When saying ‘no’ is the best thingby
Is the customer always right? Ahead of her appearance at AccountingWEB Live Expo this week, Lucy Cohen explores how to say 'no' to clients.
Who else here is old enough to remember the start of the pandemic? Remember Tiger King, banana bread, and being kind?
Me too. And despite the fact that almost two years in, our appetite for sociopathic big-cat-botherers and baked goods remains constant, it seems that everyone has forgotten about being kind.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve spoken to what seems like a depressingly long list of my fellow practitioners whose clients have entirely forgotten the lengths we all went to for them during the peaks of the pandemic. The general consensus is that the return to rudeness is directly proportional to the increase in freedoms we’re experiencing. Ditch the masks, shout at an accountant - that’s the trend.
Should we have seen this coming? Could we have done anything about it? Over the course of the pandemic, the industry as a whole has woken up to the need to look after ourselves. We’ve understood the need to metaphorically put on our own oxygen masks first, we finally started setting boundaries and managing expectations.
And it seemed like it was going well for most people. Yet slowly but (maybe) surely, the old habits are creeping back in. Clients are becoming demanding again and the stresses and burnout of January feel almost prophetic.
Are we doomed to revisit the same old patterns? In a word, no. We still have the opportunity to implement changes for good if we take action now.
At AccountingWEB Live Expo I will be speaking with Jo Wood and James Ashford about taking back control of your working hours while still being responsive to your most demanding clients. As a preview for that session, here are some techniques you can bring into your practice to say no to clients and stay sane.
Here’s the plan.
Don’t beat yourself up
It’s not your fault if things have taken a back-slide. Habits can famously take a long time to rewire and your clients are habitually used to dealing with you in a certain way. Even though the last couple of years have seen changes to the way we work, if people feel like we are going ‘back to normal’, then they’re going to revert to their old ways when they deal with you.
The important thing here is not to berate yourself for slipping back into old patterns of behaviour. What you must do though is recognise that you’re not willing to continue to work in this way and commit to making some changes.
Revisit your wants
Why is it that you’re working for yourself anyway? I bet it’s not because you love doing tax returns compiled from a dusty shoebox of receipts at 10pm on 31st January every year. I’d wager that your motivations lie somewhere around having more time, more money, and more job satisfaction.
However it is that you weight those goals (or whatever your goals are), write them down again, and see how your projected few months worth of work fit into those. This might mean that you decide to take on a limited number of new clients, or none at all. Perhaps you even ditch a few that have been giving you grief and raise your prices to better reflect the sort of service you want to provide.
Whatever it is, WRITE IT DOWN. Stick it on a post-it note on your screen so that you literally can’t lose sight of it. That little note will remind you what you’re doing this for and keep you focussed.
Stop doing stuff
Unless what you are doing helps you achieve one of those goals on your little post-it note, stop doing it. You’ll need to be brutally honest with yourself here - it’s really easy to make a decision with our hearts and then justify it with our heads.
But in the same way that the Ferrari you covet won’t be suitable for the school run, so poor activity choices will impact your goals. If one of your goals is financial freedom, for example, you might be tempted to kid yourself that taking on extra work at the last minute will help you earn the cash towards that. And sure, you’ll have some extra money, but at what cost? I’d argue that becoming a slave to the behest of a last-minute request isn’t really freedom at all.
Call a spade a spade
(*whispers*) It’s okay to tell a client they’re being rude if they are being rude. Of course, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. But it’s absolutely acceptable to call out rudeness when you encounter it. You just need to do it in such a way that doesn’t cause things to become heated.
It’s easy to forget that we deal with weird letters from HMRC and tax jargon every day, while our clients don’t. The unfamiliar can cause anxiety, especially for clients when it comes to their taxes. Just like us, they are running a business and facing all of the challenges that we do.
I’ve found that in most cases, clients are abrupt or downright rude when they are scared or stressed out themselves. And no, they shouldn’t take it out on you, but unfortunately, it does happen.
So before you put the phone down in frustration or feel like giving up, try a few of the following phrases to diffuse a tense situation:
- “I can hear that you’re really concerned about this, and I’m going to help you. Let’s take a breath and start again.”
- “I absolutely understand your frustration. Let’s take a moment and figure out what the best resolution for you will be.”
Or if someone is being really unreasonable:
- “I know that you’re upset right now, but I don’t deserve your rudeness. I’m very willing to help if you can agree not to be rude to me.”
You’d be amazed at how calling someone out for being rude can turn things around. It can often lead to the ‘rude’ person opening up and expressing some vulnerability that will help you work with them. A lot of anger and rudeness stems from fear and frustration.
Of course, if someone is too rude to deal with, then you don’t have to. You are not obligated to keep them as a client! (*Yells “get out of my pub” in a Peggy Mitchell voice*)
Just say no
Sometimes, we have to say no to things. Whether you simply don’t have the capacity to take on anything else, or you’re making the active choice to only undertake work that drives you towards accomplishing your post-it note goals, this is your permission to say no to whatever you like.
You don’t owe anyone anything that doesn’t help you meet your own needs - that’s the whole point of working for yourself! Sometimes the best thing we can do is say ‘yes’ to our own goals and ‘no’ to anything else.