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Disengaging client when I am not at full capacity?

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Sorry hit the post button accidentally.

This is probably going to be more a moan than a question but as it's interesting to read other peoples views. 

Some background. I’m still building my client base so not at full capacity yet and of course all money helps at this stage. I’ve never had to disengage before.

I took on a client who has turned out to be a total resource drainer, I only agreed to do the company year end accounts and tax return, the client does the bookkeeping and vat returns but they are struggling to do this so I'm getting many questions. When it was clear the client couldn't cope, I gave a very cheap price to complete the bookkeeping and vat but they declined as it was too much and believe me it was too cheap!

It's now turning sour, the client accused me of making a mistake on some work I did for free, this shocked me a lot and when I looked back I actually gave the correct advice but I think they wanted someone to blame for [***] up. I'm getting fed up and the client is getting annoyed, not a great situation.

I do have the capacity to do the extra work as I'm still building my client base but at some point I'd have increase the price to cover my time but the client is never going to agree. I want to be helpful but I also have to be careful that I might be held liable if something goes wrong (already been accused once!), so having a quick look to see if it’s all okay actually takes longer than if I did the work myself. 

What to do.. Maybe I continue to be helpful and once the year end is out the way I increase the price to a worthwhile level and if they leave they leave. Not sure I’d be bothered either way.

Replies (16)

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By Marky
25th Feb 2020 14:42

Don't lose any sleep, disengage today.

Thanks (3)
By Moonbeam
25th Feb 2020 14:47

In my (bitter) experience, once you see a problem like this with a client's behaviour it is a big red flag to get out now. Don't wait for year end or a convenient time for them.
Business is business and you only need good quality clients.

Thanks (5)
paddle steamer
25th Feb 2020 14:54

I lost ten points just for being in the right place
At exactly the wrong time
I looked right at the facts there, but I may as well have
Been completely blind
So, if you see me walking all alone
Don't look back, I'm just on my way back home
There's a train leaves here this morning, and
I don't know, what I might be on


Thanks (0)
By Southwestbeancounter
25th Feb 2020 15:18

My recommendation after 30+ years in business would be to trust your gut instinct - if your gut tells you something then I've found to trust it even if my brain cannot always rationalise it as it rarely (if ever!) lets me down! You can always disengage 'nicely' i.e. say that your business is growing rapidly and you won't be in a position to offer them the time to enable you to give them the service that they require or something along those lines. I've learned much over the years and make fewer mistakes regarding my judgement these days but there's still room for improvement!

Thanks (1)
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
25th Feb 2020 15:36

The thing about building up a client base is its very time consuming to deal with quotes and new clients of any volume. This is a distraction so will pull you back from your aim of growth.

In gardening terms, prune off the bad, and the good has more room to grow even if there is seemingly room for both.

Thanks (2)
By gainsborough
25th Feb 2020 15:50

Couldn't agree more with the above comments - especially SWbeancounter about trusting your gut instinct.

We have so much to put up with already being self-employed but the one definite advantage that hasn't gone is that we have the option to get rid of PITA clients. Politely disengage and concentrate on getting the good clients in.

Thanks (2)
By Truthsayer
25th Feb 2020 17:46

I would do exactly what you propose in your last paragraph. If they demand to know why you have increased the proposed fee for the new year, just be truthful and tell them it is not worth the time and trouble for the old fee. Then they can take it or leave it. You don't have to pretend you're too busy.

Thanks (1)
By penelope pitstop
25th Feb 2020 18:21

Always leave on the best of terms.

Something like, I no longer have the resources to deal with the complexities of your job. You need to find an accountant with the staff and resources to deal with your affairs.

Hopefully, they will then disappear over the horizon never to be seen again.

Do not vent your spleen on them as you disengage. Say you will try to assist in a smooth transition to the new accountant.

Thanks (4)
By lionofludesch
26th Feb 2020 06:37

There's something satisfying in relieving yourself of the burden of a pita client.

Politely point out that your advice was good and that you regard his failure to accept this as evidence of a breakdown in your relationship.

Quantity is never a substitute for quality

Thanks (1)
By 1 2
26th Feb 2020 10:46

The fact you've posted this to my mind shows you don't want to work for them anymore. It's always hard turning away money, especially in the early days when you don't have many clients...but ones like this can eat away at you.

In our experience it goes one of two ways:

1) (more common) they'll shout at you more, about how you're running away cos you're incompetent, leaving them in the lurch etc etc. They may leave negative reviews online for you too. It sucks, but still we think it's a price worth paying to not spend the next 5+ years putting up with their [***].

2) (less common) they respect you more for it. We've had this on at least two occasions. Client being unreasonable/rude, we've said be more polite or we'll resign, they've continued as they were (presumably thinking it was an empty threat). We then did resign, and suddenly they were a bit apologetic.

You don't want to be having a power struggle with your clients, doesn't go well for either side. However, sometimes you need to stand up to bullies!

Thanks (2)
By Cardigan
26th Feb 2020 11:28

Disengage now. It will leave you with more time and headspace to get new clients and use up the spare capacity.

Don't wait until the next return is filed etc as that day will never come.

Leave on good terms (without being a walkover) and don't look back.

Learn from the lessons this client taught you. For example, we no longer do detailed bookkeeping for clients and refer them to a bookkeeper instead.

Thanks (1)
By whatdoyoumeanwashe
26th Feb 2020 15:02

I think the responses are fairly unanimous! I remember when I first started and had lots of capacity, established practitioners advised me "pick your clients carefully". I thought it sounded incredibly arrogant. I had an empty workbook and would take whatever I could get. But I quickly realised it was good advice. I now regularly turn away work by saying I'm at full capacity, when I'm not quite, but it they're just not the type of client I want. I also refuse to take on clients who insist on doing their own VAT returns. They always mess it up and then I spend longer fixing it (because you can't prepare and file the accounts when you know perfectly well the VAT liability is incorrect) than I would have doing the VAT returns in the first place. So if ever a new client says they want to do that, I quote them more, quite a bit more, for services without VAT preparation than with. Clients always either walk away or accept the VAT services.

Thanks (1)
By SouthCoastAcc
26th Feb 2020 15:54

Thanks all, I read all the comments and called the client today and disengaged as nicely as possible, I was honest and said I can't continue at the current fee level.

Feels good.

Thanks (5)
Replying to SouthCoastAcc:
By Southwestbeancounter
26th Feb 2020 16:04

Well done!
The correct decision by the sound of it - not necessarily the easiest at the time but overall the right one long-term.
You'll sleep well tonight................

Thanks (3)
Replying to SouthCoastAcc:
By Cardigan
26th Feb 2020 16:04

Well done!

Onward and upward.

Thanks (1)
Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
29th Feb 2020 17:28

I've only just picked up on this thread but you might like to read this article on this very subject:

Practical Tactics for dealing with difficult clients.

You first need to decide whether you want client to stay but overall as other comments have already said... life is too short.

However as the article points out ... do make sure you record everything (I dont mean actually record conversations!) but write down everything that has happened in case of any comeback..

I had a 'spat' with a client recently and did the'I think we should call it a day...' etc etc. Next day there was a knock on the door and a delivery of a large bunch of flowers from client with just one word... 'Sorry'

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