Do you need clients? Well you don’t need them this bad. Here is why you should never give free advice to non clients and how to manage the ones that want it.
Just to clarify, please note that this advice is for those that are not yet your clients. That is, you have not prepared taxes or billed them for anything yet. You should give a reasonable amount of advice to your current clients for no additional charge.
Never give free tax advice to non-clients
I know it’s very tempting.
It would be nice to demonstrate how knowledgeable and personal you are and thus winning them over, right?
Well I have news for you.
The best clients (the kind you want to fill your “book of business” for your tax practice) will be happy and understanding to pay you for your advice and hard work.
The worst clients (the ones that will bother you for everything and yes still always be reluctant to pay you for your work) will be the ones that go away in a huff. These are the ones who complain, sue, leave bad reviews, create drama, blame you for things you didn’t do, etc.
Smell ya later then. Sayonara.
This is your best stuff. You spend years of learning, educating, and gaining experience in these areas and you deserve to get paid when you work. Don’t give away your best stuff for free.
New clients need this advice form an expert or they would not be asking. There’s real value in it. It’s not like everyone doesn’t know how to Google now-a-days. They couldn’t figure it out because they do not have the education or experience. Isn’t this for what we pay all professionals?
You have too many expenses to give free advice to non-clients
Not only does charging non clients for tax advice keep the crappy clients away, but you also have expenses to cover. So really, you would be PAYING to give free advice to non clients, LOL.
My little firm has $200,000 in expenses a year. If I spent my time giving free advice instead of working on things for which I get paid, I’d practically go out of business. Or at least my hourly rate would be cut significantly.
Besides charitable volunteers, do you know anyone who would be willing to go to work, serve individuals that they do not know and are not related to, and not get paid?
Of course not.
Would giving free advice to non-clients increase your client growth?
No it will not.
Well, OK, you might pick up a couple of pain in the neck people as mentioned above – but it’s SO not worth it.
If you have the free time to work for those you don’t know, spend it doing other marketing, sharpening the saw somehow, or even doing charity work to those that deserve it. A potential customer who makes $100,000 per year yet wants you to work for free does NOT deserve it.
Do-it-yourselfers will all tell you “I will hire you next year but I have some questions first”. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard this (or maybe you do know).
Do they show up? Seldom. Then, when they see that you charge $300 to $600 for a tax return depending on the complexity, they go back to using Turbo Tax. Why shouldn’t they? You already answered all of their toughest questions.
Don’t cheapen yourself or waste your time with these people.
Don’t provide advice for a “deposit that will go toward your tax return fees” either. They will feel like they won you and you will be trapped into either helping them or refunding their money.
Another problem with free advice is that you will not give them your best. This could lead to missed opportunities, bad reviews, or even malpractice liability.
How to tell non-clients that you won’t work for free
So how do you tell them?
Always be nice, and always be professional.
I use the following “canned” answer of phone script for my and my employees reference:
“Thanks for contacting us.
Unfortunately, we are not able to give tax advice via email or phone to non-clients without first going over and understanding your entire situation, setting up a client/accountant agreement, and disclosing our privacy policies.
We’re sorry about that – it’s not that we do not want to help. The legal and liability ramifications are monumental, even for simple questions.
The answer to your question might depend on several factors and going over your entire situation takes time and work – for which we charge a $300 consult fee to those that are not our clients.
Please understand that we must charge for our time because our overhead expenses are quite costly.
If you would like our help in this capacity, we will be honored to have you as a client.
Please call us to make an appointment.
Thank you very much for your understanding.”
Feel free to use that.
If they continue to “be outraged” that you would charge them for a “simple question” (if it’s so simple, why are they asking), you can politely explain that tax knowledge and advice is your “work”. And that you are not willing to work for free. Just be polite, professional, and even apologetic.
Empathize with them that you recognize that they are frustrated. “I’m so sorry you are facing this frustrating situation and you have no one to answer questions, but if you want me to work for you, I do expect to be paid. Plus I have expenses to cover. Paying of for them and then not charging for my work is not a business model that would work for anyone. Thanks for understanding”.
If they don’t understand, then the heck with them – you are better off without them (really).
Oh – and wait until you see how much money you make giving $300 consultations. I give about 20 a year. That covers car payments for a new Lexus. As well it should.
When new clients are willing to pay you for tax advice, give them great service
When I give a tax advice consultation, I take it extremely seriously.
I keep my office really nice and clean. I also dress very nice at work. When new clients walk into my office for advice I want them to feel like they are really getting something for their money.
Be a good listener. Be patient. Take notes. Let them branch a bit but get back to the script (as you write it out for them). Give them follow up research and advice. Don’t limit their time (within reason). Etc.
Have handouts ready to give to them. P&L organizers, rental organizers, business use of home and auto organizers, etc.
When you do these things, they will walk out of your office happy and relieved of stress. They will not feel slighted that they had to pay you.
Assure them that you are “here for support as needed”.
I also disclaim that my customer service is “terrible” around March and April, and I won’t be available to provide more advice during those months. But they can call me anytime otherwise.
Lastly, I mention my deadline timing requirements – so they don’t show up on the 10th of April filling like they own me because they paid me.
I wish you the best in tax practicing.