How to weed out time-wasters

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Practitioners are often faced with the difficulty of determining whether a prospect is genuine or simply trying to glean information for free. Rachael Power takes advice from AccountingWEB members on how to spot and avoid such situations.

Meeting a prospective client for the first time without knowing anything about them increases the likelihood of being stuck with a time-waster.

AccountingWEB member Moonbeam ran into this problem after spending an hour-and-a-half with an unknown prospect introduced by the potential client’s wife.

“He was very happy to take up what, in retrospect, was far too much of my time and as he left I realised I was at the start of a beauty parade,” she said.

After sending a follow-up an email to him, the prospect emailed back to say he was going to shop around.

In frustration Moonbeam asked other members in Any Answers, how do you avoid wasting your time with such prospects?

Register with AccountingWEB for free to read the rest of the article, which includes suggestions such as:

  • Set a time limit
  • Call ahead and show your wares
  • Customers’ rights
  • Beware recommendees

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About Rachael Power

Your friendly, neighbourhood community editor. 

Twitter: @rachpower10 


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By rawa363
09th Oct 2013 13:40

Weeding out prospects

In sales the weeding out process is called qualifying the prospect. In order to do it correctly you need to have a very clear understanding of the type of customer you want to work with. As an example your ideal customer maybe businesses with turnovers <£500K but > £2M. Maybe they are also service businesses, or manufacturing businesses. They must be managed by the owner. They must be no more than 5 miles from your office. You decide what the criteria are for you, there are many others. So the first thing is to filter by this criteria, if they don't fit don't waste you time seeing them. This will get rid of many who would just be wasting your time.

Next be up-front about your fees, let them know you are never going to be the lowest cost and if price is the main criteria they use to decide who to go with then suggest they go elsewhere.

My experience is people who come via your website are mainly price shoppers. So it's best if your website makes it clear you are not a budget accountant, unless of course that is the sector of the market you operate in.

You should then be left with prospects who maybe a good fit for you and you for them.

One problem accountants suffer from is they all look the same. Look at the websites of accountants in your area you could swap the names in most cases and wouldn't be able to tell the difference. That's what your prospects see, everybody looks the same. To be successful and not only attract the types of client you want you must differentiate yourself, show why you are different from the rest, if you don't how else do prospect decide who to choose? Price. there is no other way if everyone looks the same and appears to offer the same services. You must be different.

Thanks (2)
09th Oct 2013 15:04

all part of the game

All part of the game.

You have to kiss a few frogs.

Spot them in the meeting and draw meeting to a close. It's your choice too! Do you want them as a client probably not.

They can always take a little knowledge away with them and get someone else to cock[***] it up.

Thanks (0)
By norstar
09th Oct 2013 15:15

Only one got me...

Which was an audit prospect that involved traveling approx 25 miles to see them in Middlesex.

It only became apparent I'd been "got" when she revealed she didn't know where we were based and expressed surprise when I said Surrey.

Lesson learned here was that they weren't referred to us, so why would they choose an accountant/auditor so far away when others would be nearer and could be cold called. With hindsight, I should have asked why they were contacting me when others would be nearer. Might not have made a difference, but it might have done.

Turned out they were using us and another firm to low ball and get a discount from PWC!

Thanks (0)
By ds
10th Oct 2013 13:42

If I was choosing an accountant...

I would be somewhat put-off if he was keen to show me the door after 15mins. I would be shopping around to find one who could give as far as possible a personal service and wouldn't be too busy to "be in a meeting" when I needed to speak to him. Price is important and if the fees quoted were far above reasonable for the amount of work involved, then I would be looking elsewhere. This is all part of the purchasing process and needed with more competitors in the market place to find the wood from the chaff.

Thanks (0)
10th Oct 2013 13:59


ds wrote:

I would be somewhat put-off if he was keen to show me the door after 15mins. I would be shopping around to find one who could give as far as possible a personal service and wouldn't be too busy to "be in a meeting" when I needed to speak to him. Price is important and if the fees quoted were far above reasonable for the amount of work involved, then I would be looking elsewhere. This is all part of the purchasing process and needed with more competitors in the market place to find the wood from the chaff.

Then perhaps you would get the accountant you deserved

We are priced to get the job done correctly the savings exceed the fees on average by 3 to 6 times.

Recently we have been 6 times the fee of the previous accountant, the muddle the poor client was left with was appalling, luckily for him he was clever enough to realise he needed a good accountant not a cheap one.

Have just reviewed a ltd company client this morning we were nearly twice the ticket price but now we are left sorting the muddle from a firm that didn't have a clue.

If you buy on price alone you will get a rubbish accountant.

I would give you 15 minutes once I spotted you were a time waster, might even direct you down the road to the cheapest accountant and laugh.

Thanks (0)
By ds
10th Oct 2013 15:07

It seems to me ... don't like the idea of competition but it's a fact of life!

If you think prospective customers are just "time wasters" then it doesn't say much for your attitude to them. There are plenty of con-artists out there and as ever Caveat emptor applies. It pays to ask questions up front than be sorry later.

