How to Screen New Clients!

Phase Two Management Consultants
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As we enter the time of year that new clients are generally at their highest, I thought it would be a good idea to explore some criteria practice owners might follow for accepting new clients.

Not every client is a good fit for your practice and most practice owners who've been in business for more than a few years, are very well aware of who is, and who isn't.  But even those that know who is a good fit, make the mistake of disregarding their own instincts, from time to time.

Of course, the criteria for who to accept, will vary widely practice to practice, since each owner is targeting different clients. For example, for one practice owner - an individual tax client is not a fit. For another, this person is a perfectly acceptable client. For one practice owner, a client who hasn't filed for a few years is a 'no go', and for another, this is an ideal client!

So it depends on a) your target client and b) red flags based on statements the prospect makes that you recognize, have meant trouble for you in the past.

Here are some policies I have helped practice owners establish as regards new clients acceptance:

1) The client is critical of his current or past CPA for reasons that do not appear to be legit. E.g. if the CPA had a habit of not returning phone calls, or emails for weeks, then fair enough. However, if the complaint is that the CPA charged him for a quick phone call -- well, his time is valuable, so this is obviously someone who does not respect that.

2) For another client, he will not accept a prospect who tells him that he did his own return in prior years. Again, just in his experience, and this may not be everyone’s, these clients have nickel and dimed him, were way too cost-conscious, and asserted that the work was a lot less involved than it really was.

3) One practice owner found that clients with foreign income that was below a certain amount were not worth taking on. The fee for the time it took to ensure they were compliant with IRS rules was not something clients were happy with -- given they were making so little income abroad. For this particular CPA, it was a no-win situation. It took quite a bit to research it, yet the client had no appreciation of that - so the CPA put it on his list of acceptance criteria. The point here is -- if you've had enough trouble with a certain type of client or situation - it goes on your list!

Another way to screen clients that I have seen work is to let them know what your minimum tax return fee is.

Profiling the clients, you do, and don't want to work with has major benefits and in my experience, has handled the "burnout" many a CPAs was experiencing. You don’t want your firm to be a sitting duck to everyone who reaches out to you. Some may be great clients but some may cause you to wish you had never become a CPA!

About Ciara


Having worked with accounting practices for over 16 years, and prior to that working as an attorney in a very similar set-up, Ciara MacMahon, CEO of Phase Two Management Consulting, has successfully boosted revenues of accounting practices by 3 – 4X, while allowing the owner to take more time out of the practice. Accounting practice owners are faced with endless deadlines and the challenges of managing workflow, finding the right staff, staff training as well as securing the acquisition of quality new clients! They are also often tasked with the not too pleasant responsibility of imparting bad news regarding taxes due, that the unprepared client is unhappy enough about, to oftentimes ‘shoot the messenger’!

Structuring the practice to be able to withstand these challenges and get far enough ahead of them to not only allow for expansion, but less stress and more time off for the owner, is routinely achieved by our strategic planning and consulting program. As no two practices are the same and each owner has his own vision for what he/she wants, the first step is a Planning Session to work out the owner’s goals and a strategy to obtain them, in the fastest time period, and for the highest return. To schedule your one on one complimentary practice analysis and consultation, email Ciara MacMahon at [email protected] today. 

Services Provided to expand Accounting Practices:
• Strategic Planning, customized to each practice so you have your own 3 – 5 year Business Plan

• Marketing

• Efficiency/time management training

• Hiring

• Gaining agreement/buy-in from staff

• Staff performance review/management

• Exit Strategy – some of our clients have sold practices to other clients of ours, so having a lot of contacts in the accounting industry, has helped clients out both with buying for growth, as well as selling for exit strategy.


“I just opened my own CPA practice a little less than two years ago.  What is unique in my situation is I had over twenty five years of experience as a manager and employee  of small CPA practices.   I met Ciara and we decided to work together  to help me develop a better administrative structure, and a better marketing plan to help me achieve the type of growth I wanted to achieve for the practice.  With Ciara’s guidance, I began to focus my efforts on my strengths, streamline my internal processes and more aggressively market my practice.  She helped me see the value of social media and numerous other marketing techniques.  She has superior knowledge on how small accounting works and knows what is needed to make the jump to the next level.  My practice has grown with her guidance to the point I will need to hire help for the upcoming season!  There is no doubt her guidance helped me get there.  I recommend her services to anyone!”

Mark G. McNelis, CPA


“Ciara provided me with business management and development advice over the years that enabled me to more than double my CPA practice and finally sell the practice as I move into retirement. Her assistance has been invaluable ”

Howard J Crane CPA


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