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Scrapping free initial consultations

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I've offered free initial consultations for new clients from the start, to begin with it worked well but recently I've had a high percentage of enquires from people wanting free advice with zero intention of paying for any services. The disruption and lost time is more of an issue now I am busier than I was when I first started.

Also looking at my best clients the majority never asked for a meeting and signed up after a quick email or call, they aren't demanding and quietly get on with it.

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By marks
30th Oct 2019 22:05

Really is a personal choice however as it is fairly standard that most accountants dont charge for the initial meeting then you might put off someone who is interested if it a choice of £100 for an initial meeting v someone who would do it for free.

Some things you might want to consider

1. Have an initial 15 minute call before any meeting to determine if the enquiry is a client you would like to work with. Have a discovery call script to work through.

2. Keep the meeting short. No longer than say 3o minutes and let them know before the meeting that this will be the case.

3. Send some pre work to the prospect before you meet them. So you can collect information ahead of the meeting to save you time collecting during the meeting. We dont meet them if they dont complete (if not completed a day before the meeting we call them to reschedule the meeting) as if they cant be bothered spending 10-15 minutes completing a discovery form they are probably not going to listen to what we say going forward.

4. Give a few pieces of value in the meeting but dont answer any specific queries they have. If they have specific queries (even if you know the answer) say "It would do an injustice for me to give you an unconsidered answer to that question. it requires some thought/reflection/research and happy to look into it if you wish our fee for it will be £xx

I tend to find that those prospects whose first question is "how much will it cost for....." are price shoppers and are just looking for the cheapest quote and there are others cheaper than us so not worth us or them wasting time on a meeting that is going to go nowhere.

However, the majority of business owners put value over price and it is these that you are looking to attract.

It always a cause of understanding what their problem they need sorting and then showing how you can sort it.

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Replying to marks:
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By Slim
31st Oct 2019 08:31

marks wrote:

Really is a personal choice however as it is fairly standard that most accountants dont charge for the initial meeting then you might put off someone who is interested if it a choice of £100 for an initial meeting v someone who would do it for free.

Some things you might want to consider

1. Have an initial 15 minute call before any meeting to determine if the enquiry is a client you would like to work with. Have a discovery call script to work through.

2. Keep the meeting short. No longer than say 3o minutes and let them know before the meeting that this will be the case.

3. Send some pre work to the prospect before you meet them. So you can collect information ahead of the meeting to save you time collecting during the meeting. We dont meet them if they dont complete (if not completed a day before the meeting we call them to reschedule the meeting) as if they cant be bothered spending 10-15 minutes completing a discovery form they are probably not going to listen to what we say going forward.

4. Give a few pieces of value in the meeting but dont answer any specific queries they have. If they have specific queries (even if you know the answer) say "It would do an injustice for me to give you an unconsidered answer to that question. it requires some thought/reflection/research and happy to look into it if you wish our fee for it will be £xx

I tend to find that those prospects whose first question is "how much will it cost for....." are price shoppers and are just looking for the cheapest quote and there are others cheaper than us so not worth us or them wasting time on a meeting that is going to go nowhere.

However, the majority of business owners put value over price and it is these that you are looking to attract.

It always a cause of understanding what their problem they need sorting and then showing how you can sort it.

Thank you for your great answer.

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Replying to Slim:
By Charlie Carne
01st Nov 2019 14:12

deleted

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Replying to marks:
By Red Leader
31st Oct 2019 11:51

Excellent answer.

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Replying to marks:
RedFive
By RedFive
02nd Nov 2019 09:04

Great advice. I do the others but not number 3, which I'm now going to adopt with immediate effect!

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Replying to marks:
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By sammerchant
03rd Nov 2019 13:18

I often find that the question "How long have you been with your present accountant?" is very helpful in deciding whether the prospect is a genuine one. I once had someone answer "Oh, about two years", so I asked him how long he had been with the one before him and got the same answer -"About two years". It was clear that the prospect was being given the heave-ho by the accountant and not as he made out.

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By Matrix
31st Oct 2019 07:15

Excellent advice from Mark, number 1 being key if you feel they are just after free advice. Lately most of my clients are onboarded without meeting but most are through word of mouth.

I would follow the above points rather than charge - I lost out recently to a new company since a competitor offered a free incorporation service (and I chose not to compete). So charging for the initial meeting would put you at a disadvantage. People love getting stuff for free.

Just be fussier with who you meet and watch out for the cold calls, I sign up most referrals after a phone call these days and have very few meetings.

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Replying to Matrix:
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By Slim
31st Oct 2019 09:01

Thanks matrix.

I really like the idea of using the 15min call to “screen” the client before a meeting.

