The most stupid things accountants do

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Mark Lee interviews Marcus Cauchi who shares some robust but very constructive advice based on his experience of accountants.

The last time the pair spoke about accountants, Cauchi debunked the common perception that it’s all about the money.

He explained that this belief encourages accountants to behave as if they are providers of a commodity. By projecting this belief clients pick up on it and react accordingly. 

ML: I know you have some other distinct views that should be of interest to accountants. Where shall we start?

MC: Accountants seem to believe that they can't put up their fees without upsetting clients so they soldier on at the same rate for years, even when they've allowed the client work to creep and grow.

ML: I get the impression that some accountants...

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About Mark Lee

Mark Lee works almost exclusively with savvy sole practitioners who want more out of their practice.  More clients, more money, more time, more satisfaction - or everything!

An accountant by profession, Mark moved away from the provision of professional advice in 2006.   He is now a professional speaker, mentor, facilitator, author and debunker.

Mark Lee is a realist and regularly debunks myths and hype related to his areas of interest and expertise.  His keynote talk for audiences of accountants is How to STAND OUT and be more than 'just another accountant'.

Mark is passionate about helping accountants generally so is a keen blogger and commentator in the accounting and tax press. He is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and has written hudnreds of articles here that have been viewed over a million times.

Check out how he could help you here:

Mark stopped giving tax advice himself despite being a past Chairman of the Chartered Accountants’ Tax Faculty. He is however Chairman of the Tax Advice Network - the UK's highest ranked lead generation website for tax advisers and accountants. The network also publishes a weekly practical tax update for accountants in general practice and full tax support, on demand too.  You can also use it as a lead generation resource for local people seeking tax advice from an accountant.

Mark has extensive network reach through his blogs, talks, social media activity, articles and his regular newsletters that go to thousands of accountants every week.


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By seitler
12th Sep 2013 22:33

its all very well

to say ditch your D list clients. Thats Ok when you have lots of A, B and C clients. And yes today we might. But what happens if some of the good quality clients leave/go out of bisuness/die/relocate etc . You'll be glad of those D list clients to keep you in business. They may also be useful to fill the gaps in the potentially quiter months of Feb Or March

Thanks (2)
17th Sep 2013 22:50

Profit for sanity; revenue for vanity
Really? Do you really believe what you write? Use the time D-listers steal from you to find more A and B clients.

I used to think like you and it made me poor, overworked and meant I missed my kids growing up but I felt pious having sacrificed my time for clients who treated my service like a cost centre and didn't care one iota about my needs as a business or a person.

No I wasn't glad of my D-listers when I got fired by my A and B- listers. They kept me down and perhaps I should have out a bullet invite business and stared again.

Do the maths again. There's an error in your calculation I fear.

Thanks (3)
13th Sep 2013 00:58

I think those are the B and C-list clients
Almost by definition you would never be pleased to only have D-list clients.


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13th Sep 2013 14:14

The bottom quartile is always the bottom quartile

There can always be a D list - the lowest quartile clients by profitability (or perhaps revenue). Making it less harsh, you might pick the lowest ten per cent each year and have an open conversation with them about whether your relationship is working for you both. A tiny account with barely profitable fees is never going to feed your kids, even if everyone else has sacked you... whereas the time you spend on that account diverted to higher-margin work with a bigger client... Heck, you're accountants. You do the maths.

Thanks (4)
18th Sep 2013 05:12

Fair point
If you want to take a more serene approach this makes sense.

The fact is if you hang on to clients who lose you money you'll lose your shirt. Most accountants as with many mother business owners or executives, don't really value their own time or ecpertise as much as they they do.

My tax specialist client is up 200% this year mostly by just charging for the hours he delivers and not judging whether it's "fair" or whether the client will mind paying it.

Fair? Fair? These are people trying to dodge (avoid) tax and have earned enough to consider paying a professional to help them stay out if jail or taking a hefty fine. Fair my ask no questions and I'll tell no lies!

Thanks (1)
17th Sep 2013 12:56

The most stupid things accountants do

This is a very infrormative site but whoever posted this has no knowledge of an accountant's client base at all. This sounds like an injury lawyer's post at best and a very insulting headline to start it!

