Client wanting me to change my fees structure

I need some advice please

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Dear Aweb community,

I am facing a connundrum yet again and since you've been so helpful in the past with my other connumdrums I was hoping I could bounce this off you.

I have been using the same fees structure for years and so far my 80+ clients have never questionned it. This is I think because my fees are fair. But there is one client who argues each and every single year. He thinks that my fees are too high and threatens to go and find more competitive accountants if I don't lower my fees. Because I don't want to lose him I end up having to let him pay what he deems is a reasonable amount to pay by giving a discount.
I tried to explain that cheaper accountants will probably not be members of an accounting body, probably not be insured and probably be quite hasty in the way they prepare the statutory accounts but he's telling me that's porky pies, that it's easy to say that other accountants are cow boys.

In the end, he's asked me to create a new fees structure and he presented it this way: "Some accountants do it in bands.  I.e. up to 100k turnover = x price, up to 250k turnover = y price, up to 500k = z price..."

My fees are worked out in bands too, but they go up every £10k, which means they go up very gradualy, which I believe is as appropriate as it can be since closely in relation to the turnover.

I am at a loss as to how to handle this. It doesn't feel right to let a client decide how much he should pay me. It would feel doubly wrong to use the fees structure that he wishes me to use. But at the same time I don't want to lose a client. 

Any ideas?

Replies (58)

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By johnthegood
12th Jul 2023 18:06

Never understood that method of pricing, we have clients that have a turnover of 1m that take less work than a client with 100k.

I think you know deep down the answer to this question, you need to call his bluff and stick to your price.

I realise that is easy to say when you don't need the extra fees but thats the only sensible answer I'm afraid

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Replying to johnthegood:
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By Cylhia66
12th Jul 2023 18:19

@johnthegood. Thank you for your answer.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
12th Jul 2023 18:08

No idea what turnover has got to do with the price of fish, but its your business, if it makes sense to you then it makes sense to you. For my clients size of turnover is a poor indicator of my time needed.

Charge what you think is appropriate.

Your way, or the highway.

You will probably find if you stick to your guns they will accept.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By Cylhia66
12th Jul 2023 18:20

@ireallyshouldknowthisbut. Thanks.

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By Ruddles
12th Jul 2023 18:09

You say that you don’t want to lose the client but don’t explain why. Normally I would tell any client that threatens to leave for a cheaper service to do just that, reminding him that you get what you pay for.

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Replying to Ruddles:
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By Cylhia66
12th Jul 2023 18:21

@Ruddles. I'm a small firm so I can't really afford to lose the fee.

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Replying to Cylhia66:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
12th Jul 2023 19:26

Your client knows that. That’s why your client will run it down to the wire, stare you down, and get away with dictating his own terms.

I have the same pricing model as you… yesterday I knocked out a £10k t/o set of accounts and associated returns in quick time, much faster than today’s £100k set. Not by a factor of ten, of course - neither fees nor time - but with greater care and consideration because of the larger numbers involved. In between I have a bellyaching and undeserving client or two trying to find a hole in my fence and crack themselves a deal. Just like yours.

I don’t have an immediate solution to this. Sacking them doesn’t work (it’s a bit like banishing your mother in law - sticky people never go away. Not quite. You think you’ve shaken them off, but back they come like The Posse That Never Gave Up! Ouch!)

I’ve been contemplating a three-tier service offering (so gold, silver, bronze if you will) with which I would hope to block such professional hustlers / cheapskates / other Pareto nuisances from chipping away at the price/service and then complaining because they weren’t served champagne. (And by complain, I mean to our professional body / their next accountant / your PII / the courts if they’re particularly litigious about receiving anything less than a five star service for the two star price they are willing to offer.)

Here and now, for you, you’re held back by this hustler until you figure how to repackage what you offer on your site, and place him in the bronze third-class compartment. Tip: one side of the coin is the price; the other is what you agree to do for that price. So that anything outside of scope is extra, payable in advance.