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By Mr Hankey
31st Oct 2019 09:44

I have enough work, so I am now more choosey with what I decide to take on. I prefer an easy life, so if it's quick, easy and profitable then fine, but I try to weed out the pain-in-the-neck ones at an initial phone call before going further.

Tell tale signs which will result in a polite no:
1. They've been trading a new business for over a year and getting an accountant is an after-thought. Oh, and the deadline is next week.
2. What's the cheapest you can offer, because so-and-so has quoted £50.
3. Slagging the old accountant off too much. Because one day, that will be me!
4. They've been using QuickBooks.
5. If they haven't had a response to an email within 5 minutes, they email again to chase. And again 5 minutes later. And then telephone. And again.

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Replying to Mr Hankey:
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By memyself-eye
31st Oct 2019 10:32

You forgot number 6: They run a pub.......

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Replying to Mr Hankey:
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By SXGuy
31st Oct 2019 11:38

No 4 did make me chuckle.

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Replying to Mr Hankey:
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By CMPACDGDB
01st Nov 2019 10:52

I never hesitate to tell clients "Pay peanuts; get monkeys" and no problem if they become ex-clients!

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Replying to Mr Hankey:
By Charlie Carne
01st Nov 2019 14:22

Mr Hankey wrote:

Tell tale signs which will result in a polite no:
4. They've been using QuickBooks.


Is this your response to use of any cloud software or is your ire confined solely to QuickBooks and, if so, why?


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By Moonbeam
31st Oct 2019 16:58

Agree very much that it's a no to QB people!
I had an email the other day with the classic phrases "we've got a bit behind with our accounts" (and would like 4 years done asap) and "we've mixed up our personal bank accounts with our business account." "But it's mostly cash and quite straightforward".

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Replying to Moonbeam:
By Red Leader
31st Oct 2019 17:48

"This won't take you long."

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Replying to Red Leader:
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By Wanderer
31st Oct 2019 18:22

"This won't take you long ..... because I've done all the work for you."

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Replying to Wanderer:
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By brenbrady
01st Nov 2019 12:43

You beat me to it.

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Replying to Wanderer:
By Red Leader
01st Nov 2019 15:57

"Thank you very much, Mr Client, that's great. Oh, what's this debit in the share capital a/c?"

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7om
By Tom 7000
01st Nov 2019 11:54

Every meeting is a sales conference. If you cant sell them something you are missing a trick...

It also creates goodwill

Or Get them to give you a google review and like your FB twitter Linked in profies to assist in the network marketing

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By brenbrady
01st Nov 2019 12:46

If it's a referral from a client I generally meet them or have a 15 min call. For everyone else I tell then it's £100 consultation and if they become a client I'll give them a credit of £100 against their invoice.

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By Glenn Martin
01st Nov 2019 13:04

Marks has given a great response already, the only things I could add is always make sure the first meeting as your premises, as I find that shows commitment from the client.

I get a fair few enquiries through website which you 100% need to qualify at early stage as at least a third of google searchers are often low quality.

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Replying to Glennzy:
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By marks
02nd Nov 2019 07:17

Glennzy wrote:

Marks has given a great response already, the only things I could add is always make sure the first meeting as your premises, as I find that shows commitment from the client.

Agree with this, have the first meeting at your office as saves you travel time and as Glenn says shows commitment on prospects part.

However, as with all things sometimes this needs to be flexed.

Have a meeting with a prospect where asked them to either book a meeting at my office or online via Zoom in my diary booking system. They ended up booking a meeting at their office which is 50 miles away.

Normally would go back and ask them to change this however on their discovery form they have indicated their budget is £500 - £1k per month.

So in this case worth the 2-3 hour travel time there and back.

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Replying to marks:
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By Slim
02nd Nov 2019 11:49

Perhaps a cheeky ask, but the discovery form sounds like a great idea, I don’t suppose you would be happy to share more details?

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By Clinton Lee
01st Nov 2019 23:52

I work in corporate finance, but I have the same problem, and here's what I've done to eliminate the freebie & cheapo clients.

First, you need to know what I do. I match business owners (£5m t/o and above) with the right expertise to sell the business. It's a lot more involved than most people appreciate. I study the shareholders' exit goals, the type of deal that's going to be the best fit (MBO / IPO / trade sale / something else) and then I spent 20-30 hours taking them through a process to filter down from the 1000+ firms in the UK to the transaction advisory, boutique investment bank, Nomad or corporate finance firm best suited to them. And I give them various transaction related advice along the way.

So, of course, I get people contacting me to "just" get the the names of the best M&A firms to sell a tech business. Or the names of some private equity companies currently making acquisitions of facility management firms. Or, even better, "If I send you my accounts can you tell me how much my company is worth?"

