Five ways to get rid of a client

You know you want to sack a client, but how can you do this? Mark Lee explores the main options available to you.

There are many reasons why you might want to get rid of a client. The most common of these are probably related to:

1. Fees - arguing about these or persistent late payment

2. Data - poor quality or regular delays in supplying all you need

3. Attitude - rude or otherwise unpleasant to deal with

In recent years more and more accountants seem to have...

Continued...

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Comments
mr. mischief's picture

timing!    7 thanks

mr. mischief | | Permalink

Unbelievable timing as I have just resigned from a client today who had taken to pretty much shouting at me and calling me incompetent down the phone.  This is the same client where HMRC put a PAYE/NI payment into suspense, then brought it out of suspense and posted it to corporation tax.  It is very difficult to have a conversation as I usually don't get the chance to finish a sentence.

At the end of the day this has been a mess, maybe I could have dealt with HMRC better but then again without me they would never have gone looking into the suspense account.  Either way the amount concerned is under £500, for me life is too short to get stressed over the small stuff.  We're just not compatible and I've tried a few different approaches.  I can get along with most people but you just need to accept that some folks don't gel with you.

"I have resigned as your accountant.  I feel our relationship has reached the stage where communication is often confrontational and I can’t find a way of breaking that cycle.

Thank you for appointing me as your accountant in the first place, and I wish you all success for the future."

His initial reaction overall is disappointment that I resigned before he could axe me!

Sacked one only this week    4 thanks

Platform | | Permalink

Told him he's wasn't my cuppa anymore. I rarely mince my words so didn't see the need to prance around the subject.

bookmarklee's picture

Sorry @AlphaMale    2 thanks

bookmarklee | | Permalink

Alpha Male wrote:

You forgot the one other solution. 

Thanks for your comment but that option (or 'solution') to retrain difficult clients is one you make before you decide NOT to sack them.

This isn't another piece about how to deal with problem clients. It's focused on the odd one you have decided you really don't want any more.

Mark

[edit] Ps: @AlphaMale seems to have deleted his post. Am leaving my reply in case it returns

 

The 5-50 Coach's picture

The price one often seems to    1 thanks

The 5-50 Coach | | Permalink

The price one often seems to work well, but I also love Or's thought - train them to be a good client.

If you've put the price up to the point where you're happy for them to stay, as it's worth you dealing with them - is everybody happy - yes!

On a similar vein I know three practices who had an open discussion amongst their team about sacking clients and drew up a shortlist from there. Initially the teams were very cautious, but later they found it a good "team bonding" exercise leading into process improvements, less d list clients and a closer knit team.

ShirleyM's picture

I agree with BookMarkLee    3 thanks

ShirleyM | | Permalink

I imagine most accountants will try to get the clients cooperation first, and then sack those who can't or won't change.

With regard to increasing fees, it depends on the client. Some clients cause such irritation and frustration that no amount of fees can make up for the stress they cause.

This applies to my employee, as well as myself. My employee is an absolute necessity and I want her to enjoy her work. A PITA client isn't worth risking my health & happiness, or hers.

EDIT: I always give the client the real reason for our resignation.

TaxTeddy's picture

Thinking ahead    1 thanks

TaxTeddy | | Permalink

Mark has touched on two very good points in his paragraph headed “Simply State The Facts".

The first of these is stating how you feel - whatever your feelings, they are absolutely valid and your client has no room for argument, so this is a very strong lever for removing the client.

Secondly, Mark touches on “leaving the door open". From experience, I know that it is a mistake to allow the client to get into a discussion and possibly persuade you to retain them. It is worth thinking through the client response before writing to them with your reasons for disengagement.

This doesn't mean that you have to be rude, simply decisive and firm.

Five ways to get rid of a client

Martin B | | Permalink

flagging

Just a hint of caution    1 thanks

neileg | | Permalink

Mark said: Your accountancy practice is your business and you decide who can be a client and who should not be.

