Senior Strategic Guide Profit First Professionals
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3 Steps to Ensuring a Harmonious Relationship with Your Clients

Establishing processes for your bookkeeping practice is relatively easy. Getting your clients to follow them can be a different matter, though. You want to keep your clients happy, but you also need to maintain good boundaries in your business to maintain your profitability…and your sanity.

Feb 5th 2020
Senior Strategic Guide Profit First Professionals
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When I started my bookkeeping practice, it was with the intention of creating a customized solution for each client. I quickly learned this was not a sustainable business model. In order to create a scalable -and profitable - business, it’s imperative to establish standard operating procedures and processes.

Establishing processes for your bookkeeping practice is relatively easy. Getting your clients to follow them can be a different matter, though. You want to keep your clients happy, but you also need to maintain good boundaries in your business to maintain your profitability…and your sanity.

So, what can you do if you have a client who won’t follow your processes? Create a process to help bring them into alignment!

Step One: Educate

Regardless of whether this is your client’s first experience outsourcing their bookkeeping or if they are an outsourced bookkeeping veteran, you will need to educate them on how to work with you. Too often, bookkeepers leave this step out of the onboarding process, causing frustration for both the bookkeeper and the client.

  1. Schedule a series of onboarding calls with your new clients, walking them through any systems they will need to use to share information with you. Even if they are familiar with the technology you use, show them how you want them to use it. Also discuss any deadlines to submit information, and provide them with a calendar of due dates.
     
  2. Discuss your communication policies. Let them know how long they can expect to wait for a response from you. The policy at our firm is to acknowledge all emails and voicemails by the end of the next business day. We usually respond much sooner than that, but our clients know if they haven’t heard back from us by the end of the day after they email or call us, their message was not received. This sets the client’s mind at ease, and it also prevents them from sending an email and then immediately following up by phone to make sure we received the message.

    Also discuss your communication preferences. You want to be flexible here and make it easy for your clients to communicate with you, but you also want to maintain healthy boundaries. If you don’t want your clients to communicate with you via text message, tell them.
     

  3. Consider creating a video library answering your clients’ frequently asked questions. This does not take the place of the onboarding calls at the beginning of the engagement, but providing this resource will help your clients refresh their knowledge as they work with you.
     
  4. Create a “rules of engagement” document, and share it with your clients. This won’t take the place of your engagement letter, but providing the key points you want clients to remember in a bullet-pointed document will provide them with a quick resource they can refer to if they have questions (and you can refer to if you need to re-educate them at some point in the future.)
     
  5. Phrase everything in terms of how it benefits the client. Let them know you will be able to complete their work more quickly and accurately if they follow your processes, and how that benefits them. Avoid talking about your workload and profitability. It’s not that the clients don’t care about those things, but – like all of us – they are more likely to comply if they see how compliance benefits them instead of looking at it as though they are doing you a favor.

Step Two: Correct

Many bookkeepers who have an education step in their onboarding process stop there, then become frustrated when the client isn’t following their processes. Think back to the last time you were trying to learn something new; chances are, you didn’t get it right the first time. Worse, if someone didn’t correct you, you continued doing things incorrectly, making it harder to change things on down the road. This is why the Correct step is important.

  1. Correct your client the very first time they don’t follow your processes. Of course, you want to do this as gently as possible, but reinforce the importance of following the processes you have established and how it benefits them.
     
  2. If the problem is with how the client is using the technology you use, consider creating a short video showing them the correct way to use it. This will save you time and make the content more consumable for the client.
     
  3. Praise the client for what they are doing right or well. It takes three to four instances of praise to offset one instance of criticism, so you want to make sure you are praising your client for what they are doing right so they don’t dread hearing from you.
     
  4. Be patient. You might have to repeat Step Two a few times and using different communication methods before your client complies with your processes. Don’t lose your patience with the client too soon…remember, this is a learning experience for them.

Step Three: Assess

You’ve educated your client and corrected them several times, and they still aren’t following your processes. Now it’s time to assess the client relationship.

  1. What has been the client’s response to the Educate and Correct steps? If they’ve shown a willingness to learn, maybe they simply aren’t understanding what you are asking of them or – more likely – they aren’t understanding why you are asking it of them. Have a frank conversation with the client to uncover why they aren’t following your processes.
     
  2. If the client has been defensive or dismissive of the Educate and Correct steps, you need to determine why. This will also require a frank conversation with the client. In most cases, a defensive or dismissive client – like a client who has shown a willingness to learn – simply doesn’t understand why you are asking them to do things in a certain way.
     
  3. Be open to criticism. A process that seems straightforward and easy to you might be cumbersome and confusing to the client. Listen with an open mind and consider if there is an easier way for the client to work with you that won’t violate your boundaries or result in you creating a special process specifically for this one client.
     
  4. Be willing to walk away. In the rarest of circumstances, at this stage the client will express a blatant unwillingness to follow your processes, even after you have ensured they understand the how and the why behind them. This indicates a client who doesn’t view you as a fellow professional business owner. Save yourself future hassles and headaches, and disengage this type of client quickly, courteously, and professionally, referring back to your engagement letter and the rules of engagement you covered with them in the Educate step.

Wrap Up

Having a process where you Educate your client, Correct them when they don’t follow your processes, and Assess your processes and your clients’ willingness to follow them is an important element of your scalable bookkeeping practice. Very rarely will a client willfully disregard your processes out of disrespect, so give them the benefit of the doubt and do everything possible to set up their relationship with you for success. This will help you build your reputation as a professional who other business owners want to work with while also helping you prevent stress and burnout.

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