One of the greatest fears any bookkeeper has is opening an email to discover one of their clients has let them go.
Firing a bookkeeper happens all the time, and sometimes the cause is simply out of the bookkeeper’s control. For example, a business owner may decide to shut their business down, or they are going to start doing their own books. The bookkeeper may have been doing a fine job but that’s just the way things go.
However, there are many reasons why a client can decide to terminate the services of a bookkeeper. Keeping your clients happy is an ongoing process, and it doesn’t just require maintaining their books. Other aspects can play a critical role in keeping your existing clients long-term, or in losing them one after another.
Here are five reasons a bookkeeping client can choose to let their bookkeeper go – and how you can correct the problems.
1. A Lack of Communication From the Bookkeeper
As the old adage goes, communication is a two-way street. The client needs to be readily available to answer the bookkeeper’s questions, or at least respond in a somewhat timely manner.
But, as another old adage states, “The customer is always right.” Clients pay you to be there when they need you. If you have a client that acts as if you don’t have any other clients in the world, then that’s not a good fit for you. Still, the majority of bookkeeping clients aren’t that way. It’s your duty to ensure calls are followed up on in a timely manner; emails answered; reminders sent; and to maintain an open dialog between yourself and your client.
A client’s question could take 15 seconds to answer, or it could take an hour of your time. In the end the amount of time required doesn’t matter, it’s your ability to stay in a window of expected availability.
Once you get to understand what your bookkeeping client wants in terms of promptness of response, it’s your job to keep them happy with the communication. It’s your responsibility to maintain that level of touchpoints, whether it’s a quick email a day to check in or a bi-monthly status report.
We’re all humans, and humans build personal relationships. Communication is vital to having a positive relationship. In your case, it will keep your clients satisfied and your doors always open for business.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Clarify expectations surrounding speed and frequency of communication with your client. Then take it to the next level with a daily or weekly summary of bookkeeping activities.
2. No Understanding of Client’s Bigger Picture
The vast majority of businesses are classified as small in size, so it’s no surprise the vast majority of your clients are the owners of these small businesses. In their last update of data, the American government stated that 99.7% of all businesses operating in the United States were considered small businesses. In Canada that number is slightly smaller: it’s 97.9% (as of June 2016.)
Business owners have a lot on their plate – as you should know and sympathize with since the independent bookkeeper is a business owner themselves. Making that next sale, handling employee issues, fulfillment of orders, and just the day-to-day minutia of running a business, makes for a full day.
Your understanding of the pressures and complexity of your client’s business can determine whether your client remains your client.
Communicate as an equal to your clients because, even if they don’t say it, they want that kind of candor. It means more than just relaying the financial facts, which you always do. It means approaching the client relationship as part mentor, part financial advisor, part bartender (i.e. a good listener). You know what I mean.
Not only will you gain a deeper level of trust with your clients, but they will see you in a more important light.
KEY TAKEAWAY: You are one of the few (if not the only) people who understand the intricacies of your client’s business as well as they do. Customers, suppliers and employees exert external pressure on your client as they seek to promote their own interests. Be the advocate on the inside who stands with your client to protect the interests of the business.
3. The Bookkeeper & Client Don’t “Sync”
After determining how much and what type of communication works for your client and demonstrating how you understand the “big picture”, it’s time for a little Psych 101. Notwithstanding a bookkeeper’s effectiveness as financial manager and business advocate, the bookkeeper-client relationship can still sour if the pair don’t “sync” well together.
What do I mean? Well, can you get along with your client, and can they get along with you?
An unwritten rule of bookkeeping is you will need to adapt to different kinds of personalities. This requires something psychology characterizes as emotional intelligence. One of your clients may be a stay-at-home mother who is embarrassed when their child makes noise while taking a phone call. Another client may be a self-employed business owner who chose their profession because they are a social introvert, and small talk is something they avoid. The introvert can come across as rude, or short, or distant at times, but they may think of it as being on topic and respectful of your time.
