Art of Accounting: If we are our clients’ most trusted advisor

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I have found that clients, while they completely trust us for everything in their business, professional and financial lives, do not trust us when we price our services. Some, certainly not a lot of clients, would argue that the fees were “too high,” or “not worth it” or say friends get similar services from their accountants for “much less.” And sometimes they even questioned the veracity of the time, suggesting we were padding our bills or were totally inefficient and should have found a faster way to get the work done. Where is the trust?

These things always upset me. These arguments or exhortations did not occur frequently, but much more than I would have expected. When they occurred, it seemed I was always off kilter trying to defend my work and truthfulness.

I changed quite some time ago and it still happens but much less frequently. Part of the reason for the change is I decided at some point that I did not want to work for people who did not appreciate what I did for them and my value to them. Another reason is that while I always made a very good living, it was a living. No one gets extremely wealthy from a service business. If you are fortunate enough to build a substantial practice, you can do very well and even approach the wealthy status, but at the end of the day, you are still in a service business. If our fees were “that high,” none of us would continue working since we would have accumulated enough to be able to exclusively clip coupons, travel or play golf or bridge all day long. I also would be driving much more expensive cars and have more expensive watches.

I now resent that clients trust me completely, except in my pricing practices. I resent it and tell them that. I tell them if they feel that way, then I am very disappointed in myself for misjudging the type of person they are and for having put my heart and energy in what I’ve done for them and to see it unappreciated. I also tell them that for what I’ve done for them throughout the years, they should be handing me a six-figure check thanking me, rather than challenging a $1,225 or $12,250 (or something thereabout) extra bill.

They don’t have to tell me I am great, how grateful they are for what I have done for them, or that they even like me. All they need to do is write an immediate check when I present a bill and occasionally say “thank you!” Otherwise my disappointment was well deserved.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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Value pricing Client relations Ed Mendlowitz