The ultimate small firm accountant’s guide to raising fee levels
One of the big problems growing small accountancy firms face is a lack of cash, coupled with many small clients on low fees. You know the ones, the legacy clients. The ones you took on in the early years when you were just desperate for any client who was prepared to pay you money. The problem is that these small clients on low fees are often pretty needy and you are losing money on them. Or you feel a sense of loyalty to them as they took a chance on you, so why should they either be moved on or given a large fee increase?
This article discusses how to go about putting your fees up in order to increase your cash flow and profit margin.
You know that increasing prices will improve your margin
You’re smart; you know that increasing prices will improve your margin. The real question is why do more small accountancy firms not put up their fees as a way of increasing their cash flow and making more money? If you’ve ever asked yourself how to increase prices, or should I increase my fees, stop thinking about it, make a note of your first actions and implement….
Price increases – why?
You can probably do the maths better than me, but let’s check this makes sense. If you put your fees up by 5% and even if you were to lose a small percentage of clients, you would still make more on the bottom line. (Many of our clients have been delighted to find that the only clients they lost when they implemented a fee increase was the ones they wanted to lose!) The fear is often one of losing money, the reality doesn’t normally come close. I’m not claiming increasing your fees is the answer to all ills, but if you haven’t for a long time……
Why don’t you just put your fees up?
How many of the following have you heard yourself say, when you’ve thought about increasing your fees? I don’t…:
- want to lose clients
- feel able to put up fees
- want to have difficult conversations with clients
- want to be more expensive than a local rival
- give good enough service or value
- really know what I should be charging
- know how to go about the conversation with clients
- have the time to go about it properly, so didn’t do it
Pricing for profit
Let’s quickly nail this one quickly. You run your firm to make a profit. The level of profit is one you choose to achieve. You either do things to achieve the target you chose, or you chose a profit level because it is what you allow to happen. Also being a savvy small accountancy firm owner you don’t subscribe to the myth that you need to lose money or barely break even to grow your firm… (And yes, we’ve seen this happen a few times!)
How to increase prices
The reasons for getting stuck and not implementing the fee increase fall into one of three categories. Where is your main problem and what’s your answer to “how to increase prices”?
- Confidence: Not wanting to handle the conversations, or fears about clients leaving. Think through some of the ‘what happens if‘ scenarios helps; when most people list then down there’s a realisation they’re not likely to occur; and even if they do occur you can prepare a response in advance. Is it me, or does it seem to be the price sensitive clients that are also the ones who are most demanding and least profitable?
- Time: Yes, some people really do report they don’t have the time to increase their prices. Yet these same people will spend hours each week networking, or on social media for less benefit. One client realised that putting her fee levels up was the equivalent of winning 20 new clients. Guess what, she quickly prioritised the fee increase above everything else on her to do list! What do you really need to do before increasing fees? Perhaps a quick analysis of who pays what and the related profits, or just a list of the ones you know you need to start with. So plan of who you will speak to and when. You could start next week with the first few conversations/emails. You don’t need to do them all at once, get started and then do a few at a time.
- Poor service: Improving service levels is important, but are you going round in circles? Can’t improve service as not profitable, don’t want to increase fees due to poor service? The short answer could be to start increasing fees for new clients, happy clients and low profit clients.
Your fee increase
- Increasing your prices rarely, if ever, causes enough client losses to mean you are worse off. Even if you lose a couple of price sensitive clients, you will be better off.
- You don’t need to do it all at once, getting started with the first conversations is critical. Think about a simple explanation now (or email me and we can talk through some)
- Think about what you will temporarily stop doing, while you really work on your profitability.
- Think about a reward you will give yourself once you’ve completed the exercise.