Brought to you by
Bright full colour logo
Bright was created in 2021 when Thesaurus Software Ltd. and Relate Software Ltd. decided to join...
Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

How to set boundaries with clients: setting the rules of engagement

26th Apr 2024
Brought to you by
Bright full colour logo
Bright was created in 2021 when Thesaurus Software Ltd. and Relate Software Ltd. decided to join...
Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

A positive work-life balance can feel unattainable at times, particularly for accountants, where cyclical deadlines, difficult client calls, and changing regulations can make stress seem like part of the job.  

Caba recently published a whitepaper finding that 55% of accountants suffer from burnout (compared to 41% of employees in other industries), and four out of five believe that stress and poor mental health are a problem within the profession. 

Not having clear boundaries with clients can perpetuate this culture. Feeling pressure to respond or be available at all hours, managing unrealistic expectations, or playing constant catch up are all unhelpfully easy traps to fall into.  

That’s why setting and enforcing client boundaries is key. 

What does setting boundaries with clients actually mean? 

Put simply, setting boundaries with clients means having clear expectations about what you will and won’t do. From having fixed response times to specifying the best way to send you information, those boundaries look different for every firm.  

The first step to putting boundaries in place is to understand the way you’d work in an ideal world. If you could set it out from scratch, what would client engagement look like, both now, and in the future? Which aspects of interaction are currently the most challenging? Why?  

By analysing existing areas of stress within your firm when it comes to client interaction, you’re likely to be able to spot things you could tackle with some firm boundaries.  

Maybe, for instance, you’ve got too many communication channels, and it’s hard to keep track of emails, texts, calls, and WhatsApps all at once. Or perhaps clients aren’t clear about exactly what work you’ve agreed to, and consistently expect more.  

Whatever your challenges look like, think about the firm culture you’d like to create, considering team morale and retention, the realistic longevity of your approach, and the precedent you’re setting from the start. Then, it’s time to put specific solutions in place.  

Using software to enforce client boundaries 

Once you’ve highlighted your firm’s challenges, you’ll probably start to see patterns emerging - and have some ideas about how to change things. Software can help you do this. 

Accounting software is purpose built to enable efficient, trackable communication, streamlining the way things work. Let’s look at some challenges it can help tackle. 

Not being clear about what work is included 

Scope creep is where you’ve agreed to carry out a specific project or services, but ‘little extras’ end up amounting to a significant volume of additional work.  

Including complimentary services can be a good way to strengthen your acquisition or retention strategy, but lots of firms find themselves either unaware of scope creep, or inconsistent in the approach they take.

By using dedicated proposal software (like BrightPropose) you can outline your rules of engagement, as well as exactly what services are included and what aren’t, to set a clear scope from day one.  

Communicating from all angles - at all hours  

Another challenge - particularly for smaller firms, or those just starting out - can be a perceived need to respond to clients immediately, regardless of the time of day or night.  

Multiple emails, calls, and messages are hard to keep track of, and it’s likely something will eventually get missed. Plus, when clients treat your personal WhatsApp like a hotline to professional advice, it’s hard to switch off at the end of the day.  

Online client portals, like we’ve built in BrightManager, can be a simple solution. By acting as a direct line to accountants, they give clients one place to go, meaning you can manage multiple accounts efficiently. By adding engagement hours and guaranteed response times, too, you’ll reinforce how and when they can expect to hear from you. 

Having to repeatedly chase clients for information  

Chasing clients for information is tedious and time-consuming - but having software that can automate the process helps. 

Rather than spending your free time sending out reminders, make use of your client portal’s automatic records request function to send reminders for you, as many times as you like, whenever you need them. With BrightManager, if a client only sends you part of the information you need, you can let the software know, and it’ll start the reminder process again.  

Client portals also provide a centralised audit trail. As long as they’ve got an internet connection, clients can share, download, and e-sign documents from any device - all tracked and time stamped - leaving you with a clear, end-to-end log of activity.  

Asking for information they could find themselves 

Finally, software can help set boundaries with clients by enabling you to empower them to self-serve. BrightManager, for example, lets clients check their tax bills - meaning that, rather than calling you and asking how much tax they have to pay, they can just login and see the information on screen.  

Encouraging clients to self-serve takes time and patience, but with a consistent approach, they’ll begin to see the time-saving benefits for themselves, too. 

Making the boundaries stick 

First, set your principles and decide what you’re comfortable with and where your limits are. Share them with your team, challenge each other with potential scenarios, and make sure you’re aligned with your approach.  

Then, communicate your way of working as early as possible to clients. For new clients, that means setting out the terms of engagement right from the onboarding process. For existing clients, explain that you’re working on efficiency, and want to improve the service you offer.  

Having the right software in place to facilitate your boundaries makes communication easy: it provides a clear process to follow and keeps all your workflows documented and visible.  

Finally, make sure your team is trained consistently. Clients will take the easiest route where possible - so make sure there’s no round-the-side phone calls, or exceptions being made to boundaries you’ve previously agreed not to compromise on. 

Ready to start setting boundaries with clients? 

We’ve packed BrightPropose and BrightManager with features designed to help accountants set clear, consistent rules of engagement.

Book a demo

Related articles: