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Have you ever been baffled by someone?

New potential client basic SA wanting everything only to decide against using your services

Didn't find your answer?

After last week, I wondered whether other AWebbers have ever been left baffled as to what goes through a potential new clients head. Have you ever asked them their reasoning? 

Some background. Got a call out the blue last week. The person needed his SA done by deadline day, pretty easy return, mainly pensions and one overseas bank account etc. 

Asked if I'd be able to meet the deadline, yep I said, not a problem. 

Asked if I could email him over a copy of my engagement letter so he could review it and make sure everything was OK before he made a decision. Not normally the kind of request you receive from a potential new client, but didn't see an issue since he'd be signing one anyway if I took him on. 

Then a day later get another call to say he'll be thoroughly reviewing it before ringing me again if he wishes to move forward. OK no problems. 

Receive an email from him a day later asking some questions regarding the engagement such as, it says I'm responsible for my own tax return but the fee you quoted says you'll file it for me, can you confirm this is the case etc. I can see how it can be confusing so I explained why it would say that, and advised when I'd need all the info to be able to file before the deadline and again confirmed the cost in writing. 

Another days goes past and get an email to say thanks but I won't be accepting your services. 

Not bothered by that of course, people are free to do what they choose, I'm just baffled as to the lengths some people go for a service that's pretty basic, spend days anaylising everything, only to turn you down. 

Not sure what he was expecting to find or want. 

Has anyone else ever had an experience like that? 

Replies (37)

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By frankfx
23rd Jan 2021 09:35

What you witnessed was millions of years of Darwinian evolution, mutation is the vogue term.

Whether the evolutionary outcome gives that client a particular advantage who knows.

Combined with the anonymity email communication affords one has the perfect storm for such behavioural characteristics to manifest themselves.

Other firms have protective screening processes, which may mean they do not endure your recent experience. Or only have mild symptoms.

There are many examples of outlier personalities.

Perhaps at Aweber corp. We could establish a database, we may be surprised to learn that this in fact a highly common client trait, but has been hidden in plain view.

Could you hear tyres being kicked during your calls?

Oh, I have never experienced your case.

Sometimes Quite the opposite.

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Replying to frankfx:
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By KH
26th Jan 2021 13:43

Talking of evolution, this is part of an email I just received from a client of mine who I am in the middle of disengaging ... his email is proof that I had decided on the right course of action:

"Reading your email I realise it really is better that I take responsibility for my tax return. You and I are cut from such different cloth ... I shall resort to my old habit of ignoring HMRC etc. and sticking my metaphorical finger up at them when suitably inappropriate. I imagine that this might seem reprehensible to you, but I suppose we are simply from opposite ends of the spectrum."

Too right we are!

Phew!

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By Wanderer
23rd Jan 2021 09:42

Never experienced that however based on what you have said I'd be wondering if this would become a PITA assignment and maybe should be avoided.

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Replying to Wanderer:
RLI
By lionofludesch
23rd Jan 2021 09:56

Lucky escape there.

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By Paul Crowley
23rd Jan 2021 09:59

NEVER been asked for an engagement letter, entire working life.

Not convinced many have ever bothered to read the ones I send.

I agree likely to be a PITA

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By Iamalwaysonamission
23rd Jan 2021 09:59

not new to me , i had a similar case , she rang us saying she wanted someone to do her TR mostly property income , I emailed details , followed up with few questions from her all seem ok and then she had a change of mind saying "don't worry i will do it myself ....."

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By New To Accountancy
23rd Jan 2021 12:01

Yes 3 days ago. The client rang me and said:

Client: So when you did my return, are you basically saying - yes Mr HMRC, he's done everything right and I am guaranteeing it and I've audited his work

Me : ' no, as per the engagement letter' and audit, why would you want an audit if you don't need one. The income and expenses were correct, weren't they?

Client: I don't read the letters so how am I supposed to know, I feel like you've dangled a carrot and I've grabbed it and its fake. From the expenses you sent me, you haven't even added meal allowance, just because I'm self employed doesn't mean i don't eat. All my other accountants have added meal allowance. (all his work was local)

Me: Ok, slow down. It seems you're concerned about the return now, what has brought this on?

Client: Well Ive got to pay the tax and I haven't got the money so id have to apply for the grant and I don't know if im entitled, so if i claim its because you've made me pay tax, i wouldn't apply for the grant otherwise. Oh and you are the only accountant whos ever made me pay tax.

