Many of us attend meetings of various clubs, societies and professional committees. Invariably someone will have produced an agenda for the meeting.
Why? More to the point, why are agendas the exception rather than the rule when accountants are meeting with clients?
Agendas are typically prepared so that meetings will be run more efficiently. They are supposed to ensure that everyone is aware of the topics to be addressed and, if presented to all attendees beforehand, can avoid anyone being surprised when a subject is raised. Sadly committee meeting agendas often merely perform the role of a crib sheet for the chairman as each of the listed items can be interpreted in different ways and doesn’t enable the participants to prepare effectively before the meeting. This is especially true when the agenda merely contains a list of standard headings.
When I was in practice I often attended meetings with clients where no one had produced an agenda beforehand even though the meeting had been scheduled in advance and I or my colleagues had a list of things we wanted to discuss with the client.
After many years however I did start to prepare agendas – especially once email allowed me to send agendas to clients a day or so before meeting with them. I know some people list a number of queries or points for discussion in a letter/email. That’s certainly better than nothing. Another possibility, where time is short is to share your agenda with the client at the start of the meeting.
A formal agenda for client meetings (even for prospective client meetings) can achieve a number of positive purposes:
• It can act as a route map so the client knows what needs to be addressed – even if you tell them beforehand they won’t always remember everything;
• It evidences a professional approach;
• It shows you care enough to have thought about the meeting long before the client arrived;
• Very importantly it evidences that you have prepared for the meeting – this can be very useful if you charge clients for the time you spend on their affairs;
• It provides a permanent record that the meeting took place and of the issues you wanted to address – this can be helpful in the event of fee disputes;
• It provides the client with somewhere to make notes of what you have said and of the further information you need;
• It enables you to ensure that the ‘fees’ issue and any related terms of payment are addressed and provides a record of this;
• You can include on the agenda a number of pro-active advisory topics or questions that might prompt the client to identify further matters on which you could advise. Even if there isn’t time to discuss them on that occasion they evidence your desire to be pro-active and may prompt a further meeting to discuss such matters.