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How often should I meet my clients?

All the well known accountantants support businesses suggest accountants should meet their clients on a regular basis. They do not talk about the practicalities.

For me this is a difficult one since it would impact on my time in a big way. Further, I am not sure which my clients  would want to see me and which ones would rather not.  On writing this post, I am thinking this is one area to make clear to clients at the time of engagement.

Like most, I am sure, my  preferred way of communicating with clients is through emails.   At the same time I need to meet clients needs before they start walking away.

I would be grateful if you could share your experience/ ideas / pearls of wisdom on:

  • How oftern do you meet your clients?
  • Which clients do you meet? Is it the high fee paying ones?
  • What is on the agenda?
  • How much of your time is taken up on meeting clients?
  • Where do you meet clients? Your place or theirs? Travel time to their place would be an issue for me.

Thanks

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Don't set it down, don't charge for it, don't try to formalise i

.

You should be aware of which clients at any particular time have problems, or, are expanding. Those who are simply plodding along probably dont need to see you, although they might appreciate a chat occasionally.  Set a day a week aside to be "out and about", call in to see clients for an informal chat about how they are coping with their problem, or, how is work going on the new extension or whatever. Don't overstay your welcome, 15 minutes is usually long enough with a client to discuss their latest project. 

Out of these "chats" you will sometimes pick up one-off jobs, often you will get introduced to potential new clients (Fred in the industrial unit next door is looking for a new accountant), and your clients will appreciate that you actually take enough interest i their business to go to the trouble of calling in when passing just to see that everything is ok. 

  

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Some things you can't systemize

Hi FT - I know you have had this response before but it seems you are looking for a system again but relationships don't (or shouldn't) work like that.  Think of friends & relations, if you are like me, I like to see some on a regular basis, some I'm not that fussed one way or the other and others are so close that even if we only see each other once every 5 years, it's as though it was only 5 months.

You have to go with what's right for you and what you perceive (or are told) is right for them.   I have clients in Spain, the States and even North London, where I won't see them in years but that's OK, others need handholding and, because of the complexity of their affairs, it's far more effecient for us to fix quarterly get togethers.

The list is endless, but that's life.

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Time is limited as a sole-practitioner ....

 but I try to ensure that it is as often as the client wants. Some are very happy with correspondence others like more regular contact. So, most I will see once a year either to review the accounts or collect records. If someone requests a meeting then I will always fit them in. It is always at their premises. The agenda will be whatever seems appropriate be it the state of the economy, football or their tax bill! My meetings usually last about 1.5 hours. I set asside one complete day for meetings each week and because there is stetch of sea between me and them, this rarely changes. Even if I lived back on the mainland I would say this is a terrific discipline as it gives me 4 solid work days rather than bits and pieces. On my mainland day I will often see 4 or 5 clients, travel 150 miles and have a 12 or 13 hour day door to door.

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Don't forget

Some clients won't appreciate you just dropping by uninvited for a chat! Not everyone is sociable, some people like their peace and quiet and want to get on. Having their accountant turning up on their doorstep will be a pain in the proverbial and could lose you the client when they go to an accountant who will meet their own personal needs. Personally I detest anyone turning up without an invite, even my closest mates - and I doubt I'm really that unique (special yes, unique sadly not!) Everybody is different as others have said....

I see some of my clients through necessity (picking up books) and always at theirs as I like my space to be mine. I do include travel time in my fees (though try to do several trips in one go to keep the time down) because that benefits the ones who are happy to correspond by email (or post if needed). All new clients are taken on with the proviso upfront that they don't get visits or phone calls. I know that will put a lot off but that's fine, there are plenty more accountants out there happy to take them on. This way though I get the quality of life that I want AND my clients get a service that they are happy with too as they know what they're getting before they sign up. Win, win.

ps Yes I am a serious introvert, and happy with it!

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For what it's worth,

I, as a consumer, always judge my relationships with service providers by how LITTLE time I need to spend with them.  If the system that they are running works OK and there are no routine problems to resolve that suits me fine and I don't care if I NEVER see them.

I realise that those of you in practice will need to see the more complicated clients to discuss tax, structural tactics, etc. but this is only with regard to year end.  For the rest of the time, as long as you can be contacted as queries arise I would be quite happy.