Just bear in mind the Equality Act. I have known one professional (not an accountant, however) who had a sacked client accuse him of being racist. It all got sorted in the end but it was a lot hassle.

Money isn't everything    3 thanks

malcolm141 | | Permalink

I'd avoid over pricing or under-serving. Instead, just explain that money isn't everything in the world of small business.

Go one and say that from your perspective you need to feel you are the right fit for them and you don't based on recent interactions and communications.

Wish them well for the future and provide them with handover papers to give to the new accountant.

Malcolm

London Accountants

 

JCresswellTax's picture

Option 1    4 thanks

JCresswellTax | | Permalink

Isn't really an option though is it?

You are basically saying underperform.  What professional would ever choose to do that?

I think you should remove this as an option, its pointless and nonsensical.

bookmarklee's picture

Thanks @JCresswellTax

bookmarklee | | Permalink

We agree that it's not a good option and I'm evidently not advocating it.  Yes, I could rewrite the article to make this even clearer but I don't see the need.

 

I've jut resigned from a PITA    3 thanks

thomas | | Permalink

I've jut resigned from a PITA and wanted to avoid confrontation so explained I was refocusing my business on specific market sectors and it was with regret that I had to resign.

Done.  No room for movement. One less headache to deal with.

 

Avoiding Repetition    1 thanks

bobhurn | | Permalink

Going forward it is important that akin to a night club doorman, we are selective as to the new clients we accept.  Much easier to deny entry than have to evict later

empowerment for inadequate accountants?    1 thanks

68fw | | Permalink

 

You poor deluded souls... just keep listening to Mr Lee - 'get rid' of your 'd grade' clients and I will look forward to welcoming them and turning a profit, to each his own I guess.

stepurhan's picture

Win-Win    3 thanks

stepurhan | | Permalink

68fw wrote:
You poor deluded souls... just keep listening to Mr Lee - 'get rid' of your 'd grade' clients and I will look forward to welcoming them and turning a profit, to each his own I guess.
We are happy to get rid of clients that cause us stress. You are happy to get clients you want to deal with. A good situation all round then.

guyletts's picture

Don't forget to say 'Thank you'    2 thanks

guyletts | | Permalink

It definitely makes sense to guard local reputation and close the relationship in a professional way.

But the thing that seems to be missing from the examples of standard wording above is to thank the client for their business to date, and to apologise for the inconvenience it will cause them to change firm.

The goal must be to part amicably and avoid any negative impact on reputation. Whatever your reasons for doing it - it's how the client feels at the end of it that will determine what they say to other (potentially more profitable) prospects.

I know with some people you have to swallow hard first, but it's worth it.

It can be hard to say 'goodbye'    1 thanks

angusnicolson | | Permalink

Sacked a difficult and rude client a few years back for no-payment of fees and making outrageous demands.

He refused to accept we had resigned and kept sending payroll, VAT and accounts information until we sued him for the unpaid fees; when he realised we were serious.

No loss, and I doubt anyone could make a profit out of what he was prepared to pay for professional advice he never valued.

41115BARRI's picture

Send them to your biggest competitior    3 thanks

41115BARRI | | Permalink

Get rid of them, as politely as you can to avoid a complaint, but make sure you recommend they go to your biggest competitor - that way they can tie them up in knots instead of you!

NHT: now hear this...    1 thanks

68fw | | Permalink

 

Any accountant (on this thread or otherwise) wishing to divest themselves of a client they label  as a 'd grade' is invited to pm me (for further details) and refer such clients to my firm - I will pay commission on any successful new business take-up.

 

 

 

PITA

Sime Williams | | Permalink

Would someone tell me what a PITA is?

 

stepurhan's picture

PITA    2 thanks

stepurhan | | Permalink

Pain in the A.........ctually I can't remember what the A stands for (or I don't want to type it on this otherwise polite website.. ;-) )

PITA

forgeron | | Permalink

= Pain in the Ass.

