A Guide to Setting Boundaries with Bookkeeping Clients
Why did you start your bookkeeping practice? Whether you originally started your practice for extra income, flexibility or some other reason, being your own boss likely appealed to you, too. Yet, many bookkeepers find themselves dealing with clients and prospects who seem to want to treat them as employees rather than fellow business owners.
Maybe this has happened to you: You have a long-time client who tells you they are changing the way they handle certain functions internally. As a result, they want you to start using a new software they are implementing. This is a software you are unfamiliar with, will have to spend hours learning and that no other client you have uses. You really want to keep this client, though, and so you agree to learn the program.
Or maybe a prospective client tells you they want their work done in a certain way. What they are requesting is outside of what you typically do for your clients, and it will disrupt your established workflows. Yet, they are unyielding on “this is how it must be done.” If they become a client, this prospect would significantly increase your bottom line, and so you work their requests into your engagement letter.
Agree in Haste, Regret in Leisure
Chances are, you have found yourself in a situation similar to one of these. You agree to the client’s or the prospect’s requests, only to regret it later when you discover just how disruptive it is to your workflows and productivity. Even if you are able to increase your prices to cover the additional work, it’s often not enough to offset the time and effort it takes to accommodate specific requests from one client.
Too often, we say “yes” or “okay” too soon in order to keep or gain a client. In doing so, we forget a very important fact:
It’s our business.
We are the experts in our industry, and we get to make the rules about how we work with our clients. In fact, we MUST have boundaries that allow us to not only serve our clients but also run our businesses efficiently and profitably.
Setting Those Boundaries
So, what do you do when you are faced with one of the scenarios above?
First of all, remember you are a business owner who is on equal footing with your clients. You are not an employee; you are an expert in your industry, and prospects and clients come to you for your expertise. Too many bookkeepers exhibit an employee mindset when their clients make requests or demands. This just encourages the client to continue to treat you like a subordinate rather than a peer.
Next, acknowledge your client’s or prospect’s request, then explain you are unable to comply with it. Use an analogy if it would be helpful. Your clients don’t allow their customers to tell them how to run their businesses, so frame your perspective using an example your client might encounter with their own customers and how complying with an unusual customer request could hurt their businesses. Sometimes, the client or prospect just doesn’t understand your perspective until you explain it to them.
Finally, have a rock-solid engagement letter, which explicitly outlines what you will and will not do for your clients. Don’t omit things because you are overly concerned about the length of your engagement letter. It is better to be explicit and avoid misunderstandings than brief and leave yourself open to boundary issues and scope creep.
It’s okay to suggest alternatives or even to just say no when a client or prospect asks for something outside of what works for your business. This doesn’t mean you will always get your way, and you might even lose a client over it. The tradeoff, though, is a business that will run in a way that serves you and your other clients – a win-win for everyone.
Billie Anne Grigg has been a bookkeeper since before the turn of the century (this one, despite what her children think). She is a QuickBooks Online ProAdvisor, LivePlan Expert Advisor, and a Mastery Level Certified Profit First Professionals. She is also a guide (coach) for the Profit First Professionals organization. Billie Anne started...