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@ Flash

 You should consider moving to an island too ... unless your client / friend / relative owns a fast boat the chances of dropping by are quite restricted!! 

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No man is an island

So might be worth a sex change?

Steve, does the Isle of Purbeck count, hopefully that's where I'll be this time next year.

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Simples!

Just stop for an hour once a quarter.....................look at your client list make a list of those you have not spoken to for a while and ring them.

Even a message left on answering machine such as ''just a courtesy call checking on your progress let me know if you need my help'' leaves a good impression.

When you look at your client list I would guess that 50% you speak to on a regular basis dealing with VAT, Paye, Mangement accounts etc.

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@PaulScholes

the "Isle" of Purpeck is a peninsula, not a island! But since it's a very very lovely place to be, we'll forgive you.

BTW it's not me but my MIL who lives there, so i know a good barbers!

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Clients

No reason to see clients mid year uninvited unless they specifically request it from the onset, at an agreed price, at an agreed travel arrangement basis.

Horses for courses but most clients don't want to see their accountant more than they have to - but do want the reassurance that he/she is always there for them should the need arise.  In those instances they will initiate the contact.

Use the annual review to ask clients what they want.  Don't just discuss the accounts, ask them for feedback on the service and if there is anything that you are not doing that they would like you to do.  If ad-hoc visits are what they want then incoporate that into the next years fee.  An annual review will give you loads of scope to not only check that the client is satisfied, and gettting what s/he wants, but also to sell additional service to them if required.

It would prove pointless to systemise this - treat each one individually.  Also, one of my pet hates is service providers ringing me up with the 'Im just checking everything is ok with our service' cribsheet, and if I feel like that then i'm sure that some of your clients would too.

 

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I disagree Jason

Jason, you say "most clients don't want to see their accountant more than they have to".  If that is how clients feel about their accountant, then that simply shows that the accountant is not doing his job properly and isnt fully engaging with the clients business. 

Clients should view you as a trusted friend, someone who takes an interest in their business, someone who will give a bit of advice about anything thats worrying them - and not always charge for it. Ensuring that your clients stay in business and prosper is in your long term interest too. 

If you have a client who is extending his premises, do you

just let him get on with it?  Or,do you put him in touch with a suitable builder, electrician, plumber, etc who all happen to also be clients, thus helping several clients?  

if the answer is (1) then you really arent giving your clients the service they deserve.

 

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I'm with you T C

Spot on Top cat

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Spot off TC

Jason's summary matches my experience.

Regularly on this site you see comments and even articles that view clients as one great amorphous group who behave as one and, in this case, want to see us as often as possible.  Bit like a headline on here a few months back saying that if we were not making all our clients ecstatically happy, we were not doing our job properly.

Clients are individuals and, speaking for me and a good chunk of my clients being a "trusted friend" is rose tinted and unrealistic, unless of course you refuse to act for people who don't want you as a trusted friend.

I engage with clients and take an interest in their affairs and am friendly but, as Jason says, I match this approach to what the clients want one at a time. 

I see perhaps 15% of my clients on a regular (3 monthly basis) and perhaps another 25% on an annual basis and there's probably 30% I might not see for 5 year stretches.  I've acted for many of this latter group for over 20 years.  There is no hard & fast rule here, we are humans not computers.

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Agree with Jason

Jason, you say "most clients don't want to see their accountant more than they have to". If that is how clients feel about their accountant, then that simply shows that the accountant is not doing his job properly and isnt fully engaging with the clients business.

TopCat you say that the accountant isn't doing their job properly if the client doesn't want to see them every 2 seconds - why? You're assuming that every client is the same and wants or needs their hand holding and someone constantly checking up on them. Not everyone is like that. You might be and that's fine. I'd detest having someone do that me if I was their client. For example, I have an alarm system. I have an annual maintenance visit & know that once a year the nice bloke will get in touch to arrange the visit. The rest of the year he leaves me in peace and knows that if I have a problem or a query I'll contact him. And I do if necessary. And I'll recommend him to others because his service is excellent for me and my needs. If he rang me frequently or worse still turned up out of the blue I'd be thinking one or more of the following:

a, he's a stalker

b, he's desperate for business

c, (and this one would always apply) what a pain in the proverbial he is invading my space uninvited, I'll have to cancel my contract because I'm not comfortable with this.