It's true that people often use initials on this site that not everyone is familiar with.

What's a PITA    4 thanks

penelope pitstop | | Permalink

Thought it was some type of middle eastern flatbread.

Yes, what's a PITA?

On a serious note, I used to be very clear in telling departing clients etc. what I thought of them. Then one day a friend told me always to part company with someone on a happy note, never upsetting them, no matter how obnoxious they are.

So now, when I get rid, I always do it in the friendliest way possible. For example, "Sorry cannot act for you because we no longer have the skills/staffing to deal with the complexity and peculiarities etc. of your accounts."

That way we all remain friends with no worries of a brick through the window etc. (It's amazing how nowadays people want to seek revenge when they feel they've been wronged).

That way the ex-client goes his merry way scratching his head wondering what that was all about.

 

 

 

 

 

raybackler's picture

About to press the button    1 thanks

raybackler | | Permalink

I found this thread useful to read.  I have a client I have been trying to pluck up the courage to get rid of right now.  I defy any other accountant to change the ways of those who are truly recalcitrant despite offers to the contrary on here.  It is not about the money - it is about a complete lack of respect where we have tried our hardest.  VAT return was due 31st January, still not filed, and no communication despite repeated reminders.  Not the first time.  Always slow to respond and always one of the last to approve annual accounts.  Vague with answers when clarification requested.  When approval given, often right on the deadline.  I feel like the messenger who gets shot rather than a professional adviser!  Others may have broader shoulders, but is it worth it?

How to get rid of a client    1 thanks

mpollins | | Permalink

Good stuff Mark.  The worst client of all is one who doesn't pay on time, grumbles about everything, never recommends anyone to the firm, always moans about the fee level, and who is generally unpleasant to deal with. Asking the client why he/she is like that might produce interesting information for the accountant. The other thing I wanted to mention is that when you sack a client, a disengagement letter is required. It's also required if the client makes the first move and sacks the accountant. 

Martin Pollins - Bizezia Limited

bookmarklee's picture

Great point @guyletts    1 thanks

bookmarklee | | Permalink

guyletts wrote:

the thing that seems to be missing from the examples of standard wording above is to thank the client for their business to date, and to apologise for the inconvenience it will cause them to change firm.

The goal must be to part amicably and avoid any negative impact on reputation. Whatever your reasons for doing it - it's how the client feels at the end of it that will determine what they say to other (potentially more profitable) prospects.

A definite omission from my article.  I fully agree with you. Thanks for sharing.

Mark

bookmarklee's picture

Horses for courses

bookmarklee | | Permalink

68fw wrote:

Any accountant wishing to divest themselves of a client they label  as a 'd grade' is invited to pm me (for further details) and refer such clients to my firm - I will pay commission on any successful new business take-up.

Maybe I'm missing something but this really smacks of desperation. It suggests that @68fw will take on any clients anywhere regardless of their reputation - indeed knowing full well that another accountant can't wait to get rid of them.

I fully accept that someone who is a d-list client for one accountant may respond better to someone else but to actively seek out such ex-clients strikes me as odd to say the least. 

Mark

bookmarklee's picture

Disengagement letters

bookmarklee | | Permalink

mpollins wrote:

when you sack a client, a disengagement letter is required. It's also required if the client makes the first move and sacks the accountant. 

Martin Pollins - Bizezia Limited

Thanks Martin. Another very good point. Appreciated.

I agree  disengagement letters are 'required' as in they provide protection for the out going accountant in the event of subsequent disagreements as to what he/she was doing and what work may have been left for the client or the successor accountant to undertake.

Mark

Really?    1 thanks

68fw | | Permalink

[/quote]

 

"Maybe I'm missing something"

"smacks of desperation"

"will take on any clients anywhere regardless of their reputation"

"strikes me as odd to say the least"

....Perhaps you should have been a politician Mark?

 

It's a tired old ploy to attempt to 'smear' and 'discredit' an opposing argument with subjective value statements - (I think) it does you creditability no good at all.