It might take you a year or two to flush out the dross. I still hear from someone I sacked Match last year. He’s been bounced by a few other accountants - he’s such a bad egg nobody wants him. Will I help him? Sure, I’ll consider it IF he pays the £1k he’s owed for almost two years. Actually it might help you to disengage, and then offer a new LofE (take it or leave it). Payment 50% up front, stage work like a builder (so if they want to offboard themselves midstream then you will have been paid per se - for so much as you have done - and can happily swim off into your sunset.

Incidentally, the thinking behind a tiered service is that if someone subscribes to the Saver Menu and then attempts tears and tantrums afterwards, the new accountant’s attempts to prove negligence by virtue of my not having shaved a shilling or two from said client’s tax bill can be more easily defended if client elected to sit in the stalls. Quote: Would the people in the cheaper seats clap their hands…

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Replying to I'msorryIhaven'taclue:
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By Hugo Fair
12th Jul 2023 20:04

"Tip: one side of the coin is the price; the other is what you agree to do for that price. So that anything outside of scope is extra, payable in advance."

OP: Take note of that excellent advice.
If you've got the time, you can take it one stage further (my old 'solution'):
- Offer the awkward client the price he wants BUT ONLY for a closely defined list of specific actions/outputs (aka the 'bare minimum');
- Make sure that this baseline offer explicitly *excludes* all the things that he's previously demanded over & above the bare minimum;
- Also provide a new price-list for each and every one of those 'extras' that will be charged whenever they are requested (and agreed in advance) ... or a simple per hr rate for 'anything not previously contracted'.

You know in your heart that you cannot retain this client in the long term (it will become injurious to your health aside of anything else), so it's a matter of (a) taking back control and (b) learning some lessons for the future - which might include reviewing your pricing-structure.

BTW you may not relish the confrontation, but I'd respond to any client who tried to tell me to replace my pricing-structure with theirs ... "Have you tried to do that last time you shopped in M&S (other retailers are available)?"

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Replying to Hugo Fair:
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By Cylhia66
12th Jul 2023 20:57

@Hugo Fair. I can do confrontation if required but never with my clients. It's a rule of thumb. Otherwise I would have asked him if he usually lets his clients decide what they should pay for his services.

Also if I tell him he's going to have to pay for anything extra from now on I'll lose him right away. (he doesn't tend to ask too much beyond our agreed terms to be fair).

As I'msorryIhaven'taclue said. My client client knows "I can't afford losing him". That’s why "he" will run it down to the wire, stare "me" down, and get away with dictating his own terms.

It won't be injurious to my health. I've coped so far. I wanted to know if I was missing an obvious solution to this connundrum. You are right, I must take back control and there ought to be a way to do this wisely and amicably.

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Replying to Cylhia66:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
13th Jul 2023 14:12

My problem client - no, no... not the one I disengaged from a year ago but who still buzzes around promising to pay the £1k he owes - when I say you can't easily shake off sticky people, I actually rank him ahead of my mother-in-law, who held the previous high-score. Where was I? I'd better start again. Ahem... my problem client #2, a case similar to yours, resurfaced yesterday by emailing a few of his companies' records.

He's angling for a cheaper quote - after all, there's hardly anything to it with his smaller companies - they can't possibly warrant paying the full price. To gain leverage, he's left some unpaid bills that he promised to pay last week, the week before, and the week before that. Not signing the new LofEs either - looks like he preferred last year's T&Cs!

Like you, I don't let things like this get to me. That said, he draws massively on our time (cat and mouse negotiations / second batch of LofEs sent / numerous overdue statements) and the days we don't hear from him are well... harmonious and more relaxed. With one eye on Wimbledon, one year cocked to the phone for new business, and a few sets of straightforward easy-to-deal-with clients having their accounts prepared this week, I shall do my best to carry on as if he doesn't exist.

That said, it's a cloud on my horizon that I have a weather-eye on. The one thing I've learnt from my parallel experience to yours is that the beast doesn't change. No amount of standing up to him, getting the better of him, or setting new terms will stop your client from coming back at you next year to put you through the same merry dance.

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Replying to Cylhia66:
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By towat
18th Jul 2023 10:29

You will easily and quickly replace his fees with new clients who are less trouble.

