Ledgers Canadian Accounting Franchise - CEO, Gordon Haslam

Date: FEB 26th, 2014

Topic: Interview with a CEO

After completing his education in accounting, Gordon entered the corporate work force in positions ranging from Accounts Payable Clerk to Chief Financial Officer in a multi-million dollar corporation. After several years he left the corporate environment to begin his own accounting and software training practice.

In 1996, Gordon and his wife Maggie started a payroll outsourcing business from their home in Newmarket, ON growing it to one of Canada’s largest within a few years.

In 2000, Gordon was introduced to Ledgers in an effort to form a strategic alliance, but after brief negotiations acquired the Ledgers business and grew it to what it is today with more than 40 locations across Canada, Numerous National Account Partners, valuable strategic alliances and plans for the launch of an IPO early in 2014.

BeTheBoss: What’s the story behind Ledger's Canada?

Gordon Haslam: The Ledgers concept was developed in 1994 when a team of Chartered Accountants in Sydney, NS realized that there was a growing need for affordable, quality bookkeeping in the marketplace. The problem at the time was twofold, there were accounting firms that charged small business owners very high fees and ‘bookkeepers’ with little or no education attempting to provide the services that small business needed. The concept for Ledgers was easy; take the current ‘bookkeepers’, provide them with marketing, training and support, and build a brand that could provide small business owners with the services they required at prices they could afford.

Today, this Ledgers concept has expanded from a basic bookkeeping business to a ‘one-stop’ model for small business. Ledgers Professionals provide a comprehensive suite of services ranging from basic bookkeeping to personal and corporate income tax preparation, payroll, incorporations, business plans, budgets and business advisory services.

A small business owner has to go no further than to their local Ledgers office to get all of the accounting and financial issues of running their business taken care of.

BTB: How and when did you become involved with Ledgers?

GH: In September of 2000, I met the principles of the Ledgers System at a Franchise show in Toronto, ON. At the time I was President of a Payroll Outsourcing company and I saw a nice fit between the Ledgers model and ours. Ledgers had a lot of small business clients that required payroll services, and we had a lot of small business clients that needed bookkeepers. We discussed a strategic alliance, and after a short period of negotiations, I ended up acquiring the Ledger Brand.

BTB: What was your background prior to joining Ledgers?

GH: Prior to joining Ledgers, I worked in various positions in the accounting industry, mostly in the corporate environment. After several years with a number of companies I left the corporate world and began my own practice offering accounting services, consulting and software installations and training. During this time I worked with a number of the large accounting firms and gained a great deal of experience and insight in the operations and needs of small businesses.

In 1996, my wife and I started a payroll outsourcing business, and when we sold it in 2003 it was one of the largest in Canada. This exposure to small business and the experience I gained working with the firms has helped us tremendously in developing the Ledgers Brand.

BTB: What are some of the advantages in being a franchisee?

GH:There are many advantages to being a Ledgers Franchise Owner; one of the greatest advantages is Credibility. There are many bookkeepers out there, but the hardest thing for any of them to do when trying to grow their business is to gain credibility. By joining Ledgers, a nationally recognized brand with support and infrastructure, they acquire the credibility they need to gain foothold in their community.

The offering of additional services as a member of the Ledgers Network is also a tremendous advantage over others in our industry. Most bookkeepers or accountants offer very limited services, and generally only provide the most basic services. As a Ledgers Network Member, they can offer a tremendous range of products and services which provides for client retention and additional revenue opportunities.

A further advantage of being a Ledgers Member is the accounting and tax support services that we offer. Many in our field have a very difficult time finding answers to complex accounting and tax related issues, our management team and network members have decades of experience, if the franchise owner does not know the answer to the clients question, someone in the Ledgers Network does!

Marketing and promotion is the final piece of the puzzle, let’s face it, accounting and bookkeeping types do not know how to develop marketing materials and marketing campaigns that work. They can spend countless hours and dollars in trying to develop something only to see it fail. As a Ledgers Network member, they have access to hundreds of flyers, brochures and other marketing materials that are proven to work.

BTB: Who is your ideal franchisee?

GH: It is really hard to describe the idea Ledgers Franchise Owner because we have people from so many different backgrounds in our group. The common trait is probably their desire to succeed by helping others; this is our basic premise. An individual looking to join Ledgers is going to need a couple of specific traits, they need to be personable, somewhat outgoing and have the entrepreneurial spirit. This is not the type of business where you can hang up a sign and wait for the clients to show up. As a Franchise Owner you have to be visible in the community, meet with other small business owners, attend networking events and make the Ledgers Brand known in your area. This is not a franchise for the squeamish. A background in business or dealing with small business owners and some accounting / bookkeeping knowledge would definitely be assets in applying for a Ledgers Franchise, however, a Franchise Owner can hire a team of bookkeepers and tax preparers to do the day-to-day work so that they can go out in the community and develop the business.

