Taking client entertainment seriously

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Philip Fisher
Columnist
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As accountants, we have a tendency to plan our lives and work meticulously, sometimes too much so. We do our damnedest to ensure that our practices employ the right people, have the right mix of work and keep existing clients happy, while taking every opportunity to expand.

One area that many of us often take lightly is client entertaining. In many ways, this is subsidiary to our primary purposes but its potential impact on the future prosperity of a firm make jollies an area that we should all treat almost as seriously as ticking and bashing.

It is a sad fact of life that few clients thank us for auditing their accounts, however good a job we might do. On the other hand, if you get the entertaining experience right they will remember you fondly forever. You might have fun too.

Even better, they will tell their friends about the wonderful accountant who got them a ticket at Wimbledon on the day that Andy Murray won a five-set thriller, attendance at Eric Clapton's latest farewell concert or, for those with big budgets, Cowes week. In every one of those cases, if they can also remember the food and copious quantities of drink, that will do no harm to the cause.

There is clearly a quid pro quo for providing this kind of entertainment. It is very literally a quid or rather lots of them, since none of these pledges comes cheap. These days it is also necessary to consider the ethical side of things as there may need to be limits on spend for individual clients.

My concern in this area is that far too many of us spend our busy lives cutting costs and the entertainment budget is a very obvious area to prune. However, if an accountant really believes that key clients will be delighted at the prospect of an evening at a "pub quiz" with greasy finger food, held in an office reception area, they should think again.

Rivals will probably be wining and dining your key clients at a swanky Gordon Ramsay restaurant which could ultimately mean that your £25 investment could easily cost the practice 5,000 times as much – and that is just on a single client.

Clearly, there is no point in wasting money, which it would be very easy to do. Just because you enjoy playing golf, going up in a hot air balloon or bungee jumping it does not mean that clients will appreciate the experience.

Ideally, you might consider sounding out the individuals involved or, if you are really canny, get your PA to speak to theirs. In that way, it should be possible to discover exactly what makes people tick and invest wisely. In the past, colleagues and I have struck really lucky for example on discovering that a client was a Wolves supporter.

Getting tickets for a big match in London proved to be relatively easy, far more so than if they had loved Manchester United. The lucky part of the deal was picking the day on which their favourites actually managed a heroic and unforgettable victory.

That client loves us, has recommended several friends to come and have a chat, and reminds me of the happy day every time that we meet. Oddly to those of us who spend our lives counting beans and believe in numbers above everything else. Had we given him a £10,000 reduction in fees, he wouldn't appreciate it as much in the longer term as this wisely invested £200 from the entertaining budget.

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