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Out of my mind
By runningmate
12th Jul 2023 20:48

Just imagine you have lost this client. What are you going to do to replace the lost fee income - either by finding new clients or doing extra chargeable work for existing clients?
Now how about doing those things now anyway? That way if you do lose this troublesome client it won't be such a blow.

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Replying to runningmate:
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By Cylhia66
12th Jul 2023 21:01

@runningmate. I like your way of thinking. Although I find it hard to find new clients because I am terrible with marketing. As in.....really terrible. I solely rely on word of mouth. Hence I need to cherish each and every single client I have.

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By bettybobbymeggie
12th Jul 2023 21:03

Get rid, and then celebrate with a cheaper bottle of red than what you normally drink.

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Replying to bettybobbymeggie:
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By Cylhia66
12th Jul 2023 21:13

ha, ha :-)

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By thebusinesshut
12th Jul 2023 21:28

Have faith in the value you're providing and stick to your guns. This is one client out of 80+ that by the sounds of it, knows very well what he's doing and is taking advantage of your non confrontational nature.

Losing a client can hurt, especially when it's one that brings in a noticeable fee, but I suspect if you succumb to their demands once then you'll be up against it again in the future (sounds like you already have).

I assume the client signed up to your terms of engagement which included confirmation of your fees from the outset? Personally, if it were me, I'd remind them of this and that you have been very fair on providing discount previously but you are no longer in a position to continue to do so.

Sometimes you've got to be prepared to say no and move on. Just think of the capacity it might free up for a more appreciative client.

Good luck :)

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Replying to thebusinesshut:
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By Cylhia66
13th Jul 2023 05:59

@thebusinesshut. Thank you for your advice.

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By Truthsayer
12th Jul 2023 21:46

'I don't want to lose a client'

Why not? If they are not paying a fee that is worth your time, increase it so it is. They will either accept it or walk. What's there to lose?

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Replying to Truthsayer:
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By Cylhia66
13th Jul 2023 06:01

@Truthsayer. Because what they pay, even if it's less than what they should pay is still worth my time. But I get what you're saying.

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Replying to Cylhia66:
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By Bobbo
13th Jul 2023 14:17

Cylhia66 wrote:

@Truthsayer. Because what they pay, even if it's less than what they should pay is still worth my time. But I get what you're saying.

I feel you're contradicting yourself here. How are you defining "worth my time"?

Surely, the fees you intend to charge this client are what you consider to be fair for the engagement and thus worth your time. Anything materially under this amount is then by definition not worth your time, no?

I will note that as others have suggested that i'm not convinced turnover is an appropriate benchmark for fees, unless your client base are very similar in record keeping and transactions values.

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By Refs1
12th Jul 2023 22:04

Hi

You seem far too nice to be in business.

Try it this way, take on a couple of new clients on to replace this clients work. Do some networking to meet fellow professionals and other businesses. When you are ready resign and wish the person Bon voyage! You will feel far better in the end!

Resigned from three clients recently several more to follow as they had become high maintenance.

There is lots of work out there for accountants ( we have never been so busy).

Good luck!

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Replying to Refs1:
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By Cylhia66
13th Jul 2023 06:08

@Refs1. Ahhh I take that as a compliment (even though it's not) :-)

Over the years I have managed to get rid of the PITA clients. I'm comfortable enough that I can do that.

This one is annoying but only once a year, when we renew our contract and discuss my fees. The rest of the time he's ok.

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By bigmuggsy
12th Jul 2023 22:51

As a fellow accountant in practice (in a large well known northern City) I can safely say, from experience, he’s taking the [***] out of you.

Get rid - if you’re a decent accountant who provides good service to clients you’ll soon replace him.

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Replying to bigmuggsy:
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By Cylhia66
13th Jul 2023 06:10

@bigmuggsy. I appreciate your input. You are clearly right. He's taking the ****.