You want a client for one year then yeah ok just get them in and out of the door as quick as possible. I'd rather have one for 20 years and look after them and give them what they are paying for. They are the clients that appreciate you and spread the word.






Thanks (3)
17th Sep 2013 23:00

How long exactly should you wait to make a profit?
Discounting by 10-30%
Overservice by 20-40% and fail to recover
Fail to up the fees in line with your losses of rate card
Dress up being "professiona"l for not liking selling & being reactive with a scarcity mentality.

Recipe for a moribund practice

Set expectations about service, value, timeliness on both sides up front and enforce them and you have a thriving business that pays you well.

Look at the range of accountants out there in THE REAL WORLD.

Most scrape by, don't ever grow beyond a parochial practice. A few drive Adtons, holiday 13 weeks in the year, play golf, see their families and have a wail of a time.

Hanging on to bad, unprofitable clients sounds like wearing a millstone around your neck for 20 years. I refer you back to the title in case it got past your radar!

Don't and you work long hours

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17th Sep 2013 12:57

There is nothing new here

I'm not sure where consultants get off insulting their potential clients.

Can't tell you how many times I've been told I can't sell; don't know how to price, nor chose or manage my clients.

There seems to be a world of consultants and coaches who believe we need to be challenged.  Personally, I find running a small business looking after other business owners is challenging enough without being haranged too.

Wouldn't it be great to get advice from someone who you felt was supportive and helped with the implementation rather than sitting back and being critical and wasn't in it to make a quick buck for themselves due to your desperation.


Thanks (7)
17th Sep 2013 23:15

"Make a quick buck due to your desperation" means?
I don't understand Carole. What did you mean by this?

Perhaps it's me being slow witted as I often am. How did you get to be "desperate" if it wasn't by running your business badly?

If I came in and told clients who behave as I described in the interview that it'd be alright if they keep doing what they're doing that got them into the hole, that would be MALPRACTICE nts to buy bad business, keep it and act as if that makes any business sense whatsoever. I am sorry you're offended but how do I tell you doing bad things for your business and work life balance is bad for you when you seem closed to the idea of maximising your profits, maximising your family and leisure time and working with clients who value and Kay fairly for your service, experience and expert advice.

It sounds from the tone if your email that selling at premium for a superb service if anathema to you. But like I said, I'm a bit slow and probably misunderstood what you're saying. Help me understand please!

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17th Sep 2013 13:18


If you do the same thing over and over again nothing changes.  For those who worry about poor paying, unprofitable clients that don't provide a good work/life balance and a reasonable income for themselves and are content with that, don't do anything and it will always be so.  If you want more income and spend more time with the family then this article gives some good ideas.                                                                                                                                                 If you want more D clients call me I have some  

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17th Sep 2013 23:22

The voice of sanity and reason Steve!
Seems by the comments I've ruffled some feathers. I'm shocked but not surprised by the reactions. Hand on your D-listers to any of the commentators above! They'll take them and be thankful for the revenue.

As baby accountants on mother's knee do most get taught that it's rude to talk about money and making a lot of money is a sin against God, man and all that is good!??

Thanks for seeing what any other business owner who intends to thrive and grow takes for granted.

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18th Sep 2013 12:20

It is certainly not a sin!

Marcus Cauchi wrote:
As baby accountants on mother's knee do most get taught that it's rude to talk about money and making a lot of money is a sin against God, man and all that is good!??

No - I believe that most of us are initially uncomfortable talking about fees with clients when we first start out and some of us never change, BUT......... once you get over that, it makes for a much better relationship with clients.

Over the years I have learnt to be completely open and upfront with clients about fees - whether discussing future fees or chasing up for outstanding fees. It is a bit like discussing sex[***] with one's children; if you aren't embarrassed, then neither are they.

At ALL initial meeting with new clients I raise the question of fees, give them a quote and ask them if they are happy with it. Often, the relief on their faces is astonishing.

Why be embarassed? If we were not getting paid for what we do, we wouldn't do it. That doesn't mean that we don't or can't enjoy what we do but being paid is a major part of it. Why be so prissy about it?

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17th Sep 2013 13:18

Agreed - There is indeed nothing new here.

But it is surprising that it seems to need to be repeated over and over and over again.

Good luck to Marcus - if he can make money by accountants paying him to tell them the bleeding obvious - good for him!

