Weeding the Garden: How Bookkeepers Can Let Clients Go

businessman in a field of weeds
Helder Almeida_istock_weeding
Share this content

Whether you are just getting started as a bookkeeper or you have an established firm, ensuring clients are a good fit for your practice is one of the best things we can do to maintain a healthy business and create sustainable growth. But what about the ones that aren’t a good fit?

We’ve all had them. We start to learn what to watch for: the clients that don’t get us what we need in order to assist them in a timely fashion, the clients that treat us like employees rather than professional service providers, the clients that aren’t using your preferred software and systems, the clients that grumble about price and don’t say thank you.

There’s also the “cringe factor.” When you see the caller ID, do you want to crawl under your desk? Do you avoid scheduling time to meet with them, and when it is time to meet, your team plays hot potato about who has to facilitate the meeting?

Those clients are weeds in our garden. They’re big and thorny. They’re not fun or attractive. They’re not useful. They don’t produce any fruit. They have burrs that stick to us and get everywhere.

Have you ever gone on a hike and gotten covered in burrs, then washed your clothes without getting all the burrs off? They get everywhere and then you find yourself up at night picking burrs out of your sheets so you can sleep.

In the same way, those weedy clients are the ones that keep us up at night and impede our enjoyment of our chosen vocation. More than just being aggravating, the weedy clients pull valuable resources from the clients you DO want.

If your garden is full of weeds, the weeds will take over while the veggies get buried, forgotten, and fail to thrive as a result.

How to Weed the Garden 

You can start with one big weeding, and once you’ve weeded once, it will be easier moving forward. My firm did a large-scale weeding about 10 months ago, releasing 20 percent of our client book of business in a single day, and we continued to release another 20 percent over the following six months.

We put together an email template simply letting these clients know that our business model had changed and we were no longer the best fit for their needs. We let them know that we wanted them to have the best fit, even if that is not with us, and we offered them a handful of options for where they might find the best solutions for them. We offered two weeks to help them transition to that next step, and we held that boundary.

Over the next few months, our gross income nearly doubled. Now, 10 months after that initial decision to clean up our garden, our gross income is up by more than 120 percent, and we have taken on very few new relationships.

We have been concentrating on the value, results, and health of our current clients. We get to spend more time with the people who we really enjoy spending time with, and we get to do the most fun and nerdy parts of bookkeeping: forward-focused data analysis.

Those clients are thrilled to have the additional attention from us, and they are thriving because of it. We show them value that goes beyond compliance bookkeeping, and they are happy to pay us for those deeper services.

Now that our garden is weed-free, we get to focus on continuing to maintain our client list by pruning and training each relationship to be the most healthy and vibrant relationship it can possibly be. It still takes time and energy, but it FEELS GOOD.

Sometimes we decide that a plant we thought we wanted isn’t a good fit after all, and that’s OK. We have now gotten used to the positive interaction of weeding, pruning, and client release. It takes a little practice, but it’s well worth the effort.

Your Weeding Plan

Leaving the analogy behind, here are the steps to follow to get the clients you want:

1. Print up a list of your current clients.

2. Highlight the ones that you are not EXCITED to work with.

3. Look at what percentage that is. If it’s more than 20 percent, go to step 4. If it’s less than 20 percent. skip to step 5.

4. If the highlighted clients are more than 20 percent, do a second sweep, picking out the ones that it will be easy for you let go of. Keep the others for now, and repeat this process in a month.

5. Email the clients you are ready to release, letting them know that you want them to have the best fit for their needs, and offering them options for where they may find their best fit. Give them a two-week transition period, and hold that boundary.

6. Invest extra energy into your FAVORITE clients, getting them onto value-priced packages that include services that will help their businesses grow and be more profitable.

By doing this, you will build a firm that is more fun, rewarding, and profitable. Picture what you want your garden to look like, flourishing with flowers and fruit. To get there, you need to pull the weeds!

About Ingrid Edstrom

ingrid edstrom

Ingrid is a bookkeeping nerd and CEO of Polymath LLC. She is an influential member of ICBUSA and wider bookkeeper community. Read Ingrid’s story of how she became a bookkeeper and why she joined ICBUSA.

Replies

Please login or register to join the discussion.

Sep 21st 2016 18:11

Hi Ingrid, thanks for a great topic. I'd be interested in learning more about what tools you are using for forward-focused data analysis!

Thanks (2)