One of my sole practitioner mentoring clients asked me this recently. I thought it would be helpful to share my advice here as the last time I did so was in 2007! Back then it was quite rare for accountants to include specific reference to their fee rates on their websites. Now it is much more common.
My starting point is that it is normally good to manage expectations. Do you want to encourage low or high fee paying clients? Do you want to encourage or discourage prospects who are shopping around for the lowest fees? Do you want to encourage prospects to focus on your fees or on the style, level and distinctions inherent in the service you provide?
I remember one accountant I worked with telling me about his big ambitions and the typical fees he wanted to earn. Why then, I asked, did his website reference 3 client packages priced so as to appeal only to those who wanted to pay lower fees than his local competitors charged? Why was there not reinforcement of his ability to service the clients he really wanted to act for?
How does your website stack up in this regard?
If you want to appeal to people looking to pay low fees then go ahead and feature these on your website. Alternatively, if you want to reduce the time you spend talking with people who don’t want to pay a decent fee, you can discourage them through the way you reference the subject on your website.
Most of the accountants I work with want to get more out of their practice. More clients sometimes, more fees often, otherwise more time or more satisfaction. You won’t get more fees if your website, adverts and promotional materials only reference your lowest fee.
These days I believe that you need to decide which of 3 options is best for you and your practice:
- Commoditise each service you provide and quote typical fees for each service. This is the menu approach some accountants follow. If most of your clients only want your ‘standard’ services you avoid the need to spend time discussing and negotiating specific fees each year. Those clients whose affairs take longer than average are balanced by those that take less time than average. The downside of this approach is that it denies you the facility to highlight the value side of your proposition. Everything is just down to price.
- Reference your minimum fee and the range of fees that most of your clients typically pay. You might add that each case depends on the quality of a clients’ records and exactly what services they require – “which varies more than you might imagine”;
- Give no specific reference to the level of fees you charge. This was, historically, the most common approach adopted by accountants, who just promised that their fees would be cost effective, fair or reasonable.
The second approach enables you to maximise your fees and, when quoting a fee, to take account of all surrounding factors including the amount of time and effort it has taken to win the piece of work in question.
The last approach is, in some ways, akin to the expensive clothes shops that have garments in the window but do not put price tags on them. If you go into the shop you know it’s going to be expensive. Is that the impression you want to give? This approach is also adopted by accountants who haven’t really thought through the issues or who still charge fees by reference to how long the work takes them. As a result they end up wasting both their time and that of the prospects who may not agree to willingly pay the fees when they are are eventually estimated or forecast.
In practice the first approach is generally preferable for low value work. The middle approach is better for high value work. And the third approach works best for good referrals where you are not really in competition with anyone else.
On this occasion I suggested that my client include the following wording on the home page of his website:
“Our fees are more modest than some but we are not the cheapest accountant around. If price is your only concern then we are not the firm for you. Monthly service packages start from £XX for the simplest of cases. Most of our clients’ monthly fees are between £ZZ and £ABC. For further details….”
He wants to discourage people who are looking for the cheapest quote. I suggested making clear that £XX should be the lowest fees he would want to earn from a client. This means that if anyone is looking for a cheaper accountant they won’t waste his time. The next sentence is to manage expectations and to avoid anyone thinking that they will only have to pay his lowest fee. The ‘further details’ link goes to the page of his website that sets out service packages and options for different types of client.
I have suggested variations on this approach to other accountants as the same formula doesn’t suit everyone. Which approach would work best on your website?