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By spilly
12th Jul 2023 23:01

Let him go - it’s likely that he won’t find anyone else at the price you charge.
We tell clients who take their business elsewhere that our door is always open if they should ever wish to return. It seems to work as we do get returners, mostly after their initial cheap fee rapidly increases in the second year.
Marketing - offer a £100 voucher to any current client that passes a new business on to you, payable after you get three months of fees from it. Might want to reduce that to £50 if it’s a tax return only though.

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Replying to spilly:
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By Cylhia66
13th Jul 2023 06:16

@spilly. What an excellent tip, thank you. Interestingly, a friend of mine (who is also an accountant) said something similar to me recently. I get it now. I'm going to do it. Thanks again.

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By John Charman
13th Jul 2023 06:01

Hi there,

I’m largely in agreement with what a lot of people are saying here. However, sometimes some context does help too.

If 1 client out of 80 are moaning. Then I’d say the chances are, your pricing is reasonable and this particular client isn’t.

Does this client also take a long time to pay? And do they also moan about the tax bill every year to see if you can get it down? If both answers to these questions are yes, then it’s absolutely a problem with the client .

Also, when they ask for a reduction, ask them how much they think the service is worth? Most people actually have no idea what it’s worth, they just ask for discounts on absolutely everything because they love the idea of getting a deal.

If they call your bluff and give you an amount, ask them what they have based that amount on? If they do come back with a quote from an unregulated one man band, and you’re Chartered etc. you can go back to them with this.

Honestly though, my practice is 4 years old and I have done exactly the same thing, and had the same things cross my mind.

If you don’t stand up to them now, you will one day. And when you do let them go it’ll be a huge sigh of relief, and you’ll be asking yourself why you continued to act for all these years.

Ultimately it’s about making the decision that makes you happiest, and if right now that means adjusting your fees then do it. You’ll realise down the line it wasn’t worth it though.

All the best on this, you’ll make the right decision for you.

Regards,

John

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Replying to John Charman:
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By Cylhia66
13th Jul 2023 06:24

@John. Thank you. That's very good advice. I am conscious that the problem is definitely with him. But also that the discounted fee he pays is still worth my time. It's the principal, more than anything else, that bothers me. You don't go shopping and ask for the price to be adjusted to what you think you should pay.

I've decided I will tell him that I simply can't change my pricing structure for him. Final answer. And if he's not happy I'll let him go. I can bend a little bit by giving a discount but I can't bend too much.

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Replying to Cylhia66:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
13th Jul 2023 14:48

Cylhia66 wrote:

I've decided I will tell him that I simply can't change my pricing structure for him. Final answer. And if he's not happy I'll let him go. I can bend a little bit by giving a discount but I can't bend too much.

He can't help himself from wanting to arm-wrestle you over price. And it's no good your haggling with someone who enjoys it (I once came away from a Tunisian Bazaar loaded down with all sorts of cr*p I had no use for).

IMHO you're issuing mixed messages through your final concession that you might bend a little; that when you stand firm and say "no" you in fact mean "maybe".

I'm going to use the analogy of allowing a bully to push you round. Slap the bully back hard, even if you're trading blows in a 3:1 ratio in the bully's favour, and Bully will go find an easier target to push around. Now adopt that attitude with your client: every time he negotiates a point in his favour, counter with a concession for you in return. Hugo had alluded earlier to chipping something off the service as a counter to Bully's price-chiseling, and that's a canny plan. However, because your client will cheerfully ignore your new agreement and carry on all year as if he had accepted no such concessions, I would go for the major concession that he signs up to your Stripe (or similar) direct debit service, which will allow you to bill him for and collect without argument additional fees for the services that you have chipped from his package to meet his lower price demands.

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Replying to I'msorryIhaven'taclue:
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By Cylhia66
14th Jul 2023 15:06

I tried that last year. I said "ok, you can have a discount but I request that you pay upfront". He point blank refused. As I said he's really tough verging on taking the p****.

He has not yet replied to the email I sent him yesterday morning. My gut instinct is that he is looking for better quotes elsewhere now. I did the right thing though.

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By johnthegood
13th Jul 2023 06:27

One other thing to add - for me it would depend on what kind of attitude the client had, theres a world of difference between
"is there any chance we could look at your fees, I'm struggling and wonder if there is anything we can do to reduce it" and
"your fee is too high, I want to pay x"

In the first case I would be willing to negotiate to a certain degree, in the second case I would tell them to go and pay what they want somewhere else.

