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Working at clients' offices?

Client is insisting I only work from her office.

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Good afternoon,

I run my business from my home-based office. A client contacted me last year as she urgently needed her accounts as her previous accountant/agent had absconded with no word. She met with me at my office and was happy to work with me so I completed her Ltd Co accounts, secured her a mortgage, sorted VAT, payroll, PAYE/NIC and also staff contracts and other HR tasks - all from my office. She is now insisting that I only complete her work from her office which is 15 miles away. Additionally, the office is not the best - dark, very noisy as it is a dog grooming establishment on a farm and there are rats in the building!

I have expressed politely that I prefer to work from my office as before and I have sent her a list of imminent tasks that have to be completed for her business but she will not sanction me to do the work here. I am in the process of writing a letter to her - have you got any ideas as to how to word this, or have you come across this in your time?

Many thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Sarah

Replies (41)

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By Kevin Kavanagh
03rd Apr 2019 15:10

You're providing a service, you're not an employee. It may be worth first trying to establish exactly what the client's reasons are for this request, given that from what you say everything has worked smoothly in the past. Where you are providing say bookkeeping services it is sometimes more convenient to work from the client's, but in this case there doesn't seem much logic.

Perhaps she thinks you're charging too much and wants to see just how long everything takes! Whatever, it's your practice, and you must make it work for you.

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By Sarah_Dory
03rd Apr 2019 15:28

Thank you for replying Kevin. I feel now that I have sorted the entire mess she was left in (for which I was the bees knees and it took a lot of time - some of which I did not bill for and made her aware of this) that she now wants to treat me as an employee. I sense it is more about control than trust but I didn't bite the bullet and go self-employed to become ensconced in a workplace. It's a shame as I have enjoyed seeing my work help her secure her goals and it has been a regular income. I think I will just politely say in the letter that I work from my office and suggest she seeks a bookkeeper to work from her office. I will then offer my services for tax, filing, VAT etc. and leave it to her to accept or decline my offer.

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Replying to Sarah_Dory:
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By johnhemming
03rd Apr 2019 15:45

Another alternative is to offer two prices, one of which involves going to her office and the other of which involves working from home. You need to make the price of working in her office sufficiently higher to make you happy to do this.

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By Cheshire
03rd Apr 2019 15:58

If you go down John's route, also advise her that you will need to bill her for travel.

Add you cannot do the final accounts unless you are at home as your software is at home.

Failing that, just resign.

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Replying to Cheshire:
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By Sarah_Dory
03rd Apr 2019 16:02

Thanks Cheshire - I think I will just offer my services for tax, accounts preparation, filing etc but suggest she employs a part-time bookkeeper who will be cheaper an hour than I am. Up to her then if she wants to get someone new altogether.

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By Sarah_Dory
03rd Apr 2019 16:00

Thank you John - good suggestion. However, I feel that I really do not want to commit to working there so I guess I'm trying to find the best way to convey this. Ultimately, I have two new clients on board this week who are quite happy with my set-up here. Plus regular SA clients as year end approaching. Just chatting about it has cleared my thoughts -thank you both. Much appreciated.

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Replying to Sarah_Dory:
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By johnhemming
04th Apr 2019 09:42

There are, obviously, costs of travel, but also costs of travel time. For a 15 mile round trip it soon adds up.

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By andy.partridge
03rd Apr 2019 16:07

If you are charging on an hourly rate basis, I am with your client.

Hourly rates charged when you are not visible can be pure fantasy and, indeed, I have seen hours charged that were untrue just because they were at a level the client would probably accept.

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Replying to andy.partridge:
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By Sarah_Dory
03rd Apr 2019 16:17

Thanks for your response Andy. I have charged my services out at a lower hourly rate as the work was a real boost to my business last June and was a weekly, ongoing arrangement and I have gone over and above to ensure that everything was sorted and compliant (it was a mess!). Additionally, I provide a timesheet with my invoice that itemises my hours and tasks.

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Replying to Sarah_Dory:
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By andy.partridge
03rd Apr 2019 16:24

Nevertheless, you are asking the client to put a great deal of unnecessary trust in you. Why are you unable to do the work for a negotiated fixed fee?