Recently I was ringing around for quotes for some building repair work, the companies with the big flashy one page ads in local directories were quoting silly prices of twice or more that the smaller established tradesman were asking. Impossible to see what extra the larger companies were providing. As for professional services, the extra fees seem to be paying for flashy town centre offices and the fleet of seven series BMW's parked outside.

Thanks (0)
10th Oct 2013 15:20

then you don't understand

Then You don't understand what you are buying and would never appreciate the level of service you are getting. So you are best off with the poor building Job and there are some shockers out there in cowboy land. Nearly as bad as rogue accountants.

Some people want the job done properly and those are the customers I want.

Why would I break my back on someone that can't be saved.

Thanks (0)
11th Oct 2013 04:21

Interesting Discussion Indeed


I would like to take this interesting discussion a mile ahead.

Every business has its own preferences and so we as an accountants do depending on size of the firm.

Initial Screening either over telephone or emails weeds out the time-waters or window shoppers at first place to a great extent.But this may not be the case always.

I have just signed up a new client who wasted my 4 hours of chargeable hours time in last 2 weeks.I was not happy at all when he refused to pay me for extra hours of consultation provided to him on top of initial free consultation of 30 minutes.Referring to Rachel's original post (he stated about his rights etc etc).However,after few days he called me and said he wanted to sign up.Once,he turned up and signed a contract at the price i offered him this made me think now that if those 4 hours of time have actually paid off in the end.But just imagine if this was not the case and he never turned up THEN..i would be a LOOSER.

So it depends really.I am a new starter so i do not really mind spending extra time with potential clients but others may do.

Sorry if someone do not agree.

Thanks (0)
11th Oct 2013 09:12

Set your own rules

Everyone will have a slightly different view on the topic. I think its important to set your own rules to decide who is or may be a time waster and how much time and effort you're prepared to spend on them.

I agree that those shopping purely based on price should be binned very early on, unless you can convince them that a higher quality rather than cheaper price service is a better approach - usually based on tax savings and doing things properly. 

Do what you're comfortable with.

I've been caught out in the past but I've also found that a few who initially appeared to be time wasters have actually turned into very good clients. It was just that they needed more reassurance, advice and support at the outset before they committed.

Thanks (0)
By ds
11th Oct 2013 18:23

Horses for Courses

By and large what you pay for but without healthy competition prices are going to increase regardless of the amount of work required. Accountants are in a good position to see the financial health of a company and may well add an "uplift" to the fee because they feel the client can afford it (wow they had a good year ) and justify it by some contrivence which is hard to challenge.

In my profession I am not in a position to do this to clients and they want delivered what they have agreed to pay for or they go elsewhere. I also have to tender for work and not all of those result in business and I do not get paid for tendering, they are lost hours and part of the business.

With the computerisation of accounting processes alot of the donkey work of preparing accounts has been automated and although specialist knowledge is important to over-see the process (garbage in = garbage out) this should reduce the over-heads of the business and make the cost to the customer less.

I had one accountant who I eventually sacked even though he radically increased his fees, his advice and explanations were very lacking in detail. I am responsible to submit accounts to Companies House and HMRC which I understand to be fair and true even though I didn't understand how he arrived at the figures and he wouldn't tell me how he got them.

Thanks (0)
12th Oct 2013 18:01

very difficult

It would take a great deal of explanation to explain the complexities of true and fair, and without the full back ground in accountancy you might not understand that explanation and so it goes on. Why?

I always try and explain but sometimes you are just digging a pit for yourself.

We would have no trouble in explaining where the figures came from but it would add a considerable time to the job if each and every detail was brought into question.

The important thing to do is appoint an adviser that you trust.

Coming back to price there is a price that the job can be done at and one that which you know the job can't be done for. The half price jobs are done by those that are either untrained and or don't have the practice experience. Takes at least ten years plus the exams to become any where near competent and the skills needed for small business are even greater.

You can get the job NOT done for half the price of what the market rate is for doing it properly . You need to be able to compare apples with apples.

How you know this when picking an accountant I do not know,  but if you pick on competitive price tendering you will almost certainly get a poor accountant.

In fact I would say use your granny she is free and will do as good a job.

My reply is usually we are the wrong firm for you. Mainly because they could never understand or appreciate what we do. When they have found out the hard way they might be ready.

I do see the issues regarding accountants billing according to wealth and I have never priced on that basis because I feel it would be unethical to do so. In fact I make a massive loss on helping my wealthy pensioner clients. But that's not good business is it.

My junior (graduate trainee) has just this week told me I have under valued the work on a fixed fee job because the records are a bloody mess and last years accounts are rubbish with all sorts of problems and our fees are a 54% increase on the previous accountants.

Every client will tell you they have done a good job of keeping their records and the quality and arithmetic levels can be at any level. Spreadsheets that are not even in columns and don't cross cast yet the client thinks they have done all the work for you. If they say it's all done for you I know I have a mess on my hands.

To really make a mess you could use sage or quick books where what the clients bookkeeper was thinking at the time has been lost in the mists of time. Perhaps why your accountant could not explain where the numbers came from? Many poor accountants just take the clients numbers and drop them into statutory format.

I does annoy me that the world sees us as expensive adding up machines and that book keeping is menial unskilled work. Unfortunately very few can do this basic building block and without it all your fancy tax planning and business decisions are flawed.

Thanks (0)