We recently received a bunch of invoices from our accountants that had the following line item: “Accounting: $2000”. There was no backup and the bill came 3-4 months after the work was done. When we asked for an explanation we received an indignant email from the accountant asking why we were questioning their billing practices. Our answer was: you’re fired.
I’m not suggesting you fire your accountants. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to demand great service from your suppliers. Here are some things I always look for:
- Prompt Billing – You probably think it’s crazy to demand more invoices but getting a bill every month means you can keep an eye on your expenses. After three months it’s too late to regret what you’ve spent. If they can’t get their act together to bill you monthly that’s a red flag.
- Detailed Bills – Anyone who generates hourly fees must provide a breakout of what those hours were spent on. As in a timesheet. Lawyers already have software that does this so don’t believe anyone who says it takes too much time. No details, no payment.
- Freebies – Our ex-accountants billed us every time they answered a question (with no timesheet backup of course). This discourages clients from relying on them as a trusted adviser. Look for people who don’t mind answering a few questions once in awhile, off the clock.
- Value Add – I’ve referred clients to our ex-accountants but they certainly never reciprocated. I had low expectations until I met our new firm who, before signing anything, referred a client to us. This is great relationship building. If you’re not sure about your firm’s value-add potential, get customer references.
I had a great experience with our lawyers yesterday where we were discussing some templates for legal agreements we need. They made it clear they weren’t charging for the meeting, would not charge for the next brainstorming session, and would give us fixed fees for all the work they would do. They even offered to donate some time to kick things off. All of this was unprompted.
It’s time to get a bit more demanding with your suppliers, just as you’re being asked to tighten your belt. Be fair and reward great service but don’t tolerate anything less than excellence.
Anyone have any good/bad stories to share about service providers they rely on? You can hide the names to protect the innocent.