How to lose a client constructively

Consultant practice editor Mark Lee offers tips for accountants struggling with difficult clients.

There have been plenty of articles on AccountingWEB.co.uk about how to win new clients but precious few about how to lose clients. However, as practices grow, so does the need to lose clients. If this seems like a bizarre suggestion, read on to find out why you might want to lose some clients.

Taking on all-comers

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Comments

Disengagement

Anonymous | | Permalink

Mark,

We've been through this process a few times this year. It takes a bit of courage to actually send that letter, but once you've done so, you feel really liberated!

I don't agree that you should make up an excuse for resigning though. In each case, I've laid out exactly why we are resigning in a professional way (not just 'cause I don't like you), whether it be because of late payers, late record providers or rude clients.

We've only had two comebacks - one was to beg to stay and the other told us that we couldn't sack him and he was going to report us!!

raybackler's picture

We have a Z lister or two

raybackler | | Permalink

Lousy administration, misses all deadlines, provides screwed up receipts in a carrier bag mixed up with personal expenditure and won't return calls or e mails until its too late!

cfield's picture

Difficult clients

cfield | | Permalink

One category you didn't mention in your list of difficult clients are those who refuse to act on your advice with regard to things like expenses, or who are constantly pushing the limits of creative accounting.

Examples include paying domestic phone bills that are in the employees name and refusing to switch them to the company name (and then complaining about them being P11D items), staying overnight in hotels just 30 minutes from home and not accepting that this is a taxable benefit (one used the excuse that his wife had just had a baby and he didn't want to disturb her), failing or refusing to show receipts for suspect payments such as £9,000 flights as it is "better you do not know", going abroad with family or friends on so-called business trips and leaving you to find out later, paying family members on a self-employed basis even though they have no other clients, giving away free goods or services to business associates and then offsetting them against invoices for extra rent or consultancy when they are really in lieu of personal debts, hiding items on company credit card bills and saying that they were personal and you don't need to see them.

Clients like these do not understand or care about the awkward position they are putting you in. Either that or they are so focussed on their own plans that they have little time for admin or petty tax rules and regard these things as anathema.

I'm sure many accountants have clients like these and it would be interesting to hear how others deal with them.

Chris F

AnnaKournikovasKnickers's picture

The clients you don’t want

AnnaKournikovas... | | Permalink

Passing your unwanted clients to another, perhaps less qualified or 'kitchen table' practitioner will only get one a bad name in the professional community. What goes round comes round.

No, the smart way to sack a client is to get them to believe that they've sacked you. I've gotten rid of two last week. I tend to put up with 'going nowhere' clients perhaps longer than other practitioners who do not do financial services. Selling and re-selling (don't say the 'c' word please!) life insurance policies to the same client, remortgaging their houses etc and so on, will handsomely justify not having incremental fees. But the FSA has become a bit sensitive to that, so the client had to go.

The second client was let go because something in my bones tells me that he is due for an HMRC aspect enquirey. So let that be the problem of the " accountant who works for a large national accountancy Firm in Brum but will look after me on the side"

Both (now ex) clients would swear on a stack of bibles that they have sacked me.

41115BARRI's picture

The D's

41115BARRI | | Permalink

How about recommending them to your biggest competitor so they can bugger up their business instead of yours!

dialm4accounts's picture

Pick and choose at the start

dialm4accounts | | Permalink

As a new sole practitioner, and one to whom the practice isn't going to be my sole source of income, I can afford to be picky and choosy.

My rule of thumb, apart from taking on only home-based businesses because that's my niche, is that I will not take on a client who I wouldn't be happy to sit and have a coffee with in a cafe. That's indeed often where the first meeting takes place.

So that rules out those clients who are rude and abusive. No way would I take them on.

I initially planned not to take anyone on who didn't want to keep their own books and do it well. That would have ruled out some very nice people who just hate bookkeeping. So I've extended my services to offer bookkeeping as well - and one of those clients was so grateful he insisted I wasn't charging him enough for it and must accept a higher fee!