BTB: Tell us a little about the industry.

GH: The Accounting / Bookkeeping Industry is kind of a mixture of two extremes; we have the firms that provide high quality services, but unfortunately charge the client a great deal of money for those services. On the other hand, we have ‘bookkeepers’, many with little or no formal training that provide services that are sometimes marginal at best. Don’t get me wrong, there is a great deal of good bookkeepers out there, but unfortunately, there are just as many poor ones.

Far too many bookkeepers have gone out, bought QuickBooks or Simply Accounting and set themselves up in business. Does this mean that they are qualified? No. It means that they are a data entry clerk and are not likely providing the business owner with sound financial information that they can use to make informed decisions.

The Ledgers model is also significantly different from the industry as it stands today. A typical small business owner has a bookkeeper, usually a spouse or family member, a payroll service provider and an accountant that they take everything to at the end of the year for the preparation of their financial statements and tax returns. Is this efficient? No. Ledgers breaks this trend by offering a one-stop solution to the business owner, we provide them with monthly bookkeeping services, payroll preparation and we also prepare their annual financial statements and tax returns. They don’t need the services of three people to get the work done. This consolidation of services gives the business owner accurate, detailed financial information in a timely manner and allows them to make better business decisions. Dealing with Ledgers almost always saves them money as well.

With the recent changes in compliance regulations for firms and other designated accountants, their operating costs have increased significantly; they have no choice but to pass on these costs to their clients by way of increasing their fees.

Ledgers Franchises on the other hand have maintained lower fees than that of the firms due to our increase in size. Our greater size gives us stronger negotiating power with our software partners and other suppliers.

BTB: What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?

GH: I have learned a great deal of lessons in growing this business, but probably the most significant is the need for the services we offer. So many small business owners struggle and the survival rate of small business through the first 5 years are dismal. I believe this is due to the lack of timely financial information that they need to make informed decisions. The small business owner wants more, but the only way to get it is to deal with the larger firms, and they simply just cannot afford it. This experience has caused us to review our model and pricing structure time and time again; we need to work with the clients to help ensure their success, and in return, our franchises will be successful. We can only succeed to the extent that we help others. We also coach our franchise owners to work with their clients in fee structure. If we have a client that truly cannot afford to pay what are services are worth, we will sometimes compromise with a reduced rate, get them back on track and then set are fees at what we expect to generate. Our fees are very reasonable and definitely worth the services we provide to the client.

BTB: Do you have a mentor and is this someone you use for inspiration?

GH: I don’t have a mentor, but I have had a number of people in my life that have provided me with guidance and a great deal of influence. Today, I rely heavily on my wife of 28 years, Maggie, as she has always stood behind me in my business decisions and given me the freedom to work countless hours, travel endlessly and spend many weekends at the office. Without her encouragement and support, Ledgers would not be what it is today. I also have to give a great deal of credit to my son Daniel; he has worked with Ledgers since he was about 16 years old. He worked for us part-time while going to high school and continued to work with us all through college and continues to work with us today. His support and input has been instrumental in our development.

BTB: What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?

GH: To someone looking at a Ledgers Franchise, I would ask this: “Do you have the drive, motivation, desire and support of your family to develop and grow a business?” If any part of this is answered with no or hesitation, I would suggest they look at a different business opportunity. Building a Ledgers Franchise takes hard work, dedication and the support of one’s family, without any of these parts, they will not likely succeed.

BTB: In your opinion why do you think that Ledger’s would be a great opportunity for someone?

GH: I believe the Ledgers Franchise Opportunity is great for someone that wants to make a difference. Our system gives the franchise owner the opportunity to work with other small business owners with a common goal – to succeed. Working with the clients, helping them to manage the financial affairs of their business and watching them grow with your assistance can be very rewarding. Our business model also allows them to have personal freedom and to set their own destiny. They can work when they want, spend time with their family and friends and enjoy vacation time. Unlike some other Franchise models, ours is not one where you buy yourself a job. If you follow our model and systems, your business should be able to run whether you are there or not!

Additionally, with the constant evolution of our model and the addition of new products and services, we continually assist the franchise owners in developing new revenue streams and income opportunities for their business. Just this year in fact, we added debt counselling and debt resolution services to our offering. This addition alone represents a tremendous revenue opportunity for the Ledgers Franchise owners.