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Saying NO to a time wasters

Saying NO to a time wasters

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I am just getting to the end of my first year as a sole practitioner and am starting to get a little overwhelmed by the work.I am up to 70 clients but not all are brilliant from a cost/benefit perspective.

On another thread about managing anger one poster mentioned customers from heaven and customers from hell and the need to minimise the latter. I am getting too many of the latter!

My time is getting cluttered up by people walking in and asking for advice and help where the work is clearly going to be messy, time consuming and most of them won't be able to afford a reasonable fee for the work.

I am trying to build a good reputation in my area so am trying to be as helpful as possible but alot of the work is eating into my time, energy and enthusiasm which is a concern

How do you handle and filter these types of clients in a way that gently pushes them away without causing offence and too negative an impression?

Should one just quote a full whack fee for the likely time involved and hope that encourages them to move on?

Does anyone have any tried and tested techniques for someone at my stage of building the business?

Replies (23)

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By cheekychappy
21st Mar 2015 10:56

If you know the job is going to take longer due to it being a mess, you should be quoting accordingly. You're running a business not a charity.

Highlight why it is costing them so much, and explain what they can to reduce the fees in year 2.

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By Moonbeam
21st Mar 2015 11:00

I feel for you!

I'm moving my practice to more of a tax one and less of a management accounts one. In my first few years changing over I tried to make sure I took on only bright sparks, but inevitably ended up doing tax returns for one or two rather poor people because I wasn't firm enough with myself.

Now when I get approached by this sort of person I tell them very kindly that my minimum charge is £500 plus VAT, and I think they can probably find someone else to do the work at a lower rate.

If someone with a real business comes to me and appears to want my services for 5p - I am sure you would agree they are easy to spot - I tell them early on that my minimum charge is a good £500 more than I know this type would be willing to pay.

So my advice is to draw up a clearly defined list of who you don't want, and who you do want. Think about initial discussions in the past and how soon you could have identified each category.

Also have a rule that no-one just wanders into your office without first having a quick discussion on the phone with you first so you can identify which category they're in. If you're on the High Street, tell these people you are about to go into a meeting, so could they call you later, at an agreed time. Let's face it - if you wanted to walk into your doctor's or dentist's surgery you could only make an appointment at best.

And if you are on the High street put a notice on your window such as "phone for an appointment".That will almost certainly sort the wheat from the chaff to some degree.


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By andy.partridge
21st Mar 2015 11:18

Refer them

You might know someone who is happy to take these clients on. Recommend them, as it will show you are being genuinely helpful to both parties.

If you are feeling mischievous you could recommend them to a local accountant you don't like. Oh, did I really say that?

From experience, I believe there is a strong correlation between those who walk in and would expect a meeting there and then, and the type of client you are not looking to attract.

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By JimH
21st Mar 2015 11:27

"Should one just quote a full whack fee for the likely time involved and hope that encourages them to move on?"

Edited - to acknowledge the excellent responses posted ahead of mine. Some great advice. Good luck!

Yes - time to change. Congratulations on growing your practice so that you can do without the C-grade clients. I too have been very welcoming in the first year. I now quote a reasonable fee, and stand my ground when they tell me they really want my practice but at the cut down price quoted by a firm in the next town.

I admit it helps working from home, as some can be filtered out even before meeting. No walk-ins; but plenty of email/phone enquiries. When or after meeting ask for sufficient sight of financial records before quoting. If they can't or are reluctant to provide it's a screening factor.

If you have walk-ins, ask them to make an appointment and advise what information they need to bring to it. Filter out those opportunists who believe new practice means cheap service if you no longer need any client at any cost.

For those you need to shift: with confidence, gently, professionally tell them how it is: where you incurred extra cost and why your fee needs to increase....substantially.

If you want to play the 'it's not you, it's me' card - not something I recommend - tell them you're developing your practice in a direction which you don't think fully meets their particular needs ...?

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By ShirleyM
21st Mar 2015 11:59

Same here ...

We quote a realistic fee, but then add that it would be so much cheaper if they did 'this and that' first. That way, they can see that you aren't expensive as you are giving them a cheaper alternative.

Some clients will pay a fairly high price just to get it sorted and done with, and look to being better prepared for the following year so they can get a lower fee.

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By anneaccountant
21st Mar 2015 12:45

I think the ones that are most difficult are the ones who come in who have clearly got themselves into a mess and don't have the money to pay a realistic price to sort things out and also the ones who have technically quite difficult situations which take a lot of time to research and I am torn between how much time I should deem as research because I am still learning and I don't know the answer and how much of my time I can reasonably charge for the eventual advice.

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By maz444
21st Mar 2015 12:50


Hi, after around two years in practice I became quite depressed with the work.  I figured that this was not necessarily about money but due to some clients making my job far more difficult than it needed to be.  I decided to make a list of the qualities that my ideal client should have, that is: providing documents within the time frame that I had set, showing me respect and appreciating what I do for them, paying my fee on time etc etc

I then listed the clients into three categories, those that fell into the ideal, those that probably would if directed correctly and then those that would never change.

