You are only as good as your client list. But one AccountingWEB member’s relationship with their clients has led them to ask: Where have all the good people gone?

AccountingWEB member taxwizard turned to Any Answers in despair, complaining about how their clients are ‘rude’ and aggressive’. Furthermore, taxwizard grumbled that their clients are devious, conniving, and they “seem to hide information”.

A few AccountingWEB members nodded their heads in agreement: Abaco blamed clients’ lack of manners on the cynical viewpoint society has taken to accountants. “Half the trouble is that “a good accountant” is regarded by much of the wider world as someone who will come up with and participate in the execution of a foolproof method of unlawfully evading tax; usually at a knock down price into the bargain,” abaco said.

However, member NH partly disagreed. “I can only speak for my own clients and I would say that 90% of them are friendly, honest and polite. They appreciate the advice I give and usually follow it.”

But NH’s clients’ civility could be systematic of his rigorous recruitment process. AccountingWEB user Stewie Griffin had similar thoughts as taxwizard until they weeded out their rude clients. “Life is much better without them and oddly, once you set your stall out that you won’t be treated in that way, you seem to attract less of the timewasters,” he said.

Griffin advised taxwizard that good clients attract good clients, and likewise, bad clients will follow bad clients.

We approached Finola McManus for advice on how to deal with bad clients and what you need to do in order to attract the type of clients that you want to be doing business with. McManus encouraged practitioners to go back to the basics and draft a clear business plan.

Your ideal client

Without a business plan, McManus said that these practitioners will attract bad clients because:

  • they don’t set out what their ideal business client profile is
  • they don’t know enough about their own business to actually identify which are the good clients that are making profit
  • what is it about them as a practitioner that people come to them for?

McManus sympathised with the struggles of the AccountingWEB members lumbered with bad clients. When you’re starting off from scratch, McManus said that you take every opportunity you have in order to fill the time, but you soon realise that you are attracting clients not worth your time. “You realise that you’re working stupid hours and you have rubbish clients who aren’t paying you. And you have no time either to get the clients that you should have, and then you get into this downward spiral,” McManus said.

If you’re in the same position as taxwizard and you’re juggling unappreciative clients, McManus nudges you to identify which of your clients you enjoy working for and generates the highest margin. McManus advocated grading your clients on:

  • whether they listen to you
  • if they take advice
  • whether  they bring their records in on time
  • They pay promptly
  • Refer any businesses to you

Now that you have taken the due diligence to visualise a picture of your ideal client profile, McManus explained how going forward you will be able to quickly assess whether the prospective client knocking on your door fits within your ideal client profile.

Sacking your clients

McManus advised that practitioners should set aside an hour a week to start grading their clients and formulating a vision for their practice. “By doing this, you will never feel so empowered or good about themselves to the point when they sack the first client they don’t want,” she said.

Naturally, some practitioners may be reticent in purging their client base. McManus clarified that practitioners shouldn’t sack all their bad clients as soon as they have assigned their client grading. “You start at the bottom,” McManus explained, “your C/D grade clients.” By using this strategy you will ship out the bad clients and gradually see how you can replace them with better clients.

But your grading system shouldn’t hammer the death nail into your relationship with your client. “There’s going to be some in the middle, B/C grade ones, and with a bit of focused help you can move them up a higher tier,” McManus said. But she warned that the churning process takes time. McManus used the example of a firm she worked with who was in the same situation: It was a sole practitioner and out of 600 clients they identified 400 they needed to sack. It took him six years, but he did it.

And while you are grading your clients, you have to be reflective about your own abilities. “What is it about you that make clients want to come to you, and makes them stay with you? It’s not just about the price or doing the basics because anyone can do that,” McManus said.

Client/servant relationship

Taxwizard described his clients in the Any Answers post as lacking good manners and displaying a distinct lack of respect.

“Sometimes practitioner’s feel like they are being bullied by clients and the master/servant relationship is twisted,” McManus said.

But dealing with unruly clients will become easier once the practitioner has got to grips with their ideal client profile and become empowered by getting rid of their nuisance clients. McManus sets out the simple steps to summoning the confidence and starting accumulating good clients.

  • Get a clear vision in your head
  • Sack your first client
  • Realise that you are the adviser. You’re in control of the business and they are working for you

McManus summed up by reiterating: “Don’t take on anymore dross, focus on your client profile and if they don’t fit that – don’t take them on”.

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