Experienced accountants who practice with integrity (and refuse to label, objectify or lie to their clients to get rid of them... (er, at least before questioning their own abilities) will make the right judgement as to the arrogance of your opinions.

I'm waiting for those pm's... refer your duly labelled 'd grades clients' here  :-D

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eh?    1 thanks

neileg | | Permalink

68fw wrote:
It's a tired old ploy to attempt 'smear' and 'discredit' an opposing argument with subjective value statements - (I think) it does you creditability no good at all.

Experienced accountants who practice with integrity (and refuse to label, objectify or lie to their clients to get rid of them... (er, at least before questioning their own abilities) will make the right judgement on the arrogance of your opinions.

I'm waiting for those pm's... refer your duly labelled 'd grades clients' here  :-D

Where's the argument? If you want the clients that others don't want then good luck to you. If you have skills and techniques that make this a good business proposition you're on to a winner. It is true, however, that most accountants want clients who you can have a good working relationship with with a mutually professional attitude.

bookmarklee's picture

Sorry - you misjudge me    1 thanks

bookmarklee | | Permalink

68fw wrote:

It's a tired old ploy to attempt 'smear' and 'discredit' an opposing argument with subjective value statements - (I think) it does you creditability no good at all.

Not my intention at all. We disagree, that's fine. I have my opinion and you have yours.

Coincidentally I was just talking to another accountant who tells me he passes he d-list clients to a local chap who pays him a commission. This guys approach is very much cheap and cheerful, simple processing, no advice, pile it high and sell it cheap. If that model works for him (or you) that's fine. In my view it's not sustainable and my earlier observations stand as to the impression it gives to me when someone offers to take on such clients from wherever they are in the country. But I absolutely accept that my view is irrelevant if your approach suits you and works for you.

Mark

stepurhan's picture

Living in glass houses    2 thanks

stepurhan | | Permalink

68fw wrote:
It's a tired old ploy to attempt 'smear' and 'discredit' an opposing argument with subjective value statements - (I think) it does you creditability no good at all.
Says the person who called anyone listening to Mark's advice.

Quote:
You poor deluded souls...
under the heading "empowerment for inadequate accountants?".

You are perfectly entitled to base your business model on taking on clients other accountants find a nightmare to deal with. Others are equally entitled to think that anyone believing belligerent, late clients who don't pay will become a pleasure to deal with just by their influence is likely in for a rude awakening in the very near future.

 

Really    2 thanks

68fw | | Permalink

neileg wrote:

It is true, however, that most accountants want clients who you can have a good working relationship with with a mutually professional attitude.

 

But of course, the really shocking thing about this thread... is that there are so called accountants here, who are not talking about a "mutually professional attitude"

Instead they prefer to "label" their clients, "lie" to their clients, even "under-perform" for their clients and contrive to "get rid" of their clients... behaving like

politicians, "prostitutes in suits".

It seems neither Mark Lee, your self, nor any others find this attitude objectionable.

Shame on you.

 

Oh Dear

bobhurn | | Permalink

Temper, Temper 68fw

Number Six oh dear...

68fw | | Permalink

Now that made me smile!

Number six has regained his composure, enjoyable thread.

 

slipknot08's picture

s'not, you know...    1 thanks

slipknot08 | | Permalink

"pain in the ass..." forgeron

 

I think you'll find that the last word in that phrase has an 'r' in it - leave the poor donkeys alone - we're not American yet, thank all the gods :-)

It's very simple...    1 thanks

carlreader | | Permalink

...man up and tell them.

I don't buy into this "professionalism" crap, which I have heard before from others before, that we can't disengage clients... To me, upping fees / giving deliberately poor service / allowing your staff to be abused - and all the other things that come from these sorts of clients - is far more unprofessional than telling them that you're no longer a match.

 

 

Jason Dormer's picture

Amen to that

Jason Dormer | | Permalink

What he said.