I figured that people need to appreciate the amount of skill and knowledge required to provide the service they want. And then they need to realise you're the only candidate who can do the job, or you can do it better than anybody else.

So, you demonstrate your worth by

1. Not taking phone calls. I never pick up the phone unless it's a pre-arranged call! If they are contacting you out of the blue, they need to do it by email (or a form on your site). Then you can automate your reply and send them boilerplates. I'm not into all that sales "funnel" stuff when it comes to marketing. Operate a sales FILTER, not funnel. If you're too easy to get on the phone then you must be cheap.

2. Have your boilerplate replies include specific links to your website to pages or articles that demonstrate why you're not the average Joe Bloggs. Something along the lines of "dumb people choose the cheapest accountant. Smart people choose an accountant who can save them far more than what he's charging in fees". Not those words, obviously, but something along those lines. Add some social proof as well, with photos.

3. Make them jump through some hoops - get them to fill in a form to give you the kind of information you need. Why? Because you're selective. You do such a good job that you can pick and choose your clients and they need to demonstrate they are good enough for you. You use the data in the form to decide whether they'd make a good client. (And, yes, ask if they use QB! :))

When and if they qualify, it's time to talk. Give them two options - paying for the consultation by the hour and they can ask accountancy questions. Or not paying for the session and what you'll do is NOT talk about their business but about what you've done for other businesses. It's an opportunity to demonstrate how you've saved a client tax / got them out of a sticky situation / gave them advice that significantly increased the value of their company / whatever.

Then give the prospect a certain time to get back because you're only taking on a limited number of new clients this month. You are, after all, a busy practice and you are in high demand.

YMMV

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Replying to Clinton:
By Red Leader
02nd Nov 2019 13:07

Good post. My only disagreement is that in my experience, prospects who contact me by phone are warmer than those that do so by email.

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Replying to Red Leader:
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By johnhemming
02nd Nov 2019 13:19

There is an interesting point about the gradual change in the use of the phone. I also avoid unscheduled phone calls. There is a practical aspect in that I am often doing complex coding where any interruption can cause quite a bit of time to be wasted. However, with emails and other text systems available - which do not require all the parties to the phone call to be available at the same time - phone calls become a relatively much less efficient system. I think there is a form of generational issue where younger people are less inclined to make phone calls. However, if someone phones you that requires some time commitment from them as opposed to sending out an email to lots of people.

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Replying to johnhemming:
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By Clinton Lee
02nd Nov 2019 16:29

johnhemming wrote:
There is an interesting point about the gradual change in the use of the phone.

It's not about reluctance to use the phone. I'm happy to talk to people on the phone, but if they call and get straight through to you, that says something about your availability.

It a) doesn't reflect well on your value and b) creates expectations for the future.

And, yes, it's disruptive (though the marketing people will have a fit at any suggestion that a call from a prospective client is a disruption! :))

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Replying to Clinton:
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By johnhemming
02nd Nov 2019 18:29

Although there are people who are reluctant to use the phone. I am referring to what I think is a trend whereby people schedule calls rather than being available on demand.

I do this because time efficiency is a critical part of my business operation. Telephone tag can be a really inefficient use of time.

A lot, however, depends upon the commercial relationship. I do expect my stockbroker(s) to be available on demand when the market is open. (Many of my trades cannot really go through the normal automated systems).

However, I schedule conversations with my barrister.

If you are providing a high value service to a limited number of clients part of that will be availability on demand. However, if your business plan is not so high value then such services are not commercially practical.

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Replying to johnhemming:
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By Clinton Lee
02nd Nov 2019 19:43

You make a good point that, depending on the service, one might need to be available on demand. However, what you refer to is availability for *existing* clients not *prospective* clients.

You can be always available for the former but not the latter. The latter may be "prospective clients" but, OTOH, they may be just tyre kickers.

I disagree about the need for availability being more if it's a high value service to a limited number of clients. My average invoice is for several thousand pounds. I am not available on demand.

It's not just about value of service, it's also about time sensitivity. Placing trades on the market is time sensitive. Negotiating, as I do, a corporate finance firm's fees and terms for handling a business disposal isn't time sensitive in the same way, so though it's a high value service the client can't call me unless a call is booked.

I'll give a further example. Corporate finance and transaction advisory firms handling business disposals make six figure sums from each client but they are generally not available on demand.

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Replying to Clinton:
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By johnhemming
02nd Nov 2019 20:28

I don't disagree with anything you are saying. However, I think the role of the phone has changed and is different for younger people (I am 59) who are more used to using text based communication (email, WhatsApp, Telegram etc).

I think this carries forward into business as well and this sort of thing will continue to change.

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Replying to johnhemming:
By Red Leader
03rd Nov 2019 09:44

I hate it when clients email me to ask when they can phone me. Just pick up the bl00dy phone and let's get it done instead of playing email ping pong!

