Waste of time enquiries

How do you deal with enquiries that you know you won't get any business from?

Didn't find your answer?

I am finding that the number of, usually phonecalls, that I am getting, from people who are not clients, asking tax questions, is increasing.  You just know that no business is going to come from these.  Just yesterday I had an enquiry from a man with a rental property who wanted to transfer a percentage of it to his wife and he wanted to know the stamp duty position.  When i enquired about filing his tax return for declaring the rental income, he replied that he did it himself, as it was simple!

I am caught between not bothering to respond to these enquires, which does not give a good impression of the pratice and may be passing over the chance of a new client, but mostly i know that they're just looking for some free advice.

How does everyone else deal with these situations? 

Replies (31)

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
30th Aug 2023 10:20

Hide behind something like

" ML checks would be required and my governing body requires an engagement letter to be in place before I can give this sort of advice. If you wish an appointment I could then duly engage you as a client and meet my firm's ML obligations etc"

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By Truthsayer
30th Aug 2023 10:30

When I get these enquiries I say yes, I can advise on this. Firstly I need to review your tax position in full, then give the appropriate advice. I can do this for a fee of etc etc. They almost never take up the offer.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
30th Aug 2023 10:39

Just don't engage with them too much. Ie just cut them down before they even get too deep into the question.

if they are after a freebie its "can I just ask you?" To which you can cut in quite quickly.
If they are willing to pay but worried how much, they normally start with "how much would you charge to...."
If they expect to pay and not too worried about price, will tend to talk more generally about your services and their issue but not expect answers.

"yes we can help you with that" is a good middle ground, followed by the "and we need to set you up as a client for the MLR, which is a bit of a faff but means our minimum fee for any work is X"

Generally I no longer act on any one offs as its too much hassle. I only take things on on a "and we act for you" basis, rather than a "you call me when you have a Q basis". When I was less busy I did have some "on the hour" clients who bought an hour or two of time, and we did "on the clock" questions but its not a great thing to do longer term for most practices.

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the sea otter
By memyself-eye
30th Aug 2023 11:38

I encourage them cos I'm retired and need someone to talk to (my wife gave up on that years ago..)
Tell them to 'hang on' while you look it up, then just put the phone aside, every two minutes or so get back to see if they are still there - they will be.
Make a cup of tea....then another - they'll still be waiting.
(works for me when the mother in law calls...)

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Replying to memyself-eye:
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By Brodders
08th Sep 2023 11:41

i would talk to you because you seem to have a good sense of humour!!!

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Replying to memyself-eye:
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By Brodders
08th Sep 2023 11:41

i would talk to you because you seem to have a good sense of humour!!!

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By Cat's whiskers
30th Aug 2023 11:45

Thanks for asking this as I'm getting similar. Some useful responses here.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
30th Aug 2023 11:55

One final point, it might be good to have on your website close to the contact info what your minimum fee is albeit phrase is positively, eg "We can act for you from just £250+VAT for a one off item of work"

Or funk off if you think we are giving tax advice for £50.

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By Dib
30th Aug 2023 12:55

I hand it over to one of the partners. ;o)

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By David Ex
30th Aug 2023 13:50

Alistair K wrote:

I am finding that the number of, usually phonecalls, that I am getting, from people who are not clients, asking tax questions, is increasing.  You just know that no business is going to come from these. 

You mean you don’t simply refer them to this site??!

Seems like sound advice from others.

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By David Ex
30th Aug 2023 13:50

Alistair K wrote:

I am finding that the number of, usually phonecalls, that I am getting, from people who are not clients, asking tax questions, is increasing.  You just know that no business is going to come from these. 

You mean you don’t simply refer them to this site??!

Seems like sound advice from others.

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Replying to David Ex:
By JCresswellTax
31st Aug 2023 10:16

You can say that again!

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By mumpin
30th Aug 2023 13:58

I used the services of a Motorbike Garage in Brentford some 30 years ago. They had a hand written sign on the door saying:

"The bloke who lends out his tools has gone on holiday and has taken the bloke who does little jobs with him"

Someone had scored out little and written "blow".

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Replying to mumpin:
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By Tom+Cross
30th Aug 2023 14:55

My daily dog walking pal has a stock phrase.

"Don't go looking for a fool, in the country. Take one of your own"

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By SXGuy
30th Aug 2023 16:06

I don't offer advisory services, but if you'd like to pay me x I'll calculate it for you..

I used to have a guy, who first called to enquire about cgt on crypto. Initially I advised based on his position, was simple. But then he'd keep ringing to ask questions, in the end I had to say, I'm sorry but if you wish to engage my services you can but I'm not step change.

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By bernard michael
31st Aug 2023 09:36

I say that I am busy at the moment but suggest they phone another local firm xxx & co. They are noted for always over charging and NEVER give free advice.
The call tends to end amicably

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By Leywood
31st Aug 2023 13:16

I just say I’m at capacity at the moment and not looking to take new clients on

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By More unearned luck
31st Aug 2023 14:19

If this post isn't a wind-up (man asking for free advice on how to deal with people asking for free advice), then my answer in Yiddish and Latin is :

Be a mensch.

Pro bono publico.

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Replying to More unearned luck:
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By HamishMackrell
01st Sep 2023 10:04

exactement! mon brave

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By ianthetaxman
01st Sep 2023 09:59

I find that within the first five minutes you can often tell whether the caller is looking for freebie advice or something substantial, and possibly a regular and more solid relationship with a tax advisor/accountant they can go forward with.

If it feels like a fishing expedition, I will throw in some ball park costs for aspects of the work, as this usually (but not always) sorts the wheat from the chaff, and you can get to end the call without too much effort if appropriate.

