Nothing in life is free, including tax adviceby
If dealing with the needs of clients was hard enough, fielding calls from those looking for free tax advice can be a nightmare for hard-pressed practitioners.
As the old adage goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. And while it can be nice to help those in need without requiring a fee, accountants are increasingly finding callers pushing their luck when it comes to accessing advice.
In a recent Any Answers post, user Alistair K had found themselves in just such a position, noting that they were dealing with an escalating number of callers who are not clients looking for tax advice that would normally incur a fee.
“You just know that no business is going to come from these,” Alistair said, adding they felt stuck dealing with these dead-end requests.
“I am caught between not bothering to respond to these inquiries, which does not give a good impression of the practice and maybe passing over the chance of a new client.”
Shutting them down
Receiving a raft of replies from their fellow Any Answers users, one theme that arose from the community was the importance of “separating the wheat from the chaff” when it came to picking out potential clients.
“I just say I’m at capacity at the moment and not looking to take new clients on,” user Leywood wrote, while ianthetaxman noted that although he was “happy to give a degree of free time” there were limits to their charity.
“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,” they continued.
AccountingWEB regular Mark Lee took a similar approach in his comment, adding “I studied long and hard to become an accountant and my time and advice are worth paying for.”
Other users went a step further, reminding their fellow accountants of the dangers of offering free advice to clients not on the books.
"Why even consider offering free consultations, particularly given you might end up being sued for the "advice" provided,” listerramjet wrote.
Push for the onboard
While there was widespread agreement on not offering specific or detailed advice for free, others saw the cold callers as potential clients if they played their cards right.
“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,” wrote user Barry Adams.
Kaylee100, while not giving advice on the phone, would use the opportunity to schedule a free hour with a potential client.
“I discussed their background, income and business and did the appropriate checks and talked around their problems and risks and offered a quote for formal advice.”
However, it seemed that most users gravitated towards AccountingWEB user mumpin’s comment, looking towards a different industry for inspiration.
“I used the services of a Motorbike Garage in Brentford some 30 years ago. They had a handwritten 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’”.
What are your thoughts on the 'free advice' debate? Do you have a cut-off point, a standard 'polite refusal' or just don't engage? Let us know in the comments section below.