I worked on the second category with pretty good results and requested those in the third category find someone else and explained why.  Amazingly some of the third category actually improved and stayed with me.

I still do this every so often and even check my ideal client list when approached by a new potential client.

Hope this helps




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By new2accts
21st Mar 2015 15:40

Price list
I too had this problem and I've now a typed price list for the fixed fees and any variable ones on the hourly rate, this weeds out the ones who don't want to pay going rate or try to haggle over fees.

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Replying to juicy lucy:
By andy.partridge
21st Mar 2015 15:43

It works

new2accts wrote:
I too had this problem and I've now a typed price list for the fixed fees and any variable ones on the hourly rate, this weeds out the ones who don't want to pay going rate or try to haggle over fees.

If it's written down like that it shows you are not trying it on and that everyone is treated equally.

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By arthurallan
21st Mar 2015 16:15

Great feedback thank you and very practical.

I have been loathe to have a standard price list but the more I think of it the more I think it is a good idea especially for walk ins and also as the practice develops and I will need to start to delegate quoting and that sort of thing.

Out of interest with bookkeeping how do accountants charge for this as it seems the trickiest thing to estimate a charge for; do accountants do it per transaction and if so what is a reasonable average per transaction? I am thinking possibly 90 seconds per transaction at 50p per transaction would be £20 per hour for bookkeeping; does that sound about right?

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By petersaxton
22nd Mar 2015 11:14

Not by transaction

I don't think you can make it a certain amount per transaction. There could be VAT issues. How easy is it to find supporting documents. You have to understand the information you will be working with and then quote. It will take time to get reasonably good at it.

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By Moonbeam
22nd Mar 2015 13:50


I quoted a fixed fee to a new client a few years ago, and in the first year I found that the work took lot more time than I had predicted and I had to write off about 20 hours.

I went back to them and stipulated a revised fee which was fine for the next year, but towards the end of that year the company started to grow as the economy picked up and again I had to write off another 20 hours and ask for more money. There was a new MD at this stage and it was a right old hassle upping my fees again. I may possibly lose this client after year end. I have a funny gut feeling that I can't explain... Had I dealt with the fees issue better our relationship would be better.

I have learned from this to some extent. I have just taken on a start up company who has assured me there won't be many transactions and I've quoted a fixed monthly fee, with the caveat that I will need to review if work significantly increases or decreases. The start up company is going to be much easier to deal with than the other company I mentioned. I just know from the very small size of company this is quite a safe option and there really won't be lots of complicated issues here.

My attitude now is that if a company with anything potentially time consuming like eg partially exempt VAT status or lots of cash transactions comes along I cannot quote a fixed fee immediately but would have to charge an hourly rate, or should perhaps think of a monthly fee and double it. I have some longstanding book-keeping/management accounts clients whose operations change so much every year I would struggle to find a fixed monthly fee to cover so many unknowns. I realise that clients prefer a fixed fee, but can't yet work out how to suit most of them and me with this option.



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By andy.partridge
23rd Mar 2015 12:07

Fixed fees

I guess you risk losing out with some, but equally you might win on others which softens the blow.

We have 3 categories of 'quality' of information, so if there is an improvement or deterioration in the client's bookkeeping we can adjust the fee accordingly. I suppose you could call it ' flexible fee' method rather than fixed or variable.

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By AE_
23rd Mar 2015 13:13

Everyone prefers to know where they stand, so fixed fees are always more attractive. We used to do something similar to what Andy has suggested above - we had a fixed fee (charged monthly in most cases) that we would only increase if the quality of the information we received fell, but we would also lower it if the quality went up. We also actively encouraged and trained capable clients/bookkeepers to do just that - and it was relatively successful. Sure, we lost some fees from that, but because we were spending less time sorting out records we were able to concentrate part of the business on expansion, and part on providing added-value and high-value work.

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By David Winch
24th Mar 2015 12:13

Get The Clients To Do It

As others have hinted, knowing the profile of your ideal client and the way in which ideal work with them progresses, you can make sure that any prospect is aware of what you do and don't tolerate.  Make these consistent messages throughout everything that is written and spoken.

Rather than telling the ones 'from hell' that they don't fit, phrase what you say in such a way that they tell themselves.  If some of them don't cotton on the first time, you may have to repeat yourself, but stand your ground.  Don't be shy about naming the elephants in the room.

If you tell them they're not your type of client, they might not believe you, but if they tell themselves, there's a stronger chance.

As a wise man once said, "People rarely disagree with their own opinions!"

But as a last resort, you might just have to tell them!

Personally, I don't advocate 'quoting to lose'.  You run the risk of them accepting your quote and then you're stuck with another client from hell.

