Should you sack your vampire clients?
All clients are not created equal. You can have the good, the bad and the vampires (the ones that suck the life out of you), writes Amanda C Watts.
Surprisingly, many firms do not get rid of bad or vampire clients. But keeping a vampire client has consequences that you may not at first see.
Of course, any accountant contending with self assessment season doesn’t need reminding about the ramifications of nightmare clients. But these clients are not just confined to January, these clients plague accountants throughout the year.
Vampire clients suck the life out of you
Take two recent discussions on the Any Answers forum. In one, AccountingWEB reader Neanderthal described the problem for small firms like theirs is that they’re “trapped in a vicious circle as we would normally be the destination” for the worst kind of clients.
It another Any Answers discussion that caught my eye, AccountingWEB member vfilipova recounted an incident involving a profitable but threatening client who accused the reader of filing forms to Companies House without his permission.
“It’s probably time to get rid of him despite him is still a source of revenue,” commented the reader. “But how do you protect yourself from such cases?”
Both cases demonstrate how vampire clients will suck the life out of you, your team and eat into the profits of your business.
Having these vampire clients doesn’t just affect you when you are at work. It affects your mental and physical health. A vampire client will keep you awake at night, will become a topic of conversation with your spouse at the dinner table and when travelling in the car, and will have you snapping and shouting at your children because you are stressed out.
A vampire client can make your head hurt, your backache, bring on depression and leave you unable to go to work and laid up in bed. Pretty horrendous, eh?
So why do we allow ourselves to keep vampire clients in the business? Quite simply because most vampire clients pay well. If they didn’t then you would have sacked them already, yes?
But with the developments of the profession and the ability to market and sell your services to attract higher-paying clients far easier than you could in the 1980s and 1990s, it really is time to stand up for yourself and stop selling your soul to the devil.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
This old adage might be keeping you from making a very sensible decision. Fear of not getting the two birds in the bush is what could stop you from getting rid of the bird in your hand. Fear emerges when you are not feeling in control of a situation. If you switch your focus to taking back control - to having good leads that become good clients, and creating the service and value to serve those clients well - you will never put up with a vampire client again.
Before we decide to sack a vampire client we have to decide on what one is.
A vampire client will be different for each firm owner and each firm. Different people can tolerate different stresses, so you have to come up with your own basic rules to follow.
Sack the vampire client if you do not accept any of the following:
- They are threatening you. Whether verbally, physically or with court action.
- They are harassing you. Via email, on the phone or sexually.
- The client is lying to you. Making up stories about why they could or couldn't do something, blaming your team when you know it’s an untruth, or telling downright lies that you know are Jackanory stories.
- The client is making unreasonable demands. No amount of money should make you a doormat. If a high-value client is demanding their pound of flesh then it's time to get the hell out of dodge.
- The client calls you and emails you at unreasonable hours. This may well be your training, so before you sack them, make sure you have laid down the ground rules and not made yourself available 24/7. (If you have trained the client to act in this way then consider putting better boundaries in place rather than sacking them).
- They do not pay on time. A Client is only a good client if they pay their bills. If they owe you money send in the debt collectors and sack them.
- They keep changing their mind. If you are still charging by the hour (please do not) and they keep changing their mind on what services they want and do not want from you, your time will be spent doing your own accounts and not growing your firm and working for your other clients.
- They do not do as you ask, incurring fines and then blame you. This leaves you in a situation where they are angry at you when it's not even your fault. Arguments and horrible emails can follow and voila - those sleepless nights I mentioned earlier start to happen.
- They start to play you off against other accountants. Maybe the vampire client wasn’t always a vampire client but now is becoming one. If they play you off against the competition then this is a big warning sign. Most of all it means they are not seeing the value you provide as they are being swayed by price or someone else's offering. If you cannot fix this problem and articulate your value better than your competitor can, then you should let them go. Don’t be held to ransom.
- They are not sticking to the law. If you have a client who wants “creative” accounting then sack them fast. You could end up in court and this could destroy your business, your marriage and relationships with everyone around you.
One final point: your sanity is paramount, but so is your reputation. If you have a vampire client that holds you over a barrel and threatens to destroy your reputation if you don’t bow to their whims, it is even more important to sack them.
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