A Rockville company that franchises financial advice for small businesses the way McDonald's franchises fast food is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month.

General Business Services Inc. president Bernard S. Browning, who likens the principle of his operation to that of the successful fast-food chain, says his first franchisee, who signed up 20 years ago, is still in business in California.

General Business Services offers consulting in record-keeping, license and tax compliance and "income development and preservation" to firms that Browning said typically have sales of less than $1 million and about 25 employes.

Browning had been a small business consultant in Montgomery County for six years before he decided he was "perfecting the format for a new type of business" that could be launched on a national scale. About 1,000 franchisees are currently operating under the General Business Services trade name.

"We have as franchisees former bank presidents, retired military up to the rank of major general, retired officers of Fortune 500 companies," said Browning. "The reason we're able to attract that kind of talent is by offering them a franchise to create equity, an income and a future.

Browning said his experience has shown that a common cause of small business failure is faulty accounting methods.

"We run into situations where people are bankrupt and they don't know it from poor record-keeping," Browning said. "If a manager doesn't know where he stands, he may make foolish, unwise decisions."