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By 68fw
17th Sep 2013 14:38

agreed nuthin' new here...

Generally agree with your view...  but acknowledge it provoked my response.

As always, I'm still left asking "WHERE'S THE BEEF" like the morbidly obese man (that I am) who's been fed a vegetarian burger and a lettuce leaf by his thin wife, after a hard day's work :-(

I continue to search for a consultant/marketing person who can provide a track record of affordable and measurable results... and as every one knows... it ain't here.

Come across one lately?


Thanks (2)
17th Sep 2013 23:41

As a man of 5'7" and the right weight for a man of 15'3"....
I'm not sure I can help you but I routinely help clients grow by 200%, 400%, 1000% and I have over 490 testimonials to back up my claims that I help businesses turnaround, grow and exit. I focus on selling. If you want marketing advice where similar and even better results are routine contact the inimitable Fraser Hay on or

This interview was about the obvious. Look at how many comments wee offended yet describe the effects of living with the decision to stay poor and sacrifice your family so you can be liked by people who disrespect your time and don't value you or your expert advice.

I pick up the fallout when accountants don't tell the kind but tough truth to their clients.

People buy from me, and probably you, because you're a safe pair off hands and you offer leadership and reliability.

If you let people hit their head against a wall and drive their business into the ground, surely you're doing them a massive disservice, aren't you?

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17th Sep 2013 23:29

Nigel I agree it is obvious but why do most accountants do these
I was with a big 4 client yesterday and they complain of all the issues I describe. On Friday I was chatting to the managing partner of another client of a successful 14 partner firm and he was complaining about exactly these issues. Last week talking to a 2 partner firm and sure enough these obvious points reared their head.

I tell people my job is to show them the obvious!

"If your foot is hurting you are probably standing on your own toe!"

I can also advise on the not so obvious but let's deal with the really harmful acts of self sabotage first else it's like putting lipstick on a pig!

Thanks (3)
17th Sep 2013 17:48

Tend to agree with every word except...

ditching the Ds...


Put their fees up...

half will go and you'll have half as many and the same fee income and be happy to do em.


Dear sirs


I have reviewed the level of work we undertook on your tax return for last year. To maintain the same quality of service this year our fees will be £double.


We are now able to complete your return, please let me have the information before 30 November. As you know the return needs to be in by 31 January. For any returns we receive in December there is an additional 10% surcharge and 20% in January to cover the additional cost of dealing with this at the last minute


I trust the wife and kids are well


I remain yours...etc


I did something similar when RTI came in I lost 5/849 and fees went up by 87k p.a. forever


Hello Aston Martin ;)

Thanks (3)
17th Sep 2013 23:54

Absolutely put up prices to (very) profitable levels and firec.
Tom you're right. Raise your prices first. Useful spreadsheet produced by a savvy accountant who understands money and how to make it under the video here

I'm surprised only by the extent of money allergies I've read in these commebts! Sounds like you don't suffer from it which makes you the kind of accountant who'd thrive not scrape by on weavil infested rations! Good luck to you sir!

Thanks (2)
17th Sep 2013 17:52


Steve and everyone else...


Send me alll your D clients...I have a cunning plan...Ill add them to the 2224 I have left

Thanks (3)
18th Sep 2013 05:49

I am sorry
I caused offence to a few of you. I am sorry some of you don't like hearing the truth. And I'm sorry I resorted to telling the obvious because it seems to me so many accountants are still making basic errors I. Running their own business.


You really aren't going to like what I have to say now but I will say it anyway.

If you're offended by the themes in this piece because it hits a sore apot and you are being described by it, and you'd orefer the measage was gentler, you are probably getting what you deserve!

You should NEVER advise a business. By all means make your living in the commodity end of audits and annual accounts but don't ever complain about being over stretched or working so hard for scant reward.

No one brings me in to be their chum. I would be fired in a blink if people thought I was peddling pablum and putting a sticking plaster on their businesses cankers. They bring me in to drive results which I do.

