I’m reminded of the old sex education message: Just say ‘no’!
As professional advisers we are all used to prospective clients seeking free advice. As I’m no longer in practice and as a frequent blogger I have very different perspective now. So here is some free advice from me. When a stranger/prospect calls you need to set clear parameters. Why give any free advice?
I think the most common reason accountants give themselves is that it helps evidence their credibility, style, approach, knowledge and willingness to help clients. In reality it is only the accountant themselves who doubts their ability and knowledge. The prospect generally takes all that for granted – after all our adverts or website makes clear we’re an accountant. All accountants know everything don’t they? We know this isn’t the case but prospects assume it is so. Even more so if they have been recommended or referred by a third party.
So accountants are generally proving nothing by giving free advice. They can evidence the other key qualities they want to exhibit without giving free technical advice.
I also tend to think that a side benefit of the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) legislation is that it gives accountants a statutory justification for any apparent reluctance to provide answers to technical questions before engaging a new client. “I’m really sorry Mr/Ms Prospect but as a professional adviser I’m precluded by law from giving any advice before we’ve been through the anti-money laundering checks. I know it’s a pain but it’s the law.” The consequence of this will often be that you have engaged the client and secured their agreement to your preferred billing procedures before you give them any valuable advice. So the AML laws do have an upside after all!
Finally I would suggest you establish a process to qualify a prospect or to let them go elsewhere before you waste too much time on them. Initially you may want to qualify out time wasters on the phone. You will also want to determine what you need to cover in an initial meeting.
In many of my seminars I ask accountants if they offer a free initial meeting to prospective clients. Typically the answer is ‘yes’. “How long do you allow for such meetings?” Some put a cap on it. Others say ‘as long as it takes’. I ask the question – “As long as WHAT takes?” It’s not just about getting the prospect to want to appoint you. You need to find out quite early on if they can afford to pay the fees you would want to earn. You also need to determine if this is the sort of person you want to have a client.
Bottom line, I’d suggest you establish a process/checklist (that you will in time commit to memory) to use when you receive such calls in future and indeed when you have an initial meeting with a prospect.