3 Steps to Intentionally “Offboard” a Client
News flash: We are busy. This is the time of year when almost everyone in our industry – from CPAs to bookkeepers – are losing their minds … or at least their phones, by way of dead batteries and Do Not Disturb mode!
I say this because the topic of this article might be a little … harsh. But, this time of year gets me thinking about ways I can make my own work more efficient.
That’s just a nice way of saying that, from January to March, we’re slashing and burning through clients that make life hard.
But, hear me out – it’s not personal. I have to think about the health of my business, and my brain. Maybe, a particular account is very (and maybe unnecessarily) complex, a client is hard to work with or my services just don’t work for their business anymore. Businesses grow and things change.
So, because this is such a sensitive subject, I’ve come up with a method of cleaning up your client roster without making anyone upset, or leaving anyone high and dry.
My clients mean a lot to me. Even after they’ve outgrown our services, they still deserve a level of service that shows how valuable they are to me, even if they don’t technically work with us anymore.
1. It’s not you; it’s me. A tried and true break up method that (mostly) never fails, except maybe in “Seinfeld,” but I’m not George Costanza (thank goodness).
I’m all about being honest with clients. But, I also don’t want to hurt feelings. I always try to turn any issue with a client into a “us” problem. We’re at capacity with our workload, we can’t handle this size of account or my cousin’s stepdaughter’s son’s dog died. You get it.
Regardless of the reason behind the breakup, try to swing it in a way that doesn’t hurt any feelings.
But, then, the business owner in me speaks up. “Kelly, you shouldn’t have to make excuses to anyone. You’re a grown woman who makes her own grown woman decisions, and you just don’t want to work with this client anymore.”
This is also a fair point. Just because you can’t come up with a “proper excuse” for leaving a client doesn’t mean you have to keep working with them. You can cut them loose if you don’t like their haircut. It doesn’t matter. You know what’s best for your business, not them.
2. Manuals, manuals, manuals. Now, this isn’t industry standard, but it’s a little something we like to add to make this process go as smoothly as possible. And, like I said, we like to give former clients everything they need to succeed. I’m not so vindictive that I want to see them crash and burn when we leave.
Most of the time.
Whatever we do for a particular client, and whatever apps and tools we use to do this work, I try to break it all down in a “manual.” Generally, these are short documents written up that explain how and why we do things, such as pay bills, for example. Now, we do most of these things with the help of certain apps. These include (and are not limited to) QuickBooks® (obviously), Receipt Bank, Veem, Hubdoc, TSheets by QuickBooks and many more.
Where we can, we transition these apps to the client so they can keep their books as efficiently clean as possible when we’re gone.
This might be a little much for some people. But, I’ve found that clients really appreciate it, and it gives me some peace of mind knowing that we’ve done everything we can to help a our former clients succeed.
3. Write a job description. Part of the “care package” of documents and tools I leave my clients with is a job description of what I do for them. Some of these accounts are fairly complicated, or may include things that aren’t listed in our firm’s core services.
Knowing this, I almost always write up a job description so that when they do look for someone to fill my place, they know exactly what they’re looking for, and the new practice or job candidate knows what they’re getting into.
It’s always tempting for me to pump us up by listing the sometimes egregious things that are asked of us by certain clients. But, I can generally keep myself from being too petty.
However, there are cases where clients don’t want to find someone new. In those cases, we’ll create a list of all the systems used to keep their books and complete other tasks, kind of like the manuals I mentioned above. Then, we close the month and be on our way.
That’s it – those are the three things I do to make sure breaking up with clients, and cleaning up my roster at the beginning of the year, goes as smoothly as possible. But, that’s just the beginning.
Once you leave a client, or vise versa, there’s still a hole left in your client base. You might be worried about finding an income replacement, or justifying losing a perfectly good revenue source for your business. But, there are many other productive and healthy things you can use that time to do.
Fill that time with exercise, continuing education, becoming certified in other areas or just taking a longer lunch. Leaving a client isn’t all about fitting as much as you can into your work schedule down the road; it’s also about knowing your limits and balancing life with work. (This is also something weighing heavily on my mind at this time of year, by the way.)
So, when you’re looking to lose a client or two, make sure to follow these tips, and make sure you’re doing what’s best for you, not just your business. You’ll thank me later.