Fee rates: Lay your cards on the table

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Many accountants tell me that they don’t get enough business through their website. There could be a variety of reasons for this of course. Let us focus on the mindset of those people simply searching online for a new accountant. This is quite different to those who have been recommended to you or who have met you and are looking for your contact details etc.

As I suggested in my last article (What do you want, client-wise, in 2016?) there are various ways in which you could distinguish the sort of clients you would like to engage. Some will be new into business and will have had no previous accountant, others will have failed to cope by themselves and others will have been disappointed by one or more previous accountants.

The majority of these prospective clients will want to know what it will cost them to engage a new accountant. And, these days, many accountants’ websites will provide a good idea of the fees they seek to earn for doing certain common types of recurring compliance work. Does yours?

You may feel that it’s just not possible to provide any such guidelines or that there are too many risks involved in doing so. Maybe you’re right. However, the simply fact is that so many of your competitors manage to do this. And I would bet that they are winning more work through their website than you are.

Try to imagine what it is like to be the sort of client you are keen to attract. Or maybe you’d find it easier to imagine simply looking to find an adviser online to assist you with regular legal documents every year. If you don’t have any good referrals or recommendations, how do you choose? Invariably ‘cost is one of the factors that will invariably be considered.

It’s just not enough to say nothing or to make those traditional assertions such as to promise:

  • A cost-efficient quality service
  • No surprise fees; or
  • A full choice of fee and payment plans

If you don’t believe me then cut and paste a sentence about fees from your website, add quotes at the start and end, and then submit it to Google. The search engine will often reveal that your proposition is no different to many, many other accountants.

If you are getting as many new clients as you want, there is no need to change your strategy. On the other hand, being more upfront about your fees could lead to more prospective clients getting in touch.

Some accountants would argue this approach could put off prospective clients who don’t want to pay your minimum fees. Another view is that you shouldn’t talk about fee rates until you have shown the value you will provide in return. I’m unconvinced. I’m all for saving the time that can so easily be wasted with prospects who are never going to pay the fees you want to earn for the work you do.

An alternative approach is to offer prospects the chance to request a quotation by supplying some basic information via a form on your website. I suspect that in most cases this leads simply to a discussion or meeting and that a quotation only follows thereafter. 

Many firms’ websites now include a menu of prices for completing basic tax returns and the extras for each supplementary page (together with a caveat that additional fees would be quoted and charged if the client’s records were a mess – or words to that effect). There may be further charges for self employed or company accounts, for bookkeeping, for VAT returns, for operating a payroll etc.

Some accountants, when pressed to reduce their quoted fees, agree to do so, but only on condition that the client confirms which elements of the service offering they will not require.

Essentially you have four options when it comes to quoting fees on your website:

  1. Commoditise each service and quote typical prices so that those clients who take longer than average are balanced by those that take less time than average (the menu approach outlined above);
  2. Give indicative prices or price bands but make clear that each case depends on exactly what is required in order to provide the desired outcome in individual cases (a variation on the menu approach);
  3. Charge a monthly retainer (varied by client type) intended to build up to an annual fee that covers all recurring compliance work and, typically, includes routine email/phone enquiries;
  4. Not to mention your fee rates – still the most common approach adopted by accountants.

The advantage of the first route is that you avoid spending time negotiating fees. The corollary is that you could spend additional time and effort before the work is agreed but you have no facility to reflect this hassle factor in an increased fee. This approach also denies you the facility to highlight the value side of your proposition beforehand. Everything is just down to price. Some of the firms that do this are in a race to the bottom; others believe they can genuinely reduce the typical fees charged if clients use a preferred supplier of cloud bookkeeping.

Historically it was not path many accountants were keen to follow. But an increasing number of firms are adopting pricing models that let them do this. I assume that the benefits must outweigh the disadvantages. Or are all the advocates simply naïve? I note that KPMG and PwC make clear their minimum fees for smaller clients. I am sure that doing this helps reduce the time wasted on people who are only interested in paying much lower fees.

Some of the arguments against referencing fees on your website have been made in ‘Any Answers’ discussions over the years, most recently here and here.

The second and third approaches listed above enable you to maximise your fees and to take account of all surrounding factors including the amount of time and effort it has taken to win the piece of work in question.

The last approach is the most common. The website may simply make reference to agreeing fixed fees and to a promise of “no surprise fees”. 

To me, adopting the stance of not quoting fees on your website is akin to the expensive clothes shops that displays garments in the window, but without price tags attached. If you go into the shop you know it’s going to be expensive. Do you want to give a similar impression about your accountancy practice? Bear in mind that many people avoid crossing the threshold of such shops as they don’t want to get pressured into paying what we anticipate will be high prices.

Might prospective clients who find your website reach a similar conclusion?

Some might say that those accountants who make no reference to fees on their website don’t have a clear target audience. More likely it hasn’t occurred to them – or perhaps they have enough clients not to need to think about it.

What’s your approach?


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By ringi
18th Jan 2016 12:21

Speaking as a client….