As others have indicated, I am happy to give a degree of free time, but try to steer away from anything that might been seen as 'detailed advice' until a quote is agreed and engagement paperwork is in place. After all, this is what we sell, and you wouldn't expect the (insert your favourite trade - butchers for me) to give you a free (insert your desired item/service - dozen sausages) from a call or email.

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By JamesDS
01st Sep 2023 10:51

I feel like I might have written this before :)
"Hello lovely new potential customer, we operate a menu-pricing system for these types of enquiries that allow us to comply with our legal obligations and you to receive the best possible advice. Your situation may not be as simple as it first appears, so it will be risky for your position with HMRC for me to make any recommendation on the basis of the limited information you've provided. I will be happy to advise you just as soon as you've accepted the terms in our engagement letter, and selected from our menu the service you desire. That way I can advise you properly, and you are covered by our insurance."

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By listerramjet
01st Sep 2023 10:54

why even consider offering free consultations, particularly given you might end up being sued for the "advice" provided. And remembering y0ur obligations under money laundering regs. Just be up front on the call. Advice comes at a cost!

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Replying to listerramjet:
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By Rgab1947
01st Sep 2023 14:59

Happened to me. Gave free advice (correct as it came to be known), he promptly did something else then sued on the advice.

Judge well versed in tax agreed with my advice and found against him. But it still cost me a penny.

Don't give free advice anymore. So now covered by PI.

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123 Sheets
By 123Sheets
01st Sep 2023 11:14

It sounds to me that the word has spread, that you are handing out free advice, I did have that problem on one occasion, when one prospect I met with told a friend who then called me who clearly didn't have a business that could afford, or didn't want to pay for an accountant. This was when I ran a pratice years ago, but quickly nipped it in the bud and gave them nothing.

For prospects, I never gave advice on the phone. The purpose of taking calls from prospects was purely to size them up, for no more than usually 15 mins, to see if its worth hauling them in to the office for a prospective client meeting. Asking them the nature of their business and turnover or employee number, plus what they are calling about usually is sufficient, perhaps along with a quick indication of fee range if appropriate, that is subject to a meeting.

Just say: " I'm afraid we don't offer free advice over the phone to non-clients, but I would imagine HMRC should be able to assist, that is why they have a helpline" (he! he!) You could also mention the Tax Aid helpline if they are financially struggling and need tax assistance. You don't need to try to pull the wool over their eyes about AML etc in my opinion, people understand that most accountants are not going to give out free advice from just a random phone call, so you can just tell them you don't offer free advice to non-clients without feeling bad.

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Replying to 123Sheets:
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By BrianL
01st Sep 2023 11:33

It says something about the high esteem in which correspondents to this site hold HMRC's Helpline that I got as far as 123Sheets' response before it was mentioned, and then tongue in cheek. Mr Harra take note - not that he will.

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By girlofwight
01st Sep 2023 17:38

I've found a simple and effective solution.

A £200+vat "Ask an Accountant" service.

Anything that comes in that is a tech question from a non client gets signposted there. The £200+vat gets them an email / phone call / zoom and a written follow up.

Caveats that may not be able to cover all scenarios in this fee, etc.

Works well - they either go away or pay :)

A surprising benefit is most of them have a little twist in the question somewhere, so it is a useful technical refresh to work them through.

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Mark Lee headshot 2023
By Mark Lee
01st Sep 2023 18:04

Plenty of accountants' websites imply they offer a free advice when they mean they offer a free initial consultation (with no advice until you become a client). So do check the wording on your site.

One tax consultant I know does give free advice to callers in the hope that they will come back as and when they have need of his services and would be willing to pay. I suggested he was being overly optimistic. I very much doubt the callers would remember his name, let alone how to find him again online at some unspecific future date.

Best approach - as indicated in earlier comments - is to interject when the caller stops for breath and say something like: Thanks so much for calling but I always prioritise my paying clients. I'd be happy to help you if you become a client. Is that likely or are you after free advice? I'm sorry but I studied long and hard to become an accountant and my time and advice are worth paying for.

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By Kaylee100
02nd Sep 2023 01:20

I used to say there's no straight answer to any tax question but I offer a free hours meeting to establish if I can help.

In free meetings I discussed their background, income and business and did the appropriate checks and talked around their problem and risks and offered a quote for formal advice.

If I thought they'd never be a client I'd suggest they call my secretary to make an appointment if interested. If I did, I'd try and nail a meeting time in the call.

I never gave advice in a phone call where I didn't know the whole story and they were an appropriately signed up client.

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By Kaylee100
02nd Sep 2023 01:20

Duplicate

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By Cylhia66
02nd Sep 2023 05:08

Yesterday I met a potential new client. Her income is mainly property income. Her question was: Can you show me how to prepare my tax return myself? Facepalm. Not a potential client then it turns out. Some people really have some nerves. Obviously I explained that no, that wouldn't be possible, that I don't have the capacity to teach people how to do my job.

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By Barry Adams
07th Sep 2023 10:03

Help them out if it’s not going to take long.

It can lead to referrals and reviews and certainly builds your reputation as a professional worth contacting.

I often told clients looking to engage us for something really simple how to do it themselves because of the high costs of client engagement.

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By Yossarian
07th Sep 2023 11:28

At least its a bonus if you are asked relevant tax/accounts questions. I had someone recently contact me to ask if I could find them a cheaper mortgage deal. I replied that no, that's not what I do at all. They then asked me about life assurance, er no I don't do that either. It transpired that they didn't really know what accountants actually do.

When I explained what sort of work I do they asked if they could employ their wife in order to save themselves tax. I asked them what they did for a living? Their answer, a PAYE employee working for a utility company. When I replied in the negative they launched into a rant about it not being fair they have to pay higher rate tax whilst their wife has no income. Well that's several minutes of my life I'm never getting back..

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