Not everyone wants you to engage with them. Some just want you to do the bare minimum that they're obliged to submit to HMRC and then let them get on with it. For them they're not buying a service they're buying a product whether its a tax return or a set of accounts. And some clients will want everything - the full blown all-singing, all-dancing line of chorus girls gold-plated service. But my point is that every client is different and if you try to be one thing (be it hands all-over as TC suggests or hands in pockets as I'd prefer (is it just me that has certain thoughts at that point, must have been the chorus girls!)) to everyone you'll lose clients. Better to decide to be one and focus on getting clients to meet that or be prepared to be very flexible and give everyone something different. 

(My preference is the former - that way I know I'm happy with my life and that clients will be getting a consistent approach that they've agreed to in the first place. But that's my comfort zone and obviously many people will be happy putting their hands in and out of their pockets regularly (ho hum)  

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Spot on Paul

We take our own clients as individuals. I get annoyed when suppliers constantly ring me up (Sage is a good example of this!), and get even more annoyed when non-clients drop in unannounced. OK, we may have a slightly different relationship with our 'customers' than most suppliers, but the theory is the same. If it annoys me I make the assumption (right or wrong) that it would annoy my clients, too.

We give our clients every available opportunity to contact us, and remind them every year when we renew our engagement. If they want extra meetings (and some do), or want to discuss something, they just ask us.

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ps..

I was thinking a remote Scottish island myself - lots of snow, rain & only the odd sheep for company. Bliss!

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HOW ?

How did my suggestion of keeping in touch with clients suddenly get interpreted as some "hard sell" tactic pushing services down clients throats?

What i said was that relationships with clients should be developed, that keeping in touch and offering ad hoc advice should be the norm.  I rarely if ever contact a client to "sell" a service, indeed I rarely discuss business, unless the client initiates the subject, when making courtesy calls. I will chat to clients in the 'pub, or wherever.

It's all about how you are perceived by your clients. Many (probably most) accountants are seen by their clients as a miserable stick-in-the-mud who tells them what they can't do and uses the tax man as a bogey man to frighten them into compliance. I prefer to be seen as being on the client's side, someone who will try to find a way for them to do what they want to do without falling foul of the law or tax man.  You're giving the same advice, it's all about how you present it. 

 

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FirstTab

Think about the logistics, the personal time lost, and the costs that will be incurred. Our practice is small, compared to many, but when I calculate how many visits I would have to do, just to visit each client once a year, that would be enough to squash the idea for me.

If you are out and about a lot (instead of being stuck in front of a PC all day like me) then maybe it wouldn't be too big an overhead to call in unannounced, if you are certain the client would appreciate it.

What if you build your practice up to thousands of clients (you seem to be pretty ambitious)? If you start this 'personal visit' expectation are you starting something that you will be unable to maintain?

You have commented before that you wish to 'distance' yourself from the clients as you grow, and hand over more of the contact to your staff. This idea would have the opposite result.

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T C on the mark again

Just seems common sense to me!

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Common sense -

- something totally lacking in our modern world.

 

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I disagree TC

Not doing the job properly?  I would argue that meeting clients when they havent asked for it and incorporating meeting times into the fee isn't doing the job properly.  I would rather keep the the clients costs down personally as I feel that is doing your job 'properly' for want of a better word.

Sure if clients want to see me regulary I would gladly see them (and bill them).  As First Tab suggests in opening post, this is the sort of issue to discuss at the outset.

I would always let clients know that they should contact me for any one off or unusual transactions so in the scenario that you mention, if a client was to extend premises they would come to me first for advice.

I also disagree that clients want a trusted friend in their accountant, they generally want a reliable, down to earth, price tranpsarent and pro active adviser, who keeps them compliant, keeps their tax down, and gives good advice on all business aspects.  If they want to make another friend then I doubt that they would look in the direction of an accountant! (though appreciate this does sometimes happen over time - not always a good thing)

We all know that some clients want advice on everything and everything whilst others only want to see you once a year, so as in my previous post I stand by the 'horses for courses' comment and give the client what he/she wants, not what you want to systemise.

I think that is more of a 'common sense' approach but respect your view.

 

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