Maybe you need a little bit of armchair psychology added to your vocational toolkit. Having the ability to converse with your client in an emotional dialect they understand, and recognize the difference between a client having an idiosyncrasy and one with an actual bone to pick, is a valuable skill. Try to keep this in mind as you move between your diverse clientele. Find ways to engage your individual clients that matches their sensibility, not necessarily your own.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Use emotional intelligence to understand your client’s personality and motivations, and let that understanding guide you as you communicate and interact with them.
4. The Bookkeeper Doesn’t Show Their Value
In my opinion, showing your whole value is the most important vaccine against being fired, but is the most difficult for bookkeeper’s to achieve. It requires you to objectively self-reflect on how your value is perceived by your client. That’s hard enough, but now the challenge is changing their perception by upgrading your perceived value.
Let me lay things out like this: since you are the one continuously experiencing your world minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, you know all of its ins and outs. You know which of your clients will likely be on time to submit their documents, or to which will be available for a quick phone call at five o’clock. All of the individual tasks in your day aren’t experienced by anyone else except for you.
Only you know the challenges and complexities of your job. And if you don’t find a way to convey that to your clients, they won’t see it. Out of sight, out of mind. It is human nature to grossly underestimate the complexity and difficulty of someone else’s job.
Making things look easy takes a lot of experience. An accomplished bookkeeper will let the client peer through the illusion of ease and order to see the chaos and complexity that is “bookkeeping”. The duck moves on the surface with ease and calm but, underneath, there is a lot of frantic activity. Your challenge is to convey the full scope of your job without melodramatization or whininess. No humblebragging; just positive mental reinforcement of your value to your client.
So how do you best do this? Most often it’s the little things that count. The pet store client? Send them a news story pertaining to their business and how to better serve their customer base. New tax regulations enacted? Email your clients alerting them, with a quick blurb apprising them you’re up-to-speed with the new regs.
KEY TAKEAWAY: You are the only one who fully understands your value to a client and their business. Never miss an opportunity to subtly “educate” the full scope of your job role and value to your client.
5. No Improvement to The Bookeeper's Process Demonstrated
Is the bookkeeper learning new ways to do things? For example, cloud-based software (i.e. software as a service) can increase a bookkeeper’s productivity and lower costs when compared to desktop-based software. Or automated bank statement fetching can greatly reduce the time of a bank rec and reduce cost. These software tools have been around for less than ten years, and their functionality is ever-expanding.
Keeping your skillset updated and current is no longer optional for a bookkeeper in the 21st century. You need to be aware of all the major accounting platforms that use the cloud, and be proficient in at least one of them. You should also be knowledgeable of the tools and apps that help bookkeepers get more out of their manpower. Not only will these tools help you achieve a better workflow, they can also increase revenue by freeing up your time, so you can add additional clients to your portfolio.
Make sure you are letting your existing clients know you’re staying relevant. Inform them via regular newsletters, website updates, blog posts and in passing. While you can’t count on a client sharing your enthusiasm for bank statement fetching or rule-based posting, they will appreciate having a bookkeeper who is actively looking for efficiencies and cost-savings.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Stay current on innovations in your field and actively look for ways to improve processes within your workflow. This proactive approach will show aptitude and keenness, and those characteristics stand out as both valuable and rare.
As a bookkeeper, you’re not irreplaceable. No one is. But you’re already ahead of where you were before you began reading this article. You’ve invested the time and you’ve gone through the uncomfortable task of self-critique. I bet you already have thoughts as to how you’re going to make yourself more valuable and less, shall we say, “fireable”. Most importantly, you’re making yourself accountable for your success.
It is up to you to cultivate your business relationships to their full potential. As a bookkeeper you are selling your time and expertise, but don’t forget the “selling” part. You cannot be naïve to the fact that you are almost certainly undervalued, and no one is going to promote your value for you. I encourage you to reevaluate your current clients and look for ways to improve your practice and position with these companies. Resist self-importance and stagnation.
Running your own bookkeeping business, whether as a virtual bookkeeper or traditional bookkeeper, is an evolving endeavor. Keep focused on the big-picture objectives of improving workflow and upgrading your perceived value. This vigilance and openness to change will always serve to protect your businesses from being overlooked and undervalued.