How to Offer Better Value to Clients in Distress

Many bookkeepers and BAS agents have found the workload has increased in the last month as we field many queries from our clients. And this on top of trying to stay up to date with the announcements from the ATO and government (not to mention AAT!)

Whilst our workload may have initially increased due to the pandemic, we may find that some of our clients are already massively impacted financially and we are wondering if we will be paid for our time.

Many are questioning now whether we should be reducing fees, doing work for free or giving discounts. We are not going to give you a definitive answer on this, as it is an important decision you each need to make for your own business situation, in accordance with your own values and what you are comfortable with. However, we will give you some essential ideas to consider!

Bookkeepers and BAS agents are running a business just like our clients are; we have overheads, subscriptions, registrations, professional development, hardware and website costs, not to mention our own superannuation and income tax expenses. 

We are in the business of ascertaining and advising on government taxes and liabilities, business compliance, financial reporting and in some cases cash flow management and budgeting. These are vital services at this time of massive change to business. Many of our clients rely on us to give them excellent advice and that reliance has only increased in the last month.

Over the last ten years our industry has made great advances with increasing our standing in the accounting and tax practitioner world. We don’t want to erode the developments in our industry where we are finally starting to charge appropriately for our services and get recognised as tax professionals. 

It is important that we do not devalue the importance of our services, even if we do decide to reduce our fees in some way. When you have a conversation with your clients about your next bill, keep all these points in mind as you negotiate.

Ideas to Consider
  • Think about “discounts” before you offer them. Offering discounts can be a way of devaluing your services as if they were a cheap supermarket commodity. Instead talk about your value and offer “savings”. 
  • Talk about what tasks the business can do themselves to reduce your bill. This way you don’t reduce your hourly or fixed fees, nor do you reduce the value of what you do provide, but the overall bill to the client is reduced by you doing less for them.
  • Can you offer a certain amount of reduced cost or free training to the client as a way of helping them? 
  • Talk about a temporary reduction in your fee but make it clear that it will be revised at an agreed date. Offer this reduction on the understanding that fees will return to your usual rate at some point.
  • Can you exchange services? If so, make it a formal barter arrangement. Check the ATO barter and trade exchanges webpage
  • Can you offer services that you would usually charge top consulting rates, for at a lower rate, to encourage clients to take advantage of cash flow planning and budgeting?
  • Discuss the option of payment plans for your services but keep your fees the same as always. 
  • Another idea could be that you offer a discount for payment in full by a certain date, or the amount reverts to the usual fee.
We offer the above list as some ideas to think about before you have potentially difficult conversations with your clients. If you can decide where you stand on reduced fees before you speak with clients, then actually having the conversation is that much easier.

Negotiation Suggestions
  • Don’t start explaining why and how you charge what you do. Don’t let the client pick apart the value of different things you offer—you are the one who decides the value of what you offer. You are offering professional services and no one part is necessarily more or less valuable than any other unless you decide it.
  • Keep your fees as they are but offer something extra, for example, you could provide certain financial reports or a weekly phone call for no extra charge. 
  • Don’t dismiss any protests at your fees, be polite and acknowledge the concern and continue to try to work something out that suits BOTH parties. “What could you commit to?” Or “What would you be comfortable with paying for my professional services?”
  • Always try to find a solution that works for both you and the client.
  • Remember – talk about savings not discounts!