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Poaching Clients

bigmuggsybigmuggsy Feels At HomeRegistered Posts: 92
Hi

I'm looking to seek basic advice on poaching clients from my previous employer, hopefully someone out there will be able to shed some light on the topic. I've searched online but can't really see much.

This is my situation.

I've just left my employer to set up my own practise as a partnership. I worked for my previous employer for 4 years and over that time have developed excellent relationships with a number of clients, the majority of whom weren't happy with the service my employer provided.

My question is what is my position regarding poaching these clients? I haven't signed a contract so have never agreed I wouldn't poach them. What are the legal rules for this? Any advice would be greatly received.

Comments

  • deanshepherddeanshepherd Font Of All Knowledge Registered Posts: 1,809
    Legally, there is little if anything your former employer can do to stop you taking their clients.

    Morally and ethically it is highly unprofessional.

    Why burn bridges with a former employer?

    I saw a similar thread on Aweb about this recently (here).
  • bigmuggsybigmuggsy Feels At Home Registered Posts: 92
    Thanks so much for your reply. Basically I left due to the way the company was run; numerious clients didn't have they're accounts prepared in time (some for 3+ years), they're was no staff bonus, moral or incentive, no Health & Safety procedures and pretty much everything done manually. I'd say 90% of clients weren't happy with the service which is why 'll be poaching as many as possible! The way I look at they don't have to move, but the option is available.

    Thanks again
  • BluewednesdayBluewednesday Font Of All Knowledge Registered Posts: 1,624
    Poaching is extremely unethical!

    Clients are not tied to an accountant - they can come to you if they want but to actively poach them would be wrong.

    If you can give the service that your clients want - word of mouth will bring more to you without stooping so low.
  • bigmuggsybigmuggsy Feels At Home Registered Posts: 92
    I completely agree however when the clients have received such a diabolical service, and will continue to, then its difficult to not try and poach them.
  • burgburg Experienced Mentor GloucesterModerator, FMAAT, AAT Licensed Accountant Posts: 1,440
    Whilst I do agree that it is un ethical and unprofessional, it is also the clients who choose who to engage as their professional advisors.

    I think it seems as though you have allready made up your mind judging from your posts. Maybe approaching the AAT for ethical advice may be one option?

    The clients saying they are unhappy and actually meaning it and doing something about it are two different things.

    I would not be writing to them to 'poach' but I certainly would not hide from them my intentions of setting up on my own, and would be prepared to accept those who approached me.
    Regards,

    Burg
  • blobbyhblobbyh Font Of All Knowledge Registered Posts: 2,415
    While this isn't written for the accountancy industry but rather the recruitment industry in which I work, you might want to read this as some of the ethical advice will still apply.

    http://content.talentmarket.monster.com/contractor/freeagentguide/startingout/takingwithyou/
  • deanshepherddeanshepherd Font Of All Knowledge Registered Posts: 1,809
    Interesting link Blobbyh, but I think that shows why recruitment is a career and accountancy is a profession!

    I particularly like the way the writer starts by saying retain good terms with your former colleagues and employer, yet go ahead and canvas all their clients as soon as you are out the door! And don't leave it too late!!

    Different industries have different ethical standards but it is a shame that our industry does not seem to be able to instil the benefits of maintaining high professional standards in our students.

    Perhaps it conflicts too much with our capitalist economy.

    Now, back to the commune..
  • blobbyhblobbyh Font Of All Knowledge Registered Posts: 2,415
    Ha, recruitment is notoriously cut throat with extreme double standards but that's the headhunting industry for you. When our consultants are working solely for us all is great, as soon as there's a wift of disloyalty they're hastily shown the door.

    I posted the link as we're an industry very susceptible to consultants leaving their employers to go it alone and it's exactly how my own company was started. Paranoia is everywhere. Everyone has key loggers on their machines, calls are monitored, your bosses can see your screen from theirs at any time, they receive copies of your e-mails etc.

    I posted the link as much for the "don't bad mouth your former employers" and the legal implications of actively pursuing clients of your former company. The soft-canvassing while you're still an employee is simply giving them your number and telling them why you're leaving, they can fill in the rest if you have a good working relationship. What the OP is doing here is actively pursuing clients which will surely land him in court. We spend tens of thousands each year on fees legally handcuffing former employees from stealing our client lists but of course, we cannot control what's in their head.
  • TimmneTimmne Feels At Home Registered Posts: 37
    I agree with the ethical side of things.

    I would also add that having been in a similar situation to yours, three of my old clients asked my old employer if they could stay with me on a self employed basis. I then had to decide whether I wanted to go down this route as I was mainly moving to another job but not in practice.

    What I'm trying to say is that if they want to come with you, tell them you're setting up on your own but that they must ask your employer's permission first - well, not permission but you know what I mean hopefully. Secondly, as a client I would not go with a member of staff of my accountants unless I was 100% happy that they could deal with my needs. A practice has many things that a one man band won't, despite how badly run the practice seems to be.

    If your clients 'ask' your employer then it's still their choice to move or not but it irons out any ethical issues. It's then up to your employer to negotiate a fee for you to 'buy' the client from them.