Firstly if someone recommends I use XYZ company, I will look at the web site to get the phone number etc, but still tell the accountant that they were recommended.   However without a website I may not have gone with the company.   Therefore it is impossible to track the effect a website has on a company.

Without clear details of the fees, I am unlikely to go with an accountant.  After past experience of being charged on a time bases for the accountant to answer the phone when I phoned up to check progress, I expect fees to be well defined and not based on a time sheet.

Remember with “the menu approach” that you can state a different fee for a client after you have done the first years work for them.   This can be higher or lower than your “public” fee.

There days if I wanted an accountant, I would be looking for one that specialised in what I was doing and ideally have operated the some sort of business than I do themselves.   So claiming to be able to do everything on your website may stop me being a client.

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By jlsmith
19th Jan 2016 10:48

Depends what you're aiming for

"To me, adopting the stance of not quoting fees on your website is akin to the expensive clothes shops that displays garments in the window, but without price tags attached. If you go into the shop you know it’s going to be expensive. Do you want to give a similar impression about your accountancy practice?"

Absolutely, yes.

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19th Jan 2016 11:53

Good points well made

jlsmith wrote:

"To me, adopting the stance of not quoting fees on your website is akin to the expensive clothes shops that displays garments in the window, but without price tags attached. If you go into the shop you know it’s going to be expensive. Do you want to give a similar impression about your accountancy practice?"

Absolutely, yes.


Good point

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19th Jan 2016 11:17


I would never publish my rates on my website.

If they are published and are "too low" I will potentially be inundated with the wrong type of client.

If they are "too high" I won't get any business at all.

So I have a 1 in 3 chance of publishing the "right" charge and of course not all clients are the same. What's expensive to one may be perceived as too cheap by another.

I much prefer meeting clients and then quoting them.


As a wise man once told me......If I meet a client and don't like them my fee is irrelevant because I won't be taking the job on.



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19th Jan 2016 11:06

Non-Standard clients

I'm happy to say most of my clients don't fit neatly into commodity boxes, and value my services accordingly.

There's a clear trend emerging, with two types of offering: one is a standardised approach akin to a processing centre, where all fees are published and you really are just a number to the practice that takes you on (although they might tell you otherwise), and the bespoke approach for clients who want a more personalised service (and will pay for it).

As more and more accountants publish rates online, how does a potential client choose? The temptation is to go with the lowest quote, which might turn out to be the worst fit for the business.  If you are competing based on price, then publish your rates and try and draw in as many clients as you can - never mind the service level might be terrible, you might keep the client for 1-3 years and turnover of clients will be high, but the bottom line is all that drives you, so this model works for those of that mindset.

I'm somewhat lucky in that I don't advertise and my web site is not designed to haul in the masses by offering the lowest price service.  I don't compete on price.  I don't advertise.

I have used a timesheet exactly once in the last ten or so years- and that was only because we had a meeting lasting 7.5 hours (!!!) and I wanted to remember to bill it.

I meet and deal with all my clients personally, so when I say 'I'll do that and it will cost x' they know it's me doing the work not some barely trained junior.  I will quote a ballpark fee if someone asks but will only firm that up once we have met (or discussed matters at length by phone/email) and I understand what they require, what they expect, and what I see is the real problem areas (not always the same as the client may think they are..).

For me my system works- I lost two clients last year.  One died.  The other is a partnership retiring and selling a property to a developer and they have moved to the developer's agents as they are all of the same nationality, having been with me for 20 years, as the developer's agents are specialists in maximising ER claims.

I guess I'm one of the lucky ones that doesn't need to advertise my prices- I am that establishment where prices aren't displayed and you get top quality that you pay for.  If you want bargain bucket advice there are plenty of cheaper places- but don't expect Michelin star quality from them.


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By Helen H
19th Jan 2016 11:19

Non Standard Clients

Brilliantly put.

I treat my clients as the individuals they are, each one is unique and therefore my prices reflect that, and I believe my clients appreciate that too.  They are not standard businesses to be able to quote a standard fee.

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19th Jan 2016 11:39

not exactly true

speaking as someone who does put prices on the website, whilst every client is unique to us, what we do for most clients can easily be put into one of three brackets and therefore can be priced accordingly.

Some you win on, some you lose on but overall it works for us.  But then we have always worked this way for over 15 years.

as a business person myself one of the first questions I would ask is how much?  why should it be any different with accounts?

Cheaper prices does not always mean "bargain bucket advice", it could just mean that the cheaper option is with a practice that is more efficient and has lower overheads.  I have seen plenty of clients paying 4 times more than we charge who have been given terrible advice.

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19th Jan 2016 11:46

I am against publishing fees but ...

I am against publishing fees in principle but ... a lot of Accountants do, I suppose if you want your website to work for you, it may be to offer something different.  Could it lead to a race to the bottom and also are these fees quoted set in stone or just guidelines, are additional  services are invoiced separately. Lets be honest there are always additional services performed, I probably dont invoice enough.

