An accountant I know inherited his practice from his father and still acts for many of the same clients. He feels he owes them some loyalty and support even though they do not fit the profile of the practice he has been building.

He described his ideal clients – of which he seems to have a quite a few. Those old legacy clients do not fit but he doesn’t want to let them go. I understand the dilemma.

Then he told me that those legacy clients tend to be the ones who quibble about fees, sometimes even after they’ve been agreed. The accountant feels conflicted. On the one hand he understands the theory behind pricing by value. On the other hand he would rather get paid promptly even if that means accepting he has to agree a discount.

I said I would understand this attitude better if the fees in question were thousands of pounds.Then there would be understandable fear of having to replace the fees if the client goes elsewhere.  But the example this accountant gave me was of a fee for just a few hundred pounds. I suggested that he decide upfront what is his BATNA in such cases.

BATNA means: Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement.  If a client won’t play ball and you don’t want to reduce your fee, what’s your best alternative? Are you going to sue? To let them go? To introduce them to another cheaper accountant? To refuse to act for them any more? There are numerous options.  We generally find negotiations easier if we are clear on our stance at the outset.

Another option might be to seek something else from the client in consideration of you agreeing the lower fee.

I mentioned that one accountant I mentor started to call me to give him a boost before he starts or concludes tough fee negotiations. When we started working together he generally backed down and gave in to all clients who queried fees or fee quotes. Now he has the confidence to quote higher than before, secures agreement and gets paid with less hassle – in most cases.  He says I give him the courage to be firmer than before. All that matters to me is that it works and he feels more successful.

Going back to the question in the title to this piece: Can you choose your clients? Yes and it’s probably a good idea to choose only those who will pay you a fair fee for the work you do. Otherwise, what’s the point?