I am a self-employed accountant. A few months ago, a friend of mine had an issue with his business but he did not want to hire an accountant (which he really needed for this particular problem) because he was financially strapped.
Worried about the impact of his not hiring a professional to sort out the very complicated issue and the legal ramifications which could ensue, I offered to help my friend for a small upfront fee, with the understanding that he would pay me what he could later depending upon how much work was required and how long it took to resolve the problem.
I won’t go into the details here, but it is now 6 months later and as it turns out the accounting issues at his small company ran deep and were very complex and troubling. The IRS became involved and I have worked on this issue for well over 100 hours, at least. My usual billing rate is $250 per hour.
When I raised the issue of additional payment for my services, my friend became very upset and said he would handle it on his own from here on out. That is simply not possible at this point.
What is most troubling to me is that in the time since I offered to help with this problem, my friend’s brother killed himself and left him a $500,000 insurance policy and a fully paid-off home that is now on the market for over $700,000, not to mention his car and all the furnishings in the home.
I am really starting to resent my friend, but my professional ethics preclude me from abandoning him at this point. We are near the very end of this project and negotiations with the IRS are almost concluded. If I pull out now, all that work could be for nothing. The IRS agents are not fond of my friend but we work very well together and I think we are close to a solution.
What should I do? Should I continue to ask him for more money? Should I point out that he recently inherited what amounts to over $1,000,000 and this change in his financial status demands he pay me my regular rate? I am not a rich person who can afford to give away my time and my paying clients are suffering because so much of my time has been devoted to this matter.
I look forward to your response.
I’m going to be brief with my advice to you and then I will offer a commentary on your “friend.”
You made yourself a bad deal and now you need to live with it, for both moral and professional reasons. Here’s why: you offered (some might say insisted) your help, you had an extremely nebulous agreement regarding payment, you are chin-deep in the pool of vomit, piss and shit that is an IRS audit and you know if you quit now your friend will suffer. There are no good options here.
Wrap it up as quickly as you can and be thankful to your friend. You are probably fuming right now, thinking,
“Thankful? Why the fuck should I be thankful? I am in over $25,000 in billable hours on this case and meanwhile my buddy is jetting off to Paris for two weeks next month with his new hot girlfriend (true) and I can’t even afford to take a trip to the coast. My business is suffering, my other clients are angry and I haven’t had any semblance of a social life since I started working on this stupid matter.”
While all of that may be true, you have learned three very expensive yet incredibly important lessons from this situation, or at least I hope you have.
1. If you allow them to, some people will take advantage of you and never see anything wrong with it. They take and take and then they take some more. While these types can be challenging when it comes to friendship, they make great politicians. We would never have been able to steal all that land from the Native Americans without folks like these, so yay, American Assholes!
2. Don’t offer to help people for free or almost free if you don’t put deep thought into what you are signing up for. From my perspective (the only one that counts ’cause this is MY blog) you didn’t put serious consideration into your insertion of yourself into your friend’s problem.
You told me more about the particular matter on the phone and I know that as a seasoned professional who has been doing what you do for almost 20 years, you should have known at the time you offered up your services that this was no run-of-the-mill type accounting problem. I’m impressed that your friend isn’t going to jail, honestly.
3. Don’t offer to help people if you don’t really mean it. I know you think you meant it, but your gracious offer was not contingent upon your friend remaining broke. When you make a commitment to someone, that commitment should not waver because of a change in their financial or other circumstances.
A good example would be this: say I offer to help my friend move because her boyfriend just dumped her and she doesn’t have the money to hire movers or even a truck. If she calls me up a few days later and tells me she and Shitbird got back together, my offer to help her move should not be taken off the table.
Actually, this example is lame because I will never ever ever offer to help anyone move, although I’m happy to pick you up a few day laborers.
But I think you get my point.
So to reiterate: finish what you started, ask for more money if you feel like it (but don’t expect to get any) and be grateful for the opportunity to have learned these three life lessons from your “friend” and of course from me.
In closing, I would like to opine for a moment about your friend, or “friend,” as I like to call him. He’s kind of a dick.
He has clearly taken advantage of you and although I took you to task for your part in this mess, I will say this about him: he reeks of an entitlement mentality and a selfish, self-absorbed approach to life. Perhaps this is why his only brother committed suicide…
He is sitting on a gigantic pile of money and either cannot see or does not care that things have changed, and the code of decency requires that he apologize for taking advantage of you and ask to see all your billing records. After that, assuming he is cool with all the charges, he should pay you.
It is because of you and your hard work for essentially no money that he is avoiding getting his ass pounded by Bubba and Steve on a regular basis in the penitentiary.
It is because of you he is enjoying fellatio from his 27 year old girlfriend in France next month instead of being fitted for a jumpsuit and assigned a bunkie who snores like a freight train and jacks off twice a day with loud enthusiasm and little modesty or thought into where the money shot lands.
Incidentally, you told me this young gal, a secretary at his business, wanted nothing to do with him until he inherited this cash stash from his brother. He couldn’t come into her until he came into money – is he an idiot?
After all this is over and if he does not have a change of heart and pay you what you deserve, I’d think about breaking things off with this jackalope. He’s a user and a taker and unless you are a glutton for punishment, this friendship will only serve to frustrate you in the future.
Have you considered revenge? I suggest tanking the negotiations with the IRS and ratting him out for all the nefarious dealings you uncovered during your forensic accounting analysis of his business.
Then he goes to jail, you move into his dead brother’s house and offer to “manage” his finances, all the while banging his hot gold-digging girlfriend in the same bathroom where his one and only sibling hung himself in shame from what an asshole his brother had become.
Now THAT’S payback. Thanks for your letter. Please write me again and let me know what’s happening.