The most difficult thing you will do in your business is fire an employee. The second most difficult thing you will do in your business is let a client go. Yes, it sucks. But I’m here to tell you that you both will survive (in both cases), and it’s just business.
Since I’ve promised to take you all on a journey with me through building and growing my accounting practice, today we’re going to talk about how to fire a client. I’ve been in business now for a couple of years and only had to do it twice. And one of those times was this morning. So needless to say, it still isn’t easy.
When you let a client go, it isn’t always that they are a bad client per se. It could be various other factors. Here are some common reasons you may decide to end a relationship with a client.
You’re moving in a different direction with your business—perhaps niche-ing down.
You’re getting lots of new opportunities to work with more of your ideal clients, and need to create space for them.
You don’t enjoy working with a client.
Your client is making unethical business decisions or doing things against your advice.
You aren’t delivering what you promised consistently and decide out of integrity to end things.
The client doesn’t respond to you or give you the information you need to do your job.
You’re raising your prices and you know the client can’t afford to work with you anymore.
And I’m sure there are others that I didn’t list. The point I’m trying to make is that you will definitely find yourself in one of these scenarios at some point. So I wanted to equip you with the resources to handle it and handle it well, so you don’t have to feel as bad about it.
I also want to give you courage to do so if you are already finding yourself in one of these situations and procrastinating on pulling the plug. Because had I not felt support and encouragement from a mentor to make this difficult choice, I would probably let this go on and on and on. Out of pure fear and comfort.
The first step is understanding that you are worthy of having good clients that you enjoy to work with and that value what you do. Mindset in this situation is paramount. Repeat after me:
I am worthy of having good clients that I enjoy working with and that value what I do. Say this affirmation every day, as often as you need to leading up to executing the next steps.
If you need help with this step, find a mentor or a biz-bestie to confide in and tell them what’s going on with the client. Most likely, she’ll tell you you’re crazy for sticking with it and she’ll be behind you 100%.
Subject: Request for meeting
Hi [Client Name],
Hope all is well, and I'm sure you've been super busy.
We still need bank statements for December 2019 and now January 2020.
I also sent an email a few weeks ago for additional requests so we can close out the year and prep for taxes (whether you want me to handle those, or not).
There is much more valuable information you can receive if we get information timely. Your numbers tell the story of what's happening in your business and you could be using those to make better decisions, plan for expansion, or to increase the value of your business in order to sell it.
Not to mention, keeping you compliant and out of trouble.
I want to be able to provide top-notch service and help the growth of your business, but right now I don't feel like I'm able to by not receiving necessary information or communication from you. While I appreciate that you are never late or miss a payment to me, I want to make sure that I can give you what is promised in exchange for that payment, which isn't happening right now.
I'd like to have a conversation with one or both of you in the next week so we can get back on track and figure out how to move forward in 2020. I have availability Tuesday and Thursday. You can schedule below with the button below my signature.
Thanks in advance for making this a priority.
- [Your name]
Have a meeting. If you wish to continue working with the client, but feel that raising the fee would help hold them more accountable, or make it more worth your time and energy to serve them, that is also an option. During this meeting is where I would present that option.
Be as straight forward as possible. Don’t apologize, unless you’ve actually made a mistake, but instead just be straight to the point.
Let them know why you are holding the meeting
Tell them your concerns
Give them options for moving forward.
If you want to continue working with them, present them with their new pricing options.
If you don’t want to continue working with them, let them know the next steps (i.e. assisting with finding a replacement, handing over records, etc.)
Let them know your records retention policy. That way they know that after a certain point in time, they won’t be able to request copies of documents. If you don’t have a records retention policy, the AICPA has a great resource here.
Thank them for being a client of yours and wish them the best.
If, for some reason, you end up in the same situation that I recently did and are ghosted, here’s an example email you can send as a disengagement letter. Again, it’s ideal to have difficult conversations in person, but sometimes that’s not always possible.
Subject: Update to engagement
Hi [Client Name],
I appreciate the opportunity to have worked with you over the past year and sadly it’s time to bring our working relationship to an end.
Over the last few months we’ve been changing our focus. We’ve been moving away from pure bookkeeping services so we can work closer with ambitious business owners who want help growing their business. We’ve been investing resources into helping businesses grow and become more profitable, and this additional expertise means we are reviewing our fees.
The core value of my business is integrity and for that reason, I feel it's only fair to let you know that I no longer believe we are the right accounting firm for you.
Our focus is on working with ambitious business owners who want to grow their business, who want to work closely with their accountant and who are willing to invest time and resources in that higher level of support.
If it would be helpful, I can recommend a couple of alternative bookkeeping firms who I think would be more suitable and I can even make the introduction.
I will do everything I can to help you with the transition to your new bookkeeper by forwarding all the information they’ll need.
Of course, if you’d like to discuss remaining as a client and benefiting from our new advisory services please let me know. It’s likely to mean an investment nearly triple what you are currently paying.
Since you have paid up through January, I will wrap up as best I can 2019 Financials so you can work with a tax preparer of your choice, and as much as possible for January. Once I have delivered your reports, I will transfer Hubdoc ownership over to you and remove my access to your QBO file. I'm professionally obligated to maintain records and workpapers from my clients for 7 years after our engagement ends, after which point files will be deleted.
Thank you once again for being a client of mine for the last year. I wish you all the very best for a successful, enjoyable and profitable future.
Follow through. If you promised to assist in finding a replacement and they take you up on that, make sure you follow through. You don’t want to burn bridges.
Just a little recap…
You will at some point have to let someone go, whether an employee or a client.
Find a community or a business bestie that will have your back and encourage you to take action.
Communicate with your client and give them the opportunity to change.
Try to have an in person meeting.
Breathe. You’ve got this.
Have you had to fire a client yet? How did it go? What would you do differently? Leave a comment below, because I’m curious!