He ended the call because he had to go and I haven't written to him because I needed to calm down and think how to deal with it. I felt he was saying 'I have fiddled my income and thought you were rewriting history and being someone i could blame, so that if i had an investigation, i'd be safe because you should have spotted it'

I went through a phase of thinking of not issuing LoEs because they frighten people, but I would rather frighten them away, than have this. This is the one profession that brings out their inner snake. They are ready to blame you in an instant.

Having said that, he is the first and I feel I have learnt from him and I appreciate the experience as it keeps me from becoming complacent or assuming no issues will arise as he was one of my 'best' clients, yet turned very quickly. I need to be less personable and make sure LoEs are with every single return. I do not care if they do not read it, as long as I have proof I have sent it. It is like being a detective sometimes, making sure I get evidence for everything i do.

Edit: Different experience from yours totally, but as you can tell, I am still upset and because it was relating to a client, I could not help myself.
This is the same call you (op) responded to a post of mine, I was happy that he thanked me for my help, then I've not stopped mulling over the call, ever since.

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Replying to New To Accountancy:
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By SXGuy
23rd Jan 2021 12:16

I'm sure we've all had one of those clients. Seems to think by getting an accountant to do it, it removes their responsibility if it's wrong.

The tax thing is common, "why are you making me pay tax when I've never paid it before?" erm because your profit is now higher than ever before? D'oh.

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Replying to SXGuy:
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By New To Accountancy
23rd Jan 2021 12:34

Sorry for the long 'moaning' post. 'January stresses' I think.
I'm treating myself by finishing early -12pm tonight.

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Replying to New To Accountancy:
RLI
By lionofludesch
23rd Jan 2021 15:00

New To Accountancy wrote:

Sorry for the long 'moaning' post. 'January stresses' I think.
I'm treating myself by finishing early -12pm tonight.

Midnight ? Thanks for getting this right.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By New To Accountancy
23rd Jan 2021 15:06

Oops, my mistake. Thank you for correcting me Lion.

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Replying to New To Accountancy:
RLI
By lionofludesch
23rd Jan 2021 17:47

[sigh]

No - you were right.

12 pm comes after 11 pm. It's not rocket science.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
23rd Jan 2021 18:39

That might be so in God's county, Lion, but according to the font of wisdom that is the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language "By convention, 12 AM denotes midnight and 12 PM denotes noon".

And, by way of further clarification we are further advised by that same tome: "Because of the potential for confusion, it is advisable to use 12 noon and 12 midnight". Well, yes, I suppose that would serve to avoid any ambiguity over the matter. Now why didn't we think of that!

What's the betting, OP, that your prospect was a busy at one of those marketing companies that matchmakes chancers to accountants for silly-money fees?

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Replying to I'msorryIhaven'taclue:
RLI
By lionofludesch
23rd Jan 2021 19:16

I'msorryIhaven'taclue wrote:

That might be so in God's county, Lion, but according to the fount of wisdom that is the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language "By convention, 12 AM denotes midnight and 12 PM denotes noon".

1. If I were given a task with a deadline of "midnight on Friday", I would expect to be able to do it on Friday.

2. Therefore, midnight must be the last instant of the day.

3. Therefore, it must be 12 pm, as 12 am would be part of the morning, making midnight the first instant of the day.

Midnight = 12 pm was the case when I was a lad and I'm not minded to change to suit some lazy 1970s computer programmers, who were the original source of the myth.

You'll be telling me that the 21st century started on 1st January 2000 next.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
23rd Jan 2021 20:41

Just playin' Devil's advocate. Yours truly has spent a large chunk of today arguing with the office's electricity company (not about PMs or AMs, but about other matters) and it hasn't escaped my notice that SSE avoid such ambiguity by cutting off their day rate at 11.59pm and invoking their night rate at 00.00 hours. All of which switch from a 12 to a 24 hour clock when it suits them I suppose serves to clarify matters. Eat your heart out Captain Mainwaring!