I can remember working with D-list toxic clients who would have received the Order of the Boot First Class if I'd had the choice. Now that I do - I'm just not going to take them on in the first place :-)

M

Jason Cobine's picture

Sacking clients    1 thanks

Jason Cobine | | Permalink

Hi Mark,

I know someone who increased their fees for a difficult client. The client paid the extra, started playing ball and even recommended his accountant to others. He became a dream to deal with and earned a reduction in fees the following year.

Money talks.

Take care,

Jason

Jason Dormer's picture

How to lose a client constructively    1 thanks

Jason Dormer | | Permalink

Good article and very important topic.

For a practice to optimise success it is vital that the wrong type of clients are either not taken on at the outset or weeded out.  Same goes for all stakeholders of the business including staff to suppliers.  It's all about working with the right people.

I agree with M that those who are rude and or abusive are a definate no-no.  However this is sometimes difficult to gauge at the outset, when they come to you for the initial consultation and you and your firm are the answer to all their prayers, espcially if they are unhappy with their exisisting firm.  All clients tend to be on best behaviour at this stage.

I think extra care needs to be taken at the outset, asking leading questions as to why they are moving from their previous accountant, what you can do to ensure the same mistakes are not made, detailing mutual responsibilities and making sure that these responsibilities are understood (and acted on by both sides), what their attitude is to their affairs, what their drivers are etc.

By asking these questions is is possible to get a bit of insight into the potential client, how reasonable their expectations are, how they communicate, and whether they will ask and heed your advice with regard to taxation, or ask their mate 'Dave' down the pub and do what he says.

One pointer for me on a client who has the potential for unpleasantness?  Not having the courtesy to say 'thank you' to the staff member who brings their tea / coffee.  But then I'm odd like that!

 

Jason Dormer

http://seahorseuk.co.uk

 

 

 

 

dialm4accounts's picture

Not saying thank you for a cup of tea    1 thanks

dialm4accounts | | Permalink

I think that's an excellent pointer, Jason!

"If you want to know what a man's like, take a look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals." - J K Rowling

How does your potential client treat your staff / his staff / his suppliers?  I've known one client who was nice as pie to his customers but treated his staff, his suppliers, and us (his accountant's staff) like dirt.  And he was a horrible client to deal with - argued about his fees, swore at us... Z list material.

I also agree about asking leading questions about why a potential client wants to come to you.  Why aren't they happy with their previous accountant?  If the previous accountant charged them high fees, is that because the previous accountant has a plush office / has a lot of overheads to pay / charges too much full stop, or is it because the client's books are a right old mess?

M

Good bye Z list client - but do I give professional clearance!

whiteandco | | Permalink

Good article, many thanks.

I am in the process of "being fired" by a Z list client which comes into the category described above by Chris F.  Been a client for 13 years and although borderline, has, until the past year or so, been manageable.  But due to over committing on a personal project has hit financial difficulties and been using the company to fund this (mainly bank overdrafts & client prepayments).  Directors' current accounts (wife & husband business) well overdrawn and cannot be cleared by dividends as the company is in a loss position.  Also started paying a relative as "a freelancer" in the full knowledge she is not registered self-employed.  All this has not been helped by the fact they were recently out with a senior member of HMRC whose conversation was to apparently regale them with his cases. On asking why her Accountant won't let her get away with anything he apparently replied that he was surprised because in his experience most Accountants were on the fiddle!

Requests from me to bring everything into line eventually resulted in an agreement she would look for another Accountant.  When she does, I guess I am going to be asked for professional clearance which I feel uncomfortable about giving.  I would be interested to learn what others do in this situation.

Professional Clearance

Anonymous | | Permalink

I recently got rid of a client and then eventually, received the usual letter from their new accounant. I spent some time wondering about how to word my response and finally came up with....

'we refer to your letter dated XXXX. We are no longer acting for the above client as we resigned on XXX.  Please find the following documents as requested;'

That way,  I thought the new accountant has at least some implied warning about the client, because I am absolutely sure the client would not have said I resigned nor the reasons why!

fee increases?

Anonymous | | Permalink

I increased the fee of a client I wanted to get rid of, he agreed. Later I realized he agreed because had no intention of paying the fee anyway.  I learnt from that one!