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Replying to Red Leader:
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By johnhemming
03rd Nov 2019 11:05

Which demonstrates that there are currently two business cultures on this particular issue. I think the making of appointments for phone calls is becoming more prevalent.

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Replying to Red Leader:
By Glenn Martin
03rd Nov 2019 15:34

I am with you on this Redleader I hate when people insist on you booking a phone call appointment with 15 minute slots, no one is that busy. Just call if they answer they answer if they dont leave a message its not difficult.

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Replying to Red Leader:
By Glenn Martin
03rd Nov 2019 15:35

I am with you on this Redleader I hate when people insist on you booking a phone call appointment with 15 minute slots, no one is that busy. Just call if they answer they answer if they dont leave a message its not difficult.

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By NewACA
02nd Nov 2019 08:31

I screen all my prospects before meeting too with a phone call.

For number 1 below, the phone call normally lasts about 1 min 26 seconds...

Here are a few I avoid:

1. Anyone whom is normally happy doing their own tax return, mysteriously wants an accountant the next year.

2.Most property rental tax returns.

2. Dentists, Doctors and Pharmacies etc;

3. Flat management companies;

4. Charities (almost always!);

5. New Ltd Co contractors - I am more established now, I don't need these anymore;

6. Not being fooled into a hard-life by the $$$ signs:

Businesses much larger than me (turnover in the several millions+ typically), but have opted for a micro practice so they can squash the living life out of you because they know they are probably your biggest client. You end up getting low profitable work with high pressure and they divert your attention away from smaller profitable clients that will make you richer and more happier.

Its interesting how much of the rubbish leads I get somehow expect me to find them another accountant, "oh, can you recommend someone else to me then?"

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Replying to NewACA:
By Red Leader
02nd Nov 2019 13:09

I agree with your list, except 1 (own TR) & 2 (BTL). I've taken these on and not found any problems. Interested to her what went wrong for you when you took these on.

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By indomitable
03rd Nov 2019 16:18

If you are in business you have to offer a discussion prior to any prospect deciding whether they want to engage you or not.

How would you feel if you were to try and engage a lawyer and they wanted to charge for your first meeting with them.

Having said that you do not need to meet them in person to decide whether a face to face meeting is appropriate.

As has been said have a 10-15 minute discovery telephone call, provide them with your indicative costs (if unsure err on the side of caution, but if you are experienced you should roughly know what your quote will be). Provide them with a quote via email.

If they are happy with the quote then you can meet, but generally it's a done deal already.

Don't engage in price reductions or any sort of specific advice

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Replying to indomitable:
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By Clinton Lee
04th Nov 2019 08:55

indomitable wrote:

If you are in business you have to offer a discussion prior to any prospect deciding whether they want to engage you or not.

Why? Is that some sort of legal requirement?

indomitable wrote:

How would you feel if you were to try and engage a lawyer and they wanted to charge for your first meeting with them.

Er, they do. The last time I hired counsel (direct access barrister) they charged £500 for the initial meeting. And the meeting was for them to get the information they needed to decide whether they'd take my case on or not! They could have turned me down after that meeting and I'd have lost £500.

They all do that. £500 for an initial consultation is on the low side. Some direct access barristers charge more. It's not different for solicitors. The good ones will charge you £150-£300 for an initial phone conversation!

Do things for free / cheap and you're effectively teaching people how to treat you!

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Caroline
By accountantccole
05th Nov 2019 12:15

Brilliant thread - just set up a standard email to request info from Prospects, I normally ask up front for more info before a call but always type from scratch!

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
08th Nov 2019 09:08

Some great advice on this thread. Coincidentally I addressed this point in my Magic of Success email this week:

Debunked: That free initial meeting
Long before the advent of 'fake news' I was debunking hype, myths and misconceptions to help accountants avoid fads and common mistakes.

If you ask a group of accountants if they offer a free initial meeting to prospective clients - the answer is invariably 'yes'.

"Everyone does it", "People expect it", "It shows our desire to invest in a new client"

Yes, yes, yes. I know. I've heard it many times before.

The problem is how few accountants limit the length of such meetings and how much free advice they give away unnecessarily.

Offering strangers a standard one hour free meeting is traditional but may actually be a BAD idea.

Tips and tricks: Think about how long you need to spend in a meeting before you know that YOU want them as a client and that THEY will agree to your fees and terms.

Plan your free initial meetings so that you can gather the information you need asap - beforehand if possible. You'll waste less time if you pre-qualify prospects on the phone before you decide whether or not to meet for a free initial meeting.

And stop thinking you need to give free advice to strangers. When clients haven't paid for initial advice they are hardly likely to value (and pay for) the advice you give them later.

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