to open shops throughout the year. Indeed 20 shops have launched in the last six months alone – how many other businesses could make this claim?
Even with the current reduction in footfall caused by lockdowns, we know that it is the visibility of shops combined with our local and prominent online marketing that will drive clients to our practices, so they remain a vital component of our business model.
We saw excellent numbers of people joining us online for our virtual Discovery Days, almost 70 for the year, with an increase of 51% in the latter half of the year in comparison with the previous period in 2019, with a number going on to join us – completing their journey to franchise ownership entirely virtually.
We have now run three Virtual Initial Training Courses, with the franchise fee discounted by £4,000 to reflect the change in venue. My congratulations go to the Training Academy Team who have redesigned the whole course to suit the current circumstances. The format has proved incredibly successful, so much so that we foresee elements of online leaning will continue for part of our six-week Initial Training Course, alongside face-to-face learning, when we do return to more normal times.
16 new franchisees joined us in 2020, 13 new, one resale and two new partners bringing us up to 244 franchised areas in the UK and I’m pleased to advise we already have our first sign up for the first course of 2021 in February.
At the Support Centre we have continued to recruit staff virtually and look forward to meeting the five new members of staff we have taken on since the first lockdown.
2021 may bring about some challenges for businesses if the furlough scheme and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme finish. However, the TaxAssist model has always been a broad church, welcoming different client types, and should there be losses, these will be more than countered by the expected new business start-up growth from large scale redundancies as we have seen in past recessions. Will the ‘new normal’ mean far more entrepreneurial businesses as people decide they want more control of their futures with more flexibility in their lives? Many feel that COVID-19 will trigger a significant shift in our economy.
In addition, larger businesses at the top end of our market will be reviewing their accountant. We’ve certainly witnessed this in 2020, and it’s likely to continue as the competition have struggled to communicate well, and in turn support and service their clients. We’ve also seen a rise in businesses who have never used an accountant before. With the surge in new schemes and grants, businesses were struggling to keep up, but are now seeing the benefit of using a professional accounting firm.
Business advice will be a key component of our model going forward. Certainly, whatever happens in 2021, it will be critical for business owners to be close to their finances and for accountants to provide advice to them on how to manage their way through the recovery when it does come. New services will emerge, and we expect to see bookkeeping, reporting, software, planning and advice as growing parts of our offering.
Without doubt, it has been a challenging year but the importance of the TaxAssist ‘family’ has never been greater or had more meaning than it has this year. I have every faith that by working together as we have, we will come out of this stronger than the competition and able to capitalise on the opportunities that will undoubtedly be available going forward. With client satisfaction high, strong lead numbers and brand identity, we remain positive for 2021.
Perhaps my 20th anniversary with the franchise and the 25th Anniversary Year of its founding, didn’t quite turn out as all of us had hoped, but as we reflect on the events of the year, I feel we can hold our heads up high, knowing that as a Group we all pulled together admirably, pulling out all the stops to maintain truly exceptional levels of support all round, and we should be incredibly proud of all that we have achieved.