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Accounting Advisory

Client relationships: The good, the bad and the ugly

While an increasing number of accountants are embracing a more advisory role, it’s not always a straightforward transition. 

To become a trusted advisor, it’s all about building meaningful relationships with your clients. You need to offer more than just a functional service of tax returns and financial statements and instead be seen as a vital resource who your clients can turn to in times of need.

But good relationships need to work both ways. And clients don’t always play ball.

So how do you identify what a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ client relationship looks like? And what should you do when things go sour?

Establishing good relationships

Clearly, in an ideal world, you’d build strong relationships with the majority of your clients. But the reality is it’s not something that can happen overnight. It takes work, and lots of open communication.

It’s important to show clients that they’re more than just a paycheck. Try to check in regularly, at least monthly, and send open invites to events or share useful information you come across. A newsletter can be a great way to reach lots of clients at once and it’s a chance to offer additional advice that will really help to build trust and good feeling.

Of course, you need clients to be willing to communicate regularly too. A common pain point we hear is that accountants will often be trying to get hold of a client, whether for a specific piece of information or just generally to keep things up to date – and it’s a real struggle. But then months later you’ll hear from them and they’ll need an urgent response that day. 

Try to set ground rules about what good communication looks like for you both, what kind of cadence suits for more regular comms and what’s the best way to contact for an urgent response. There’ll always be some exceptional circumstances but managing expectations is crucial for a successful client relationship. 

Biggest bugbears

One of the toughest things for accountants and bookkeepers can be conversations around pricing and value. There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like the value of your work isn’t being fully appreciated or understood. But equally, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re being overcharged or ripped off.

It’s a delicate balancing act that you need to navigate carefully.

Firstly, your clients need to understand what you bring to the table. We’ve heard lots of stories of frustration from partners where occasionally business owners will feel they can take on some accounting tasks themselves (and it does not end well). Recognise that most of the time this will come down to cost issues, but also sometimes just a lack of knowledge of what a task actually entails. 

This is why trust is so important. If a client does say they’re going to do something themselves, try to have an honest conversation with them about what you think the best course of action is. But equally, question yourself about areas where you might be billing for work that may not be essential. If you can prove to clients good intentions it will pay dividends in the long run.

However, sometimes, no matter how hard you try, clients simply don’t listen to your advice. And not only is this completely infuriating, but it can make your fees seem very expensive – because it shows that they don’t appreciate the value you can bring.

And this is a bad relationship for both parties.

Knowing when to part ways

Whatever your relationship is like with a particular client, it can be tough to think of parting ways. Ultimately, it’s a drop in revenue for you – plus you’re potentially losing out to a competitor. However, sometimes it’s better to end a partnership rather than to let it turn sour.

Even with the best will in the world, some clients just won’t be a good fit for your practice and actually recognising that will help you devote the time it takes to foster good relationships with your remaining clients.

For most firms, reputation is critical so you don’t want to get to a point where your name is being tarnished. Take corrective action early where you can, and if you feel it’s not something that can be resolved try to make that decision quickly – and part ways as amicably as possible.

 

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