All too often bookkeepers find themselves dealing with clients and prospects who treat them as employees, rather than fellow business owners (Related: Clients from Hell… and Other Love Stories). Even if you’re clients aren’t difficult on purpose, they can still have overarching demands.
Maybe this sounds familiar: You have a long-time client who tells you they’re changing the way they handle internal functions. As a result, they want you to start using new software that they are switching to. But you’re unfamiliar with the software and will have to spend hours learning it, plus none of your other clients use this software. Because you really want to keep the client, you agree to learn the program.
Setting and respecting boundaries is important for any small business owner who works with clients. But most don’t take time to think through the implications of our boundaries until it’s too late. And chances are you’ve found yourself in a situation where you agree to a client’s request, only to regret it later when you discover just how disruptive it is to your workflow, productivity, and bottom line.
At the end of the day, you are a business owner. You are an expert in your industry and you get to make the rules about how you work with your clients. Setting boundaries will help you better serve clients and run your practice.
Establish rules & stick to them
Remember that you are on equal footing with your clients. You’re not an employee; you’re an expert in your industry. And people come to you for advice for this very reason. If you imagine yourself as your clients’ employee, you’ll encourage them to treat you as a subordinate, rather than a peer.
Once you are in the right mindset, create a rock-solid engagement letter. Explicitly outline what you will and won’t do. And don’t omit things because you’re concerned about the length of your letter. It’s better to be explicit and overbearing than to leave yourself open to boundary issues in the future.
If a client asks for something outside of what works for your practice, it’s ok to suggest alternatives or even say no. You won’t always get what you want, and you might lose a client, but you’ll run your practice in a way that best serves you and your other clients (Related: 5 Cool Tips for Holding onto Clients).
Boundaries rely on habits, and the best way to create a habit is with consistency. If you let something slide once, you’ll have to work twice as hard to maintain those ground rules next time.
Effective communication is vital when getting clients to respect your boundaries. You don’t have to justify your decisions, but sometimes a little background information can help your client understand why you made that decision.
Creating a balance
Setting and respecting boundaries is important for any firm owner. But far too often, we don’t take time to think through the implications of our boundaries until we are stressed out. Creating boundaries is a balancing act, much like that of creating a work-life balance. At the end of the day, creating a balance that keeps your business professional and clients happy is down to your processes.
Want to learn more about setting up healthy processes at your firm? Click the link below for a 3 step guide to wowing your accounting clients.