Fight the freebie: Accountants chat feesby
As one accountant battles with a client on chargeable training, the Any Answers community once again grapples with one of the profession’s age-old questions: “Why am I doing this for free?”
The perennial headache of scope creep is one that many a stressed accountant has faced in practice. As small gestures of goodwill quickly spiral into hours of unpaid work, it’s not surprising that practitioners can feel that their hard work is devalued by chancer clients.
Whether it’s a “minor” tax question, a “simple” mortgage certificate or (as user Bridgebl01 unfortunately discovered) the training of a client, practitioners can quickly find themselves out of pocket.
Fighting the freebies
Explaining their situation in a recent Any Answers post, Bridgebl01 went on to write how they have recently found themselves at odds with a client over the offering of training services after the client’s previous bookkeeper moved on at short notice.
“We provided hands-on training to the client and took multiple follow-up calls to make corrections. We have come to bill this time off but the client feels that it shouldn’t be charged and be treated as goodwill or included in his annual accountancy fee.”
Unsurprisingly, Bridgebl01’s post attracted significant attention from the Any Answers community, who once again lamented how accountants continue to find themselves in this awkward position.
“Unfortunately, your goodwill is being abused. Unless it was a trivial amount of time (which clearly it wasn’t) why should you do it for free?” wrote user David Ex, while fellow regular Steve Ha quipped that the poster should return the favour. “What does your client do? Ask for some of that for free, as a gesture of goodwill,” he wrote.
Interestingly, the thread also resurfaced the debate of monthly versus fixed fees, something that has been brought into sharper focus since the chaos of the pandemic, with user Donald MacKenzie arguing for the former in this particular case.
“This is an example of why fixed fees are not always the best way forwards,” MacKenzie wrote, while asking: “Why on earth should you do work, not included in your expected workload, without charging?
“My invoices to clients can go down or up in any given period. It depends on what I do for them,” MacKenzie concluded.
The engagement letter is key
While some sympathised with Bridgebl01’s plight, others used the post as an opportunity to again emphasise the importance of a watertight engagement letter.
“Suppose the person you have trained makes a mistake. Suppose that costs the client. Do they have a case against you? Maybe. And maybe you are not insured against any liability, because it’s not covered by your engagement,” wrote Any Answers regular Tax Dragon.
Member JRX went a step further, asking the original poster whether they had since updated their letter of engagement.
Standing your ground
However, for many, the crux of the issue focused chiefly on the client not valuing the time of the accountant, with some arguing that it might be time for the poster to revisit their contract.
“If the client doesn’t value your time and insists training should be free, I’d tell them to obtain their free training from elsewhere,” wrote Kevinringer. “Why should the accountant be expected to train clients’ staff free of charge?”
Robbie T took a similar approach, arguing that while this issue can be seen as a “learning opportunity”, it’s essential to “hold your ground” against clients looking for a freebie, even if that means cutting ties.
“If the client sticks to their guns, I’d be strongly hinting at a disengagement,” Robbie T explained.
How would you deal with such a client? Would you double down at the risk of losing the client? Or simply take the learning experience and revisit your fee pricing? Let us know in the comments below.