I always tell them it's going to be a painful experience, it requires failure and disappointment along the way, you will be impatient for faster results and having to slow the sale down to speed the sale up will be a painful experience in frustration. Those who heed my advice routinely see average order values rise by 40-100%. They see average sales cycle drop by between 50-400%. They see average order frequencies rise by 20-100%. Their targeted referrals per client rise from an average of 0.something to 1, 2, 3, 5 or even 8+ per client per client. Lifetime customer value is up so they can spend more time on their better clients really helping them, studying to be better accountants or more specialist knowhow, or finding better clients.

Hiding from the truth is not what I do and I don't let my clients donut either. I hold up the ugly mirror and if you don't like the reflection you've self selected yourself out as my prospect bi can't an wont waste time helping you.

My clients flinch when they are their reflection nog course they do but they have the courage and resolve to work through the initial pain and discomfort because the prize of a profitable, predictable practice with a constantly full Sales pipeline is a dream worth suffering for in the short term.

If you want a friend who makes you feel warm inside buy a puppy or join the Red Cross. I'm definitely not your man.

But if you want to get better at selling (call it what it is) and get over yourself (marketing is what sales used to be called before te Christians got involved!) then maybe I can help you.

It's never easy. It usually painful for te first few months. And getting past all those hang ups your mother (or father) taught you about selling, about talking about money, about negotiating, about making decisions, about getting others to make decisions is tough.

Most of you will hate working with me. My market is the 3% who are serious as a heart attack about taking control over their practice, their clients and their income.

I didn't write this with Mark for the 97%. I wrote it to help those in my target market rip the scales from their eyes and see the grim truth in their situation and offer ten hope there's someone out there who can and will help them get out of their own way.

Interestingly many more accountants have started following me on Twitter and subscribed to our newsletter and seen our video sales tips and connected on LinkedIn or through my chamber activities. Of course some are put off by my charming personality when we actually speak but the 3% who do what I teach (the bleeding obvious in most cases) prosper.

So again, I'm truly sorry for offending some if you. If I'm invited back, may I humbly suggest you don't read what I write because I'll be hitting similar themes with the same tone.

Today and tomorrow I'm teaching people how to give and get excellent, qualified referrals, predictably. That requires you to be tough to prevent your time being wasted. Even that central and crucial message causes offence because of the scarcity mentality people in business have. And remember accountants suffer fronted same problems your clues do ... Only you really ought to know better and tell your clients why they are doing a bad jobbin their business if you want to be trusted advisors. If you really cared about them shouldn't you tell them the truth?

Thanks (3)
18th Sep 2013 08:47

What a builder can teach us.

Along the same theme as Marcus is on we can learn a lot from a builder. Just had some work done in house. Fully itemised quote prior to instructing him to do the job and all extras quoted for before he did, written on a sheet and signed by him and me. Once job complete he billed original quote plus agreed price for all extras. Everyone happy.

Thanks (3)
21st Sep 2013 18:11

On the money North East Accountant

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20th Sep 2013 14:03

Steve Pipe's big brother

Wow, Marcus has hit a nerve here. Blunt as a brick - good stuff! I've enjoyed reading these comments:)

An awful lot of truth here and some of its uncomfortable reading as I read some of the traits I'm guilty of.

My excuse - I've only been doing this for myself for just over 2 years and I am getting better.

Crap clients - I'm either avoiding new one's, converting them or ditching the one's who can't be converted.

Keep it coming Marcus I've enjoyed reading this and watching your videos.


Thanks (1)
21st Sep 2013 13:09

I love working with accountants. We get great results by stopping doing the daft and begin doing the effective and FAIR behaviours.

Most of you have families who hardly see you in Dec-Jan. you're pushed to the limit by unreasonable and shoddy client behaviours. And you want to help people but ironically so many of you struggle to get paid for the real value you deliver to your clients.

Much of my work revolves around helping my clients to neutralise their money allergies and self concept roadblocks when it comes to understanding your rights when you're selling and how to have tough conversations with clients who aren't playing fair.

What you say no to is often more important than what you say yes to.

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21st Sep 2013 13:33

Most of you have families who hardly see you in Dec-Jan.

This seems to be the case but for the life of me, I cannot see why. Educating one's clients is the key to a quiet and productive life.

OK if you are going to charge double or triple fees for busting a gut to file on time, then it might be worth it, but to do it for the same fee is simply insane. Akin to running your practice with all D clients!