But I'm with you on the year 2000 celebs being a year premature. Had you or I been born on 1st January of A.D. Year 1 (or, in later life, 1901) then we'd have celebrated our first birthday on 1st January A.D. 02 (or, in a later life, 1902); and our 99th birthday on 1st January A.D. 100 (which in our later lives would be 1st January 2000). So I quite agree - we would have been celebrating our 99th birthdays on 1st January 2000 and would not get to blow out our 100 candles until 1st January 2001. And didn't we discuss this matter circa 20 years ago? Or was it 21? Cr**p! My OCD is rather getting the better of me :)

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Replying to I'msorryIhaven'taclue:
Universe
By SteveOH
23rd Jan 2021 21:06

That's why the brilliant film and book was called "2001: A Space Odyssey". The start of the century was 01.01.2001.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By SXGuy
23rd Jan 2021 21:07

I'm sure those 1970s computer programmers would have been happy to remind you that
AM = Ante meridiem: Before noon
PM = Post meridiem: After noon

Therefore it could not possibly be afternoon at 1 minute past 11:59pm since that would be the following day, prior to the new days noon.

And similarly, it could not be before noon 1 minute past 11:59am since it would actually be noon at that time.

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By New To Accountancy
23rd Jan 2021 21:48

(Chuckle)
I am workings nights, that's my excuse.

Edit: when I Googled it you were right too. That's why I needed correcting.

Edit : on looking again (out of curiosity) it was the 'American heritage' I'd read too.

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Replying to New To Accountancy:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
23rd Jan 2021 23:11

Well the only real-life take I have on this is that on 31st December 2000 I stood on an Exeter hillside left wondering why on earth we were celebrating with the greatest firework display Exeter had seen since the Blitz - and that's saying rather a lot for the display - and can recall thinking "Why now? Why not 31st December 2000 / 1st January 2001?". Christ, that was a long sentence. I'm out of breath! I do hope my subordinate clauses aren't all over the place :)

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Universe
By SteveOH
23rd Jan 2021 11:38

Could it have been a cheapo accountant who just wanted a copy of an engagement letter to use for his own practice and using you to explain some of the terms? Who knows, there's nowt so weird as folk.

I had a potential client some years ago. I went to his offices, had a good chat and explained my services and fees. He seemed ok with everything and even gave me some of his books and records to take away to start the work (before the days of computers). I received a phone call the next day to say that he had changed his mind and wall call round later to collect his records!!!

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Replying to SteveOH:
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By SXGuy
23rd Jan 2021 12:19

I did wonder if it was a phising exercise to see what my engagement letter said. I specifically make sure my engagement letters are worded to suit the individual and their requirements so if he thinks he's managed to steal it and apply it to all his own, he will come unstuck at some point.

But I'm not so sure now as if it were me doing the same I doubt I'd have made so much effort to let me know I don't wish to proceed, I'd probably have just left it once I got what I wanted. But you never know!

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By adam.arca
23rd Jan 2021 13:11

The bloke's retired, he's clearly got nothing better to do with his life than be a sad sack (says the gormless sod currently sat in his office)

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By Ken Howard
23rd Jan 2021 13:15

Once you've been in practice long enough, you can spot them a mile off.

Before electronic ID checks, the stumbling block was usually ID/Address proof. So many potential clients would go out of their way to avoid showing you what you've asked for. (And of course long term existing clients back in the day when ID checking was first brought in). However many times I'd remind them to bring it in, they'd "forget" time and time again. There was one clown who "forgot" so many times, I just asked him for a photocopy of his passport - he posted me a copy of the cover, not the photo/details page. That did it for me and I disengaged him. Life's too short for smart-a****s like that.

Another red flag are the ones paranoid about confidentiality, and those who have such a brilliant business idea they insist on a NDA before even the first meeting. I used to indulge them and sign their NDA (it was always a home made copy & paste pathetic attempt too, not a professional one tailored to them, so probably not enforceable). Then, when they finally tell you their idea, it's always something that's already being done, or an obvious non starter, yet they're deluded enough to think they're going to be the next Bill Gates!

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Replying to Ken Howard:
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By Mr Hankey
23rd Jan 2021 14:21

That's rather like some of the idiots on Dragons' Den.

Dragon: What is your business idea?
Idiot: Something stupid.

Dragon: What were your sales for the last year?
Idiot: £nil

Dragon: What was your profit for the last year?
Idiot: Huge loss.

Dragon: How many secured orders do you have in the pipeline?
Idiot: None.

Dragon: What is your valuation of your business?
Idiot: £100 million.

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Replying to Mr Hankey:
Melchett
By thestudyman
23rd Jan 2021 15:03

Mr Hankey wrote:

That's rather like some of the idiots on Dragons' Den.

Dragon: What is your business idea?
Idiot: Something stupid.

Dragon: What were your sales for the last year?
Idiot: £nil

Dragon: What was your profit for the last year?
Idiot: Huge loss.