The first one will be a nice friendly client, the second will always be one of those PITA clients that likes to moan about everything

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Replying to johnthegood:
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By Cylhia66
13th Jul 2023 06:55

@johnthegood. This client is somewhere in the middle. Not a jolly friendly type but not a PITA either. Just a bit tough on negociations.

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By tom123
13th Jul 2023 07:44

Sometimes you just end up with a bad customer..

In my previous (industry) role, we had a customer who is a major motor manufacturer. Yes it was big ticket, and a fair proportion of T/o, but the whole company revolved around their needs - to the detriment of less bothersome (but profitable ones).

When one project finally got paid off we decided not to work for them.

At tender time, it gave us great pleasure to decline the offer.

The reality is you 'can' afford to lose the fee if you dislike it that much. Remember you are not an employee of this firm.

Good luck.

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By philrob
13th Jul 2023 13:10

I see that you have decided to stand firm and not offer a discount this year - well done.

There is lots of good advice in this thread already. A few thoughts...

Value for money = satisfaction - price.

Ryan Air and Emirates will both get you to your destination alive.

The experience is very different.

It can be argued that they both offer similar 'value for money'.

You will go bust (or have a heart attack) if you provide Emirates service for Ryan Air prices.

It is critical that you consciously decide whether you are Ryan Air or Emirates and that you select future clients that match your personal values and approach.

---

What type of client is this one? There are A, B & C clients.

'A' clients are fun to work with, they can be challenging and demanding but the challenges and demands are reasonable. They pay fairly and on time. It is a good relationship that benefits both sides.

'B' clients are pains in the backside but pay enough to be 'worth it'

'C' clients are pains in the backside but DON'T pay enough to make it 'worth it'

When reviewing/amending fees it is the 'C' clients you target - you either want them in the 'B' category (paying enough to make it worth it) or causing grief for one of your competitors.

Don't burn bridges, but if the 'fit' isn't right then it is better for everyone to part company.

Sitting down once a year to categorise customers into A, B & C is a really useful exercise. Give some thought as to why they are a B or a C - If you mention the approach to a customer, be ready for them to ask 'which am I' which opens up the discussion for If you... then I...

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By AdamJones82
13th Jul 2023 13:19

Why are you even entertaining him? If I had one like that he’d be told politely to foxtrot oscar

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By Wanderer
13th Jul 2023 13:26

Not much to add, that hasn't been said already, except this is one of the best (non technical) threads that I've seen in a long time.

Loads of good advice here. Well done to all contributors.

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By SXGuy
13th Jul 2023 14:44

Unfortunately, by caving in, you have given him the green light yo argue your fee each and every year. And he knows you will cave.

What you need to do, is no longer explain yourself. You need to say, this is my fee for this year, if you don't like it, find a new accountant. If he argues, refuse to have the discussion.

No brainer for me, I'd rather have no headache and less money than be walked over for a few quid. Just me.

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Replying to SXGuy:
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By AdamJones82
13th Jul 2023 19:45

Yes, the client is treating OP as a Mavis Riley

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Replying to AdamJones82:
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By tom123
14th Jul 2023 09:19

Whereas Dolly in Dinnerladies would probably stand for less.

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Replying to SXGuy:
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By Cylhia66
14th Jul 2023 15:21

Harsh with me but fair.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
13th Jul 2023 16:32

Take a job for a few years negotiating leases and when you return to accountancy you will have developed a very thick skin and an ability to say no if any deal does not suit you.

20 odd years ago I was a mild mannered accountant bending over backwards to not say no, however regular contact with our property manager convinced me that some people are more trouble than they are worth and if they do not want what is on the table they can just walk- there are always others and the time wasted on them now saved will in time give rise to easier income streams.

Modest compromise, fair enough, significant compromise will pull muscles in your back.