As above without advertising leading potential clients to my website, I would get no work through it, which leads on to the recent question are Web sites any good now everyone has one, are we all on an even keel.



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By vowlesj
19th Jan 2016 13:07

all interesting stuff but

All interesting stuff, but I don't compete on price. I compete on what we do.  I am unlikely to ever be the cheapest in absolute terms, but I believe that we provide excellent value for money when the quality, range and level of service is considered.

But how can the client understand or appreciate quality, range and level of service unless there is some process to do that?  Very importantly, how do we evaluate the client and decide if the 'fit' is right and we want to work with them.  Equally importantly, how do you start the process of evaluating the risk that comes with each client or potential.  Currently this is why we meet potential clients and discuss their circumstances and needs.

I am never going to be the Aldi or Lidl of the accounting world and I don't want clients who are looking only on price...and good luck to those accountants who do work in that market. I think that if this means I get a few less clients because I'm not advertising prices then I'm not worried.

At the same time I appreciate that potential clients want lots of information and finding a good balance and making it easy for potential clients is important.


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19th Jan 2016 14:32

Type of client

Firstly, if you don't have a website then more fool you. If you have an out of date website, I will assume you have shut down or are so ancient you will demand I come to your house and provide you with paper copies of all of my expenses.

Secondly, deciding if to list fees really depends on the client you are targeting. If the service you are providing is a commodity, such as contracting services or landlords, then you should really list the price otherwise your clients will look at the site and move on to a competitor. They don't have time to give every accountant a call for a quote and 50 questions. If you are targeting businesses then you could give some indication if you prefer but probably best not just putting a random amount on there. 

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By morgani
19th Jan 2016 14:39

Time is a precious commodity these days.  It needn't necessarily be but it is for so many people.  We display our prices on our website as a menu type system as a monthly subscription for the most common, smaller clients.

Rightly or wrongly we sign up many new start ups.  Most are happy to sign up after a quick meeting or even a phone call as they know what they are getting and what it costs.  So many new start-ups don't have a clue what it would cost and can find out in 5 minutes on our website rather than an hour meeting someone else.

I've been there and done the 'hide my prices until I'm ready to reveal them' and client sign up was less.  Not significantly but since then I've increased my prices and display them.  The key bit I have now achieved is I don't waste time on those who can't afford the fees.  So many times before I would spend an hour in a meeting for them to say I was thinking more like x.  I want Y.  We go our seperate ways.

Our policy is now simple.  Prices are there to see and enquire further if you can afford them or they are good value to you.  Our website tries its best to get over the character of our firm and how we are a friendly, nice bunch of accountants to have on your side.

Any negotiating on price is based on the services the client does or does not want not a negotiation.

I may not be among the 'norm' of accountants and many may never want to work the way we do.

For me though it works.  We get plenty of new enquiries and I don't waste my time with those who aren't prepared for the actual cost.  10 new enquiries this month (not unusual 8 Dec, 14 Nov) and I would expect 80% of those at least to be new clients by mid Feb.

@Mark great article and picks up well where accountancy might be going and the changes some firms may be forced to adopt.

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19th Jan 2016 16:22

Size / complexity/ specialism

There is no one size fits all to this.

I would draw three axis on my graph

"specialist to generalist"

 "small to big"

"simple to complex"

Those in the small/specialist/simple quadrant are easy to menu price and most likely to appear on websites

Those in the big/generalist are hard to menu price, and unlikely to appear as each job will be largely bespoke.  There would also be more commercial motive for pricing a £5k job formally vs for a £150 tax return.Take you longer to price than do!

You may be able to menu price "speciliast" and "medium complex" and some other combinations, but the further you go out on the graph, the harder it would be. 

Another axis "quality" may also exist but I can only draw in 3D. 




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19th Jan 2016 16:42

I have prices on my website that state “from”.

I want to give prospects a rough idea of my fees.

If some people are put off by my fees, at least I haven’t wasted my time and their time by dragging them into a pointless meeting.

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20th Jan 2016 09:31

Didn't use to, now do...

About 2 years ago, as part of a website revamp and a push on SEO, I 'packaged up' our services into 3 main offerings and put them, along with a menu-type pricing system, for everyone to see.  (Just by way of a point of reference, our average fee is about £2k, up to £10k or so for larger clients).

I used to be very anti-pricing, but having seen it work for some people, I thought I'd give it a go.  After all, it's not a life commitment - you can always take it down again if you want to.  I also thought about my approach to things as a buyer/consumer: if I can't see some indication of price from a website, then I'm unlikely to take my queries any further along those lines.

My main thoughts would be:

(a) we get more people contacting us through our website than we used to, and they have a clearer idea of what they want when they come to see us;

(b) we get less time wasters who come along with no idea of what they need or want, and who are after bargain-basement pricing (actually got some feedback through my sister-in law whose friend received some marketing from us.  Her friends words were 'I need an accountant but they're a bit expensive'.  Excellent.  She's not wasted her or our time talking to us.)

So, overall, it was a good move for us, but I can understand how it would be less relevant the more specialised you are.




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