Though letting clients go is not specific to CPA professions, it occurs more in this industry than in any other. Learning to cut ties with clients is a difficult task, but—when done correctly—you can save your name and maintain some semblance of a professional relationship. “Firing” a client can happen for several reasons; they may consistently make late payments, or they may not be able to pay off their invoices at all. Perhaps other parts of your business are suffering because a client takes up too much time, or maybe your client is rude, complaining about your prices and threatening to take business elsewhere. All of the above scenarios can result in letting a customer go. Here’s how to do it gracefully.
If your client needs too much handholding, consider bringing in a trusted employee. These clients require too much hands-on support. Before firing the client, try bringing on another employee to help with their business. The client may get more comfortable with this new CPA, and you may eventually be able to transfer their business to this new employee. If the client insists on working with you, be frank about your professional needs. If your business is growing, you’ll have a difficult time providing a client with the personal attention they deserve. Try suggesting other accountants you know have the time and bandwidth to handle these types of accounts.
If your client doesn’t pay, keep documents and be frank. If your client has difficulty paying your fees, talk honestly with them about their financial situation, suggesting ways they can get back on track. If your client agrees to pay in advance, set up a monthly retainer, or try creating a payment plan that works for both of you. If, however, the client avoids calls and ignores other forms of communication, let them know immediately that your professional relationship is terminated. Be sure to include specific reasoning. Then, save all correspondence from the relationship—if you are owed money, you will need proof that payment is warranted.
If your prices have grown out of what they can afford, provide plenty of notice and suggest alternatives. CPA businesses can grow fast, and you may feel comfortable raising your prices. If you choose to do this, provide clients with plenty of notice. You may be able to negotiate fewer services for the same price. The client may also leave on their own. It is always a nice gesture to recommend other, more affordable accountants to soften the blow.