Dragon: How many secured orders do you have in the pipeline?
Idiot: None.

Dragon: What is your valuation of your business?
Idiot: £100 million.

Well it worked (for a short while) in the Dot com boom did it not? VC firms paying millions to companies with 0 sales.

The difference now between companies then and unicorn companies now with crazy valuations is whilst still heavily loss-making, there are indeed sales.

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Replying to Ken Howard:
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By Mr_awol
25th Jan 2021 10:16

Ken Howard wrote:

Another red flag are the ones paranoid about confidentiality, and those who have such a brilliant business idea they insist on a NDA before even the first meeting. I used to indulge them and sign their NDA (it was always a home made copy & paste pathetic attempt too, not a professional one tailored to them, so probably not enforceable). Then, when they finally tell you their idea, it's always something that's already being done, or an obvious non starter, yet they're deluded enough to think they're going to be the next Bill Gates!

I largely agree - but i always remember that one client of mine who fell into that category and i took on expecting them to flop in no time. Fast forward a couple of years and not only were they still in business but they were paying £300k each year in Corp Tax.

Wish id stolen their 'crappy' idea now

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blue sheep
By Nigel Henshaw
23rd Jan 2021 16:21

Yes the longer you are in practice the more you realise there are some odd balls out there thats for sure, I have often thought about writing a book about some of the characters I have dealt with over the years

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Replying to NH:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
23rd Jan 2021 18:17

Please tell me you meant to say oddballs.

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Replying to I'msorryIhaven'taclue:
blue sheep
By Nigel Henshaw
23rd Jan 2021 18:39

I'msorryIhaven'taclue wrote:

Please tell me you meant to say oddballs.

Haha nice one, thats it right there the title for the book - Odd Balls

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Replying to NH:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
23rd Jan 2021 18:51

The perfect title, and a splendid example of many a true word being spoken in jest :)

I know I'm going to regret asking, but why the blue-sheep avatar ? Are you perchance Himalayan?

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Replying to I'msorryIhaven'taclue:
blue sheep
By Nigel Henshaw
23rd Jan 2021 21:05

Therein lies a tale, but no, I am more Icelandic in nature according my friends, well truth be told, friend.

The blue sheep is a wonderful creature being neither strictly blue nor a sheep I feel a kinship with the animal for a number of different reasons.

I have a somewhat ambiguous origin having been born and raised in Wales in a family that was not Welsh, although my grandmother was, I was neither one thing or the other and in many ways that has been the theme of my life.

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By Moonbeam
23rd Jan 2021 16:31

Super sales people advise qualifying out hard to begin with. Too many of us are trusting souls and waste far too much time on people who don't really want to sign up with us in the first place. That includes me.
So we should think of some questions to weed out the no hope cases early on, or use our antenae and assume that anyone coming last minute who registered late for VAT and whose SA return still hasn't been done is likely to want every service under the sun for 5p an hour.

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Replying to Moonbeam:
the sea otter
By memyself-eye
23rd Jan 2021 18:52

5p an hour?
I only charge 3p!
(I do loads of hours though)

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By Mr_awol
25th Jan 2021 10:11

Many years ago, when I was training, and had just been exposed to SAR auditing I moved house. The poor solicitor/conveyancer I chose, sent me his standard engagement letter and I returned it - having made a few amendments. Stuff where he'd put 'no interest will be payable on client monies held' i'd put 'except in accordance with the thresholds set out in the SRA client money rules' and stuff like that.

I thought I'd found a load of holes in his terms and had 'corrected' his LOE. He probably thought (quite rightly in hindsight) that I was being a bit of a [***].

A little bit of knowledge and all that.............

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
26th Jan 2021 12:06

Yes, quite often, but notwithstanding I still married her.

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By flightdeck
26th Jan 2021 12:47

Your engagement letter and "how it all works" is well known to you. Everything is obvious to you and moreover you know what is normal and not normal. The new client doesn't. Maybe he just felt overwhelmed?

I would take this as an opportunity to improve your engagement letter to make it simpler for people to understand e.g. the parts where you say he queried being responsible for his tax but you will file. If one person was confused then the next one might be too.

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Replying to flightdeck:
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By SXGuy
26th Jan 2021 13:31

Thank you for the offer but I'm pretty confident my engagement letter is sound and understandable.

And I've never had anyone question that part before. It was more so an assumption on my part as the question came after he received it and after we already spoke about it

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