“And then she kissed me, and I realized she probably was right. There must be fifty ways to leave your…” client. With apologies to Paul Simon for mangling his lyrics, firing the right clients means a more profitable practice and saner life.
Remember those whacky 20th century days when we thought the customer was always right? Then we realized we really don’t have to meet clients at 8PM on Friday night just because that’s what they want. CPA firms are businesses, and that means we don’t have to do “crazy.” We can fire the nuts and the whack-a-doodles.
We must be the only profession that lets clients tell us how to our jobs. “I want all of my documents put back into the plastic notebook sleeves in exactly the same order as I put them in.”
Imagine telling your doctor, “Please don’t move my pancreas after you save my life removing my appendix. I want my stitches in a pearl brioche pattern.”
Firing clients is hard and it should be, just like it was in high school when your boyfriend was a nice guy, just way too needy. A client relationship is like a romantic relationship except you expect to get paid. Did I just compare CPA’s to prostitutes?
Sometimes client relationships just don’t work out. Some do for awhile, and then circumstances or needs change. We’ve all had clients, where the relationship was great for a few years, and then nothing seemed to go right. People and CPA practices evolve. Maybe a client was great when you were a sole proprietor, but now refuses to talk to anyone but you.
Consider using a client relationship checklist. My wife used a checklist to evaluate potential suitors. She considered characteristics like living situation, employment history, and relationship with ex’s before going on that second date. She evaluated all of these factors, and then settled for me.
My client relationship checklist has three factors. First, clients must be profitable and pay on time. Second, they must be at least reasonable, if not likable. Third, they must be profitable and pay on time.
I divide clients into three groups: 1. clients who pay on time and whom I like, 2. clients who pay on time, and 3. clients I hope Donald Trump will deport. Keep Muslims and deport nasty, late paying clients instead. Almost all of my clients from the Middle East are nice people and pay on time – not so much the old angry white guys.
How do you get rid of bad clients? Pretty much the same way the pretty girls in high school got rid of us. Here are a few favorites:
- I don’t want to ruin our friendship.
- It’s not you, it’s me.
- I’m not dating right now. (Of course, you saw her necking with your supposed best friend.)
You can translate this into firing clients as follows:
- I value your friendship. Keeping you as a client cheapens our relationship.
- I’m just not good enough to meet your needs.
- I’m cutting back my practice for health reasons. (Mental health reasons – you’re crazy and making me that way.)
The best way to fire a client is to make it about you, not the client. You want the client to leave, not leave and file a complaint with your state society.
Don’t fire clients during the heat of tax season. I keep a list in an Excel file called, “clients to terminate.” When I’m ready to call in a drone strike on a client, I instead add him to the list. By the end of tax season, I’ll have ten to twelve names on it.
A couple weeks after tax season, when my blood pressure returns to merely life threatening, I open the spreadsheet and review the names. I then evaluate how much I contributed to the situations that put each client on the list. After a couple weeks reflection and good nights sleep, twelve names narrows to three or four.
So “slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan, Stan…..Just drop off the key, Lee. And get yourself free.”
Thanks for reading,
Frank Stitely, CPA, CVA
Clarity Practice Management