    People don't just get given practices in the main, so it's up to you to build yours up if that needs to happen, you can't just swan in and steal a client base; that's very wrong IMO.
  • MonsoonMonsoon Font Of All Knowledge FMAAT, AAT Licensed Accountant Posts: 4,071
    Agree that it's bad form to actively poach clients, yet inevitable that if they like you, and the current service via your current employer is abysmal, then some may wish to move with you, and that's up to them.

    To which end, make sure they have your mobile number/ email address, or prominently advertise your new services using your own name, i.e. make sure they can easily find you when they come looking.

    Best of luck :)
  • DeanDean Experienced Mentor DevonRegistered Posts: 646
    It would seem to me that you have a Integrity issue and while there is no contract in place you may well be looking at legal proceedings in the not so distance future - not a good way to start a practice.

    As a thought; why not get in first and offer your previous employer a commission for taking the client? This would certainly look favourable should you be taken to court!

    Regards

    Dean
  • AdamRAdamR Experienced Mentor Registered Posts: 668
    Might not quite be relevant to this, but you should also consider whether you are getting a springboard advantage by actively poaching clients - if so, you could have an injunction against you. If the data that you take is confidential, you could find yourself breaking the law.
  • JJ43JJ43 Feels At Home Registered Posts: 50
    Poaching is extremely unethical!

    Clients are not tied to an accountant - they can come to you if they want but to actively poach them would be wrong.

    If you can give the service that your clients want - word of mouth will bring more to you without stooping so low.

    Also bear in mind that `word of mouth` goes both ways, your previous employer could certainly make things difficult for you, better to gain clients in an appropriate way than get a bad name for under handed taticts !
  • blobbyhblobbyh Font Of All Knowledge Registered Posts: 2,415
    AdamR wrote: »
    If the data that you take is confidential, you could find yourself breaking the law.

    That's not really even an if but an absolute, though proving it could be hard. If you copy or take client lists from an employer - which are classed as their company property - then you're as guilty of theft as if you'd stolen a desk and chair. The keyloggers and virtual screens on our company machines are primarily there to prevent the copying of client lists by disgruntled employees in a 'we know what you're doing' capacity.
  • A-VicA-Vic Expertise Guaranteed Registered Posts: 6,970
    Having just completed unit 32 (ethics) the exact situation came up in one of the questions.

    I answered by first stating this would not be illegal however this would be a moral issue.

    Firstly would you like to start off your practise in this way knowing that this could happen to you and how would you feel if you where put in the exact same postion. How long would you keep your client? if they are able to be poached by you they could also be by others.

    Having worked in practise myself for 4 years a lot of worked is passed to us from other accountants that a, dont have the time or b, dont have the knowlege - if you have a good relationship with your prevoius employer the same could happen i wouldn't burn bridges it could be a really good resourse in the future.

    You say you have a good relationship with the clients well also they may not want to leave there current accountant but they may recomend others to give you a go (soal traders smaller accounts) if they hear of the underhanded way you set up your first client list they may see you as untrustworthy - that would be even worse as this profession is like a doctor built on trust.

    Sorry can woffle on ethics its an interesting subject
  • Jon_1984Jon_1984 Well-Known Registered Posts: 186
    Im my job, in industry, I deal with all the sales reps who come trailing through the door. This happens on a regular basis in the packaging/transport areas of the business. At best reps who poach like this get their packs dropped in the bin as the door closes behind them, at worst we take the prices they offer and go back to their previous company and better our existing deal. This is good for us in that it lowers the rate we are paying and normally strengthens the relationship with the previous supplier because it is often the first indication of where their clients are going. It is bad for our existing supplier in that it squeezes their margins that bit further. It is bad for the rep when the injuction falls through his door.

    We do try as a rule not to deal with reps like this on the basis that if they have to poach like this then they probebly dont have anything special to offer us.

    The other thing that happens is we receive letters from their previous employer saying "XYZ left our employment on xx/xx/xxxx but we understand is still trying to pass themselves off as an employee - please be careful to ensure you dont deal with them but call us on" which gives the whiff of desperation on the part of the leaver and ensures we treat them with caution.

    of course if you have evidence that you are simply mailshotting every company in the area/trading estate/local relevent industry and have rung the sales team's and enquired as to the name of the decision maker for the relevent dept of each business and mailed accordingly then you aint poaching your advertising.....but if your sevice is as good as you state then they should recognise your name.
  • coojeecoojee Experienced Mentor Registered Posts: 794
    Sorry, don't know how to show quotes in a box. Just wanted to reply to this from Timmne:

    "What I'm trying to say is that if they want to come with you, tell them you're setting up on your own but that they must ask your employer's permission first - well, not permission but you know what I mean hopefully"

    When I left my employer I wasn't going to work at all but one of my clients was really upset that I was leaving and asked me if I'd still come in twice a month and do their books. I asked them to ask my employer first as I knew he'd be cross - and boy was he ever! He accused me of all sorts. Wouldn't let me explain what was happening, that I had no intention of setting up on my own and poaching all my other clients, that this really was a one off and they had asked me and I thought it only correct that they should ask him first. It wouldn't have mattered which way round I'd done things it would have been wrong!
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