While new accounting entrepreneurs may be tempted to take whatever business comes their way in the interest of revenue, that mindset can backfire on them.
Even some established accounting firm owners fall into this trap and it’s important to realize that not every client’s money is worth the time and effort. In this article, we’ll explore the warning signs that a client may not be the right fit. I’ll also provide some tips for tactfully firing clients that are thwarting your business success.
4 Signs That it May Be Time to Fire a Client
So, how do you know when you would be better off without a client? If you have clients exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics, it may be time to part ways.
They expect you to be at their beck and call. If you're getting text messages at all hours and frantic phone calls about non-emergent issues, it's a good sign you have a high-maintenance client on your hands. These clients can drain your energy and distract you to the point that they impede your ability to give your other clients quality service.
They disrespect your time. Clients who fail to provide the critical information you need to do the work they’ve hired you to do can cause major productivity bottlenecks. These clients waste your time and try your patience as you need to send them constant reminders of what their responsibilities and deadlines are.
They’ve pushed you into providing services beyond the scope of what you offer to other clients. If you can efficiently and competently deliver what they ask, this may not present any problems. However, it can bring stress and aggravation if you get stuck doing work that is outside of your comfort zone or requires more time than you're realistically able to spend. And, if you start doing tasks that you and your staff abhor, you'll diminish motivation and team morale.
They’re difficult to deal with on an interpersonal level. Occasionally you might find yourself dealing with mean-spirited clients or, sometimes, you and a client might discover your personalities clash. Either way, if working together creates a constant atmosphere of tension or adversity, a separation may be the best course for both of you.
Tips for Tactfully Firing a Client
When you identify that a client just isn’t working out for your firm, what’s next? Before you jump into action to fire a client, consider if the possibility exists to remedy the situation.
Sometimes, clients are willing to do what you require of them to make the relationship work. But if it’s obvious that won’t be an option and you decide to let the client go, you’ll need to tread carefully so that you don’t burn any bridges along the way.
The way to best handle the situation will depend on the circumstances at hand, but here are some general tips that will help make the process less painful:
1. Be honest, but diplomatic
It may seem trite but, honesty is almost always the best policy. Just be sure to choose your words carefully so that you don't offend the client.
2. Communicate that the decision is in the best interests of both of you
Rather than position it as “I just don’t want to work for you anymore,” share that you want the client to have an opportunity to work with a firm that is a better fit for their needs.
3. Don’t leave them high and dry
Be judicious about when you pull the plug on the working relationship. If you fire the client while you’re in the middle of working on a time-critical filing for them, you will put them in a difficult situation. Commit to wrapping up loose ends.
4. Refer them to other resources
Hard feelings will be less likely if you can direct your clients to someone else who can help them. Just make sure you suggest accountants or firms who are equipped to handle the a client’s needs and volume of work. In the case of clients that are difficult to deal with, you may want to point them to an online directory or local chamber of commerce to seek a replacement rather than directly put another professional in a precarious position.
I’d be remiss not to mention that the most effective approach to preventing the wrong clients from infiltrating your business is to onboard only the right ones in the first place. Carefully consider your firm’s strengths, the type of work you want to focus on, the volume of work you’re able to handle, and your goals.
By having a clear vision of where your business is now and where you want it to go, you’ll be better able to differentiate your ideal clients from those that will be a liability rather than an asset.