My way is to tell anyone who brings in their books that late that it is highly unlikely that I will file on time and they will get fined but that there is a sporting chance I might get it in on time! When and if I do file on time, it means lots of brownie points and they usually improve next year.

I have only lost two clients because of this, both who brought in their stuff two weeks before the end of January and just assumed I would do it (when they had ten months and couldn't be arsed!!!) - very worthwhile, considering it removes all pressure.

Thanks (2)
21st Sep 2013 18:14

Great points Nigel
Thank you

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21st Sep 2013 14:44

Great stuff Marcus

As an owner of an accountancy firm and an accountants support firm I would think I was better placed than some to be fully on board with this topic already however I learned a couple of thinks from the original and subsequent posts form you so fair play.

Your point regarding fees staying at same level despite scope creep is valid, and this is before you take inflation and additional burden into account.  I think it was Tom who raised a valid point re RTI - how many accountants have absorbed this additional service into existing fee levels?

Re January being stressful, as long as clients are allowed, or not price incentivised to stop, they will continue to create a last minute bottleneck resulting in increased pressure, lost opportunity, uneven workflow, staff demotivation not to mention much higher risk of error and subsequent additional risk to client relationship.

As you say, set clear boundaries from the start, include as basis for engagement in the engagement letter and results of non compliance on their side.

My firm shuts for a week over Christmas, all March year end company work done by August (five months in e/l) and the only SATRS o/s will usually be our own!

I like the suggestion of the annual increase at consultation stage.  Reinforced in E/L.  Why reduce your fees each year?  We all know the time value of money, even if scope remains the same.

D- List enquiries - Refer to a competitor?  That's the only part I disagree with - you should be paid by the competitor!  Find a local firm who has more resources to take them on and who would welcome the work and get paid by them.  Min 20% of first year fee.

Existing D List - Educate, price up, nurture or take a view. 

Be specific about characteristics of clients - Agreed, the smarter firms are already using these characteristics on their websites / marketing material not only to attract these types but to allianate people who don't fit.

@carole - Not sure what their is to be offended about the headline - its is what it is - designed to catch the eye and to make us think.  I know for a fact that when I started up, I took on crap clients, allowed them to dictate price to a certain extent so got crap fees, ending with a crap business.  There is only one way to sum that up - I was stupid. 

@North east Accountant - Nail on head.  The sad fact is that most builders are better at scoping work, better at pricing, and better at selling than most accountants are.  You would rarely find a builder that will allow you to slip in extras unpaid, allow you to deviate from the fixed fee, underprice their services, or not take into the exact direct costs per job.

Hope to read your stuff again soon Marcus, nothing wrong with blunt delivery so don't apologise for it, I'm sold on your sales ideas now for the next step of how to discuss sex[***] with my children.



















Thanks (2)
21st Sep 2013 18:10

Thanks Jason
If you can get a 20% referral fee for ditching clients who cost you money you absolutely should.

I'm producing 52 videos next weekend, 12 for accountants. If anyone has a real world problem with selling accountancy or client management email me by Wednesday 1800 on [email protected] and I may be able include your problems on the playlist.

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23rd Sep 2013 18:07

money allergy

I do like that!

It does seem to be true of some of the posters on AWeb. Me, I'm not allergic to it, in fact, I could cover myself in it without any adverse reaction.

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03rd Oct 2013 15:21

Allow me to be pedantic

I agree with the message of building your firm around clients who you enjoy working for and who pay you what you are worth. It is something that I have put into practice since day 1.

D clients mean different things to different people. I am quite patient and can handle annoying and disorganised people. In fact, helping people to be more organised is one of my skills and client offerings. D clients to me are those who don't pay on time (or at all, sadly) or those who are disrespectful to me or my staff. Annoying people, I can manage!

Anyway, I am having trouble teasing out this paragraph:

"OK, here's another thing you do to increase your profits. Sack your unprofitable clients. What I mean here are those who appear to be barely profitable even when everything goes smoothly. In practice they effectively cost you money to service them each year. If they were no longer clients you would be more profitable as you wouldn’t be offsetting the losses on these clients again the profits on your good clients."

If you get rid of a D-client on fees of  say £1,000 a year, your costs don't necessarily reduce unless you can reduce staff costs. Therefore doesn't your profit go down by £1,000?


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