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By tiercel55
24th Mar 2015 12:53

Surprised that you are "overwhelmed " with 70 clients. What type of client base do you have? I am a sole trader with around 270 clients and I mange perfectly well on my own with no staff. My client basis is a mixture of sole traders, partnerships and small limited companies. Still have time for my hobbies , holidays , theatre, cinema , eating out, acting as taxi driver for 6 grandchildren  etc etc

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Replying to Tax Dragon:
By arthurallan
24th Mar 2015 23:14


Crikey handling 270 clients on your own and still time to spare .. that must take some organisation.

My sense of being overwhelmed comes from still learning my trade and therefore still needing  to do lots of research for each enquiry and also the afore mentioned time wasters who do not really turn into proper regular clients.

Are there any particular systems and procedures that help you to be so incredibly productive? I am thinking with 270 clients with say an average fee of £500 thats £162,000  annual fees and a charge out rate of say £100 per hour is roughly 1,600 hours of chargeable work per annum; that is incredibly productive.

Do those numbers seem about right and how on earth do you do it? If I could learn your secret at this early stage of my business it could save me years of grief and stress!!

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By petersaxton
24th Mar 2015 13:17

Underwhelmed or overwhelmed

I have somewhere in between you two and I always seem to have too much work to do although I think I shouldn't!

I dream of getting most of my clients using online bookkeeping and reviewing their data every month and doing the remaining client's accounts and tax as the information arrives.

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24th Mar 2015 14:05

Just be objective about bad clients.....

...and ask yourself how much money would I want to make this client worth the time and trouble. Then simply quote that fee. Either you get enough money that compensates for the trouble, or the client walks away. Either way is good for you. Don't 'price to lose' if you really would not want the client at that price. Quote even higher instead.

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By petersaxton
25th Mar 2015 06:09


Arthur, numbers doesn't seem to be your strong point! £500 x 270 is £135,000.

If the charge out rate is £100 per hour then that's 1,350 chargeable hours.

Obviously you can work that out a simpler way: If the average fee is £500 and the charge out rate is £100 per hour then the average client chargeable hours is 5 hours which arrives at the 1,350 chargeable hours. That's about 28 hours per week if 4 weeks holidays are taken.

Besides two clients who only have employment income and/or bank interest received my clients range from a few who give me paperwork classified in envelopes, to most do spreadsheet accounts and a few with online bookkeeping. I'm hoping to transfer many of my spreadsheet clients to online bookkeeping starting 1 April 2015. I expect my spreadsheet clients to have reconciled the bank and trade debtors.

I charge my company accounts clients £500 plus £50 per hour for sorting out problems. This clients may take anything from 2 hours to 10 hours to prepare the accounts. I charge £100 extra for director's personal tax return and more for annual returns and VAT return. I'll charge my self employed clients an average of £300 for end of year work and that may take from 30 minutes to five hours. I have one solicitor client who sends me PDFs of everything and I do her bookkeeping and company accounts.

I also do monthly payroll for four clients and yearly payroll for another 30.

I use Digita software for accounts, tax, contacts and company secretarial. I keep track of my time and raise invoices using Excel. I also keep track of my work to do using Excel. I would love to do all that using Digita but presently I haven't had time to spend the time setting it up how I would like.

If you want to save time on practice management I would recommend Digita highly. Iris is another contender. They are both integrated.

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By timiambeing
25th Mar 2015 09:40

Start them paying!

All our clients are funnelled through a system that begins direct debit payments BEFORE we speak a word to them! Well that's not strictly true, lots of encouraging words are spoken that basically arrive at "yes we can help with that" and "yes that is all dealt with by our ???? plan" and once they stop asking questions (usually after the third question to which they get that stock answer) they ask how to 'sign-up' to the plan we have been talking about. At which point we point them to our website (and walk them through it if they are on the phone) where the plan is chosen the DD signed up for and an automatic email is sent requesting all the info we require.

It usually takes a week or so before the info comes back and by then the DD is set up and the first payment usually drawn - at which point, and only at that point, do we engage ourselves with the client. This may sound harsh, but last year we had far too many wasted hours working on behalf of potential clients who then simply disappeared or who finally emailed us to say they had found another accountant "close by" - meaning cheaper!

Don't worry if this puts potential clients off, you don't want those anyway! :)

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By arthurallan
26th Mar 2015 18:16

Ha Peter you are so right!

I had changed the average rate in my mind  to 600 per client (which is my average) but forgot to update the post! The danger of working in bed at 11pm!!

However really appreciate your feedback it puts a different but logical perspective on things. In the early days as you try to develop your strategy you listen to lots of voices and ideas and try to pick the best.

Thank you


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By petersaxton
26th Mar 2015 18:39


In the early days I think it's hard to get it right even after listen to lots of people. 

You just get it wrong and learn from it and eventually you are experienced!

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