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Replying to andy.partridge:
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By Sarah_Dory
03rd Apr 2019 16:35

I have never thought of offering a fixed fee before - thank you for that advice. However, it remains that I would be expected to work at her office and I am now adamant that this is not a route I wish to pursue. Thank you for your invaluable insight though. Much appreciated.

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Replying to Sarah_Dory:
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By andy.partridge
03rd Apr 2019 16:45

Before you do, could you not ask her why it’s so important to her and wouldn’t a fixed fee be a compromise that might work?

After all, she must like and appreciate you or you wouldn’t be in the frame for more work with her.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
03rd Apr 2019 16:26

If you don't offer the service, you dont offer it. Your business, your decision.

I was asked today but a "little old lady" client to come along to her Leaseholder's meeting (she lives in a posh set of flats) to take notes, and advise her. I had to politely decline. The fact she offered my full hourly rate, travel time and a "nice bonus" was not relevant in my eyes. Id not walk her dog or scrub her back in the bath either.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By andy.partridge
03rd Apr 2019 16:33

Seriously, you wouldn’t walk her dog or scrub her back? Some people are just weird.

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Replying to andy.partridge:
Tornado
By Tornado
03rd Apr 2019 16:50

I was once told by the wife of a client who was slow in paying his bill that she would pay it for him. I said I didn't mind who paid the cheque as long as it was paid.

After never receiving payment, it literally took me years to work out what she meant.

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Replying to Tornado:
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By andy.partridge
03rd Apr 2019 16:59

Sounds like you really didn’t handle things well there. Hope you’ve learned since.

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Replying to andy.partridge:
Tornado
By Tornado
03rd Apr 2019 17:21

Absolutely right, money up front next time.

I could, of course, amend my Letter of Engagement to include a wider range of ways to pay my bill, but I suspect my wife might veto this.

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Replying to Tornado:
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By andy.partridge
03rd Apr 2019 17:41

Nothing wrong with a good barter. On a separate matter, it’s reminded me of a client who arrived at the office when I had gone to the bathroom and came to find me.

She tried something vaguely similar with another professional which severely damaged his career and ended in a prison sentence for her husband.

Be careful, you never know where something seemingly innocuous might lead.

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Replying to andy.partridge:
RLI
By lionofludesch
04th Apr 2019 08:54

andy.partridge wrote:

Nothing wrong with a good barter. On a separate matter, it’s reminded me of a client who arrived at the office when I had gone to the bathroom and came to find me.

You were having a bath during office hours ?

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By andy.partridge
04th Apr 2019 09:35

You are from the North, aren’t you?

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By legerman
04th Apr 2019 14:42

andy.partridge wrote:

You are from the North, aren’t you?

He is, good old Yorkshire, but we call the the toilet a khazi, t'bathroom is where tha has a wash (pronounced wash not wosh) or a bath (pronounced bath not barth) :-)

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Replying to lionofludesch:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
04th Apr 2019 10:35

lionofludesch wrote:

You were having a bath during office hours ?

Andy works from home, Lion.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By Sarah_Dory
03rd Apr 2019 16:36

That made me smile - thank you! Point taken :)

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
04th Apr 2019 14:35

I'd walk her dog. I like walking dogs.

Unless it was one of those tiny yappy ones that seem to be perpetually angry at everything.

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By SteLacca
04th Apr 2019 16:01

Depending on what she looks like, I'll do the back scrub in the bath.

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By spilly
04th Apr 2019 08:45

What about telling her that you have developed an allergy to dogs? And that the antihistamine you need to control it prevents you from driving as it makes you sleepy.

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Replying to spilly:
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By andy.partridge
04th Apr 2019 08:51

Be straight with her. Absolutely no need for a shaggy dog story.

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Replying to andy.partridge:
By JCresswellTax
04th Apr 2019 09:23

Exactly, just tell her straight, make no bones about it.

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Replying to spilly:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
04th Apr 2019 10:30

spilly wrote:

What about telling her that you have developed an allergy to dogs? And that the antihistamine you need to control it prevents you from driving as it makes you sleepy.

That's the sort of excuse Basil Fawlty would make up. Are you by any chance from Torquay, Spilly?

OP, just say 'no' to your overbearing client. If you are determined to explain the rationale behind your decision, tell her you can't have the tail wagging the dog.