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By Tom+Cross
13th Jul 2023 16:35

First thought; who's doing the work and what value do you put to that work. I imagine you also view the work from a time basis and from what you say, the one-sided conversations, which you have with the 'joker'

Second thought; Who's name is it, effectively, over the door. Do you imagine any firm of Solicitors embarking upon a discussion with one of their 80 clients.

Third suggestion; "The doors there. We've done"

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By pauld
14th Jul 2023 10:08

Are you open to say how much you normally charge this client and what work you do for that fee?

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Replying to pauld:
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By Cylhia66
14th Jul 2023 15:25

Sure. He pays roughly £600 after the discount. That pays for the software and the preparation and filing of both Corporation Tax return and Company accounts (he does his own bookkeeping that I only need to do a few tweaks to each year).

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Replying to Cylhia66:
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By pauld
14th Jul 2023 16:00

I think he would be unlikely to find equivalent services at that cost anywhere else. Your dilemma might be that its possible a £600 job may only take you a couple of hours work? the CT return is very quick to do and if the bookkeeping is good, it doesn't take long to sort out the TB and do a set of accounts. That is a dilemma I often have, an income tax return can sometimes be done in 10 - 15 mins if there is not a lot to it, but I have spent years studying for exams and training and they are paying for knowledge and expertise whether it takes 10 mins or not. I would stand your ground as I think they are going nowhere. You could even encourage them to get quotes elsewhere if they are not happy. The fact that its a limited company prevents a lot of the inexperienced being able to take it on so he's not going to find better or cheaper. If you let them dictate then they will be trying it on again next time.

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Replying to pauld:
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By Cylhia66
14th Jul 2023 16:20

He claimed in the past that he has found cheaper accountants when he researched. Cheaper than me is very cheap. And I tried to explain to him that if they are this cheap there's probably a reason for that (and not a good one).

I haven't yet explained that we started on the wrong foot from day one with this client because the first time he approached me he asked if I could show him how to prepare his accounts so that he can take over and do them himself. Which I refused to do saying I'd have to do them and be paid for it. As a result he's always resented having to pay me.

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Replying to Cylhia66:
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By pauld
14th Jul 2023 16:37

What usually happens when you show a client how to do something is that they are on the phone or emailing you the whole way through the process and it ends up taking up a lot more time than if you do it yourself plus you cant charge them and they make a right hash of it. If he thinks its that easy that he will be able to do himself, then he has no respect for what you do or your expertise - he's basically saying anyone can do this with a bit of guidance. Sounds a PITA !!!

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By Moonbeam
14th Jul 2023 14:36

I'm bound to ask you - why let this client dictate terms to you? He thinks he has you over a barrel anyway, and that's a bad way to do business.
Clearly you're doing something right for all the other clients.
I'd seriously look at replacing this client and then letting them go like an elastic band.

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
15th Jul 2023 09:23

The consensus of opinion here is to 'get rid' but I can see that you are loathe to do so... there is no reason to be.

Reading your comments it appears that he is taking you for a ride.

In my experience you always find another client to replace the one lost/disengaged.

Just think of the time he is wasting - reading and commenting on accweb for a start!

here is a link to an article Richard Hattersley wrote a while ago which still stands the test of time:

"When unappreciative clients take up too much time"
https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/practice/practice-strategy/when-unapprec...

And my follow up article..
"Practical tactics for dealing with difficult clients"
https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/practice/practice-strategy/practical-tac...

>> read through my points which should help you to decide.

And dont worry about not being paid. Set yourself a process for late paying clients and never be afraid of issuing Small Claims Court proceedings:

"Get the details right: Taking a client to court"
https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/practice/general-practice/get-the-detail...

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Replying to Jennifer Adams:
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By Cylhia66
15th Jul 2023 11:20

@Jennifer Adams. Thank you. I have read carefully both articles. There's a lot of very interesting information to take on board.

I wouldn't say that I loathe the idea of getting rid of him. I've finally replied to him not conceding to his demand. Which means I remained firm and might lose him as a result. But I keep a high profile by dealing with it this way. I've used this strategy thanks to the ton of good advice I received on this thread. I'm glad I asked the Aweb community for advice as it's invaluable as always.

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