How to avoid nightmare clients

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The client who always dumps a box of receipts on your desk right before the tax return deadline.

The client who asks you for financial advice and then does the opposite. Every. Single. Time.

The client who seems to vanish off the face of the earth until you've sent out multiple 'payment overdue' reminders.

The chances are you recognise at least one of these nightmare clients. If you have been really unlucky, you'll be familiar with all three — and a few more besides!

All you want to do is help small business owners with their finances, but you seem to be spending most of your time banging your head against a brick wall.  

Nightmare clients go with the territory, right?

When you run an bookkeeping practice, you're always going to come across the odd client who makes life so much harder than it needs to be.

Don't despair just yet though.

Here are a few ideas to help you nip nightmare behaviour in the bud — or avoid it altogether.

Set boundaries 

One of the most common reasons for a strained relationship between accountant and client is down to a lack of communication.

Exact services can vary from practice to practice so you can't blame your client for assuming you provide exactly the same expertise as their previous bookkeeper –– or for not really knowing what it is you do at all!

It's important to set clear expectations from the very beginning of your professional relationship.

It's your job to ensure that your client knows exactly which services you can provide, and which are included in their service package. It's also wise to let them know up front if there are any areas of business you avoid or services that you absolutely don't provide.


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Teach your clients how to work with you

You know your clients are busy and spending time with you, their bookkeeper, probably isn't their top priority, but don't be tempted to simply cover the basics before sending them on their way.

Your working relationship will flow much more smoothly if you take the time to cover things in depth.

Explain how you work and let them know how they can get the most out of using your service. If they know that you also offer business advice, they might be more willing to come to you before they make that disastrous decision that will have you picking up the pieces for months afterwards.

If they know a bit about your processes and the benefits of getting everything done in time, they will be more inclined to submit their files and receipts well before the deadline.

Sometimes nightmare clients don't realise they are being a nightmare; they just need a bit of guidance!

Use the right technology

Using the right technology with your clients can make everything simpler.

Try introducing them to the benefits of sharing files online or show them that downloading the Asana app to their smart phone is a fantastic way to keep on top of project deadlines.

This will eliminate the last minute, panicked dumping of receipts and make for a much more efficient transfer of information and advice.

Reward good behaviour

If you have found the Holy Grail of clients — the one who submits everything on time, who organises their receipts beautifully, who respects your work processes and follows them to the letter — try to find a way of rewarding them.

Whether you give them a refund for getting their documents to you well before the deadline, or offer them a free consulting session in exchange for a referral, a little incentive will encourage them to keep ticking those 'ideal client' boxes.  

If the above advice doesn't work…

Firing a client always feels counter intuitive when you're running a business, but if you have tried these tips and your client still has you dreading coming in to work on a Monday morning, it might be time to cut them loose.

Your time and energy are too valuable to waste on the lost causes

There are very few people who actively set out to act like a nightmare client; many would probably be mortified to realise they fall into that category.

With a bit of guidance, the majority of customers will be more than happy to benefit from a smoother working relationship with their bookkeeper.

If you can focus on managing expectations, teaching clients how to work with you more effectively, and letting them know when they are getting it right, you will be well on the way to avoiding that Monday morning dread! 

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