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Why you should say no to clients

Many accountants go above and beyond for clients when they should just say no. Kevin Whitehouse explains why you should overcome the emotional turmoil and put your foot down.  

6th Jan 2020
Owner and founder Prime Entry
Columnist
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When I started my practice, I had a few tough clients; you might call them hard-nosed negotiators. To them, I’m sure it was some kind of sport to see if they could beat me down on price, and pay me later and later.

It took a few years to understand and learn about my own self-confidence, change my thinking and reach a point where not only can I say no and stand by it. These days, I’m quite happy to fire the client and say goodbye.

As with everything new, of course, it is scary but I learned that if I didn’t step up and do this, my whole business model would be price-led, and I’d be joining the race to the bottom with the masses.

But many stressed practitioners still avoid having these frank discussions with their clients. A recent example of this was shared on the Any Answers forum when regular reader Moonbeam described a “nice prospect” who had caused them to write far too many emails without even signing up for their services.

The AccountingWEB reader realises that the prospect has “PITA stamped on their forehead” and knows they need to say no. The community weighed in with advice and sympathised with stories of clients they should have said no to sooner, including one where a client would even call at 11.30pm.

Finding the courage to say no

So, why do we find it so difficult to say no and how do we find the courage to say enough is enough?

When someone doesn’t like what you say or makes a comment or even rips into you, how you react to the situation is critical. Sure you might feel hurt, upset, and sad or any other emotional word you wish to use, but it is nothing more than a feeling, and you can combat these reactions by changing your thinking.

You can change this as fast as you can snap your fingers. You do not have to participate in the negative reactions if you choose not to. Likewise, you can say "no” to someone and they can react negatively.

If they do, they are simply having a negative emotional reaction to what you say and you can’t control that. These emotions are what most of us have to deal with. When someone reacts to what we do or say, we respond with our own often negative emotional reaction, and of course, that’s all it is: an emotional reaction.

Sometimes, it goes deeper. For some, it’s fear. They don’t even want to experience negative emotions. It’s not real, but it feels real and we don’t like it, and rather than learn to deal with it, we duck and dive, hide and make excuses.

Let’s take a client who you meet and they are all stressed. They’re under pressure from their business and life choices, they haven’t got any money and they have bills to pay, and now there’s the threat of a tax return going in late and tax to pay.

You say, “Before we complete this task, we require you to pay our fee in advance”. 

Their reaction might be to throw their toys out and burst a blood vessel and scream and shout and stamp their feet at you, with statements like “You can’t do that..” and “This is no way to treat a good client…” They’re having a negative emotional reaction, nevermind the fact their own poorly-managed life is mainly to blame, right?

That’s one part of the equation. The second part is how you now react to their outburst, and this is where the fear kicks in. Maybe, because of your experience from the past, it’s unpleasant, but remember: that’s just emotions. It’s only unpleasant and negative if you view it that way. It can only affect you if you allow it.

Standing up to clients by saying no and spelling out your rules doesn’t really require anything more than some clarity and confidence. Their reaction could, of course, be different. They apologise, sweet talk you, and beg you to do their work and of course, they promise to pay you next month...

Why you should say no

Your emotional reaction, confidence, guts and determination to stand up and say no to your clients is one of the most critical lessons in being a business owner. It’s your rules. Set them and play by them. Change your thinking and learn to ignore the negative emotional reactions. 

Saying no and standing by your decision to be paid in advance is now even more critical because if you stick with it, your confidence, and your positioning and your profitability will grow

Replies (3)

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By 0098087
07th Jan 2020 10:58

Just recently had a client use the F word in an email to me as he had to repay his £1500 child benefit even though he was told last year. Never ever had a client use the F Word to me before in a nasty way.
He said he was going elsewhere but still wanted my wife to do his payroll. He was told to sling his hook ny her.

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
07th Jan 2020 18:37

May I refer members to my article "Practical tactics for dealing with difficult clients!"
link below:

https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/practice/practice-strategy/practical-tac...

I usually cant wait until 1 Feb when I do my usual looking through my client list and working out which ones to get rid of.

This year there was one I really wanted to get rid of - you know the type ... rings up wanting things done tomorrow when you are up to your eyeballs with stuff and gets in a huff when you remind him that he is not the only client you have.

We had a bit of a spat over something before Xmas and I thought... 'Right.. I'll get your accounts done and then get rid of you".

The next day there was a knock at the door.. he's sent me a big bunch of flowers with one word on the card... "Sorry".

Now I havent the heart!

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Replying to Jennifer Adams:
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By Jekyll and Hyde
08th Jan 2020 14:05

Perhaps February is the time to have a real conversation with this client! Clearly he has acknowledge he doesn't want to lose you.

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