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By bernard michael
04th Apr 2019 09:32

In case you don't know the word is disengage

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Replying to bernard michael:
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By andy.partridge
04th Apr 2019 09:36

When you come out of the bathroom?

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By bernard michael
04th Apr 2019 14:43

Sounds like the perfect description of a Remainer MP

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By pauljohnston
09th Apr 2019 10:20

I understand your dilemma. This has been a nice bit of business and the income is handy.

I have been down this road before and it did not work because in my case I ended doing things whaich a sub-contract accountant would not do eg popping out to mail the post getting the lunchtime sandwiches and then having the end of month argument about why it took longer that the client had expected.

Fixed fee can be dangerous because you end up doing more than you anticipate. I add 20% to any figure I think of before saying the figure. In addition you must say exactly what you are going to do and also say what you are not quoting for, including getting the data by a certain date.

However just like a plumber people are happy with knowing how much. If you agree up front then make sure you have the caveat "anything else will be extra"

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Replying to pauljohnston:
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By Sarah_Dory
09th Apr 2019 11:21

Thank you for responding Paul. I have written my letter and simply said I cannot work at her offices (I have all her paperwork and files in my office btw). I have suggested she employs a bookkeeper who can work on site and offered my continued services for Co. Sec, VAT, Corp. Tax etc. I've left it in her court now - as you know, it's a busy time right now. Thank you everyone for your invaluable insights (inc. the slightly off-topic but nonetheless hilarious anecdotes!) :)

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By towat
09th Apr 2019 10:41

Some clients just don't like to let their paperwork out of their sight, just tell her that her offices don't meet minimum health and safety standards and/or as a sole practitioner you need to be available to all of your clients all of the time so cannot leave your office unattended.

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By David Gordon FCCA
09th Apr 2019 11:03

You want the client?
You work were the client asks.
It does not sound too bad.
One of the offices I worked in as a junior was on the the fourth floor under the attic. The partners kindly allowed us paraffin heaters.
How about a wholesale butcher where we were given a table just by where the carcasses were loaded and unloaded? Or a hotel dining room where each lunch time we were kicked out whilst the guests ate lunch, we never even got a free cup of coffee! Or, true story, a Stately Home were my colleague was chased by a naked drunk butler?
Just carefully explain to the client that working as he /she wants will affect the fee charged. This usually works.
Remember this client has suffered a bad accountant experience. You have to slowly rebuild trust.

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Replying to David Gordon FCCA:
Tornado
By Tornado
09th Apr 2019 11:37

"a Stately Home were my colleague was chased by a naked drunk butler?"

Note to self - Phone my insurer to confirm that I am covered for being chased by naked drunk butlers and perhaps also for the odd ghost or two.

I once had a client who had three 'Stately Homes', a Tudor House, an historic house near London and a Castle in Ireland. The Tudor House and the Castle were haunted ... or so he said ... but I never saw anything. It did keep the visitors flocking in, however.

Sadly, no naked butlers or maids.

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By David Gordon FCCA
09th Apr 2019 11:15

You would not walk the dog?
I tell every client if you pay my fees, providing it is not illegal or immoral, I will do whatever requested.
It is not that I am a prude, but I have noticed that once a professional adviser "Does what the client wants", the client has him or her by the short and curlies.
If, however, he/she wants to pay me £xxx per hour for walkies, why not? Standing on one's dignity does not pay Tesco bill.

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7om
By Tom 7000
09th Apr 2019 12:13

Yes we can do that..cost is double... that should cover it

Everything is possible. Some things just cost more than others

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By shrubbery
09th Apr 2019 13:13

I know you've written to the client now, but it's a useful lesson for future engagements. I think there is a distinct difference between being flexible and accommodating and allowing yourself to be pushed around by clients...the second earns you no respect. Polite but firm is the way to go, it's your practice, you set the tone regarding how you work. fwiw I think your suggestion that they get a local bookkeeper to work on site and you continue to provide the other services is a very well balanced response that should suit you both.

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Replying to shrubbery:
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By Sarah_Dory
09th Apr 2019 13:40

Thanks for replying shrubbery. Indeed, every day is a school day and a learning curve. Thanks for your words of support :)

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