Boundaries with Accounting Clients in PA

Accountants and CPAs in Pennsylvania with their own firms will find their practices grow and thrive when they provide clear client boundaries and set client expectations. This may seem counter-intuitive, but in fact, you will enjoy your work more and you will be more likely to attract the kinds of clients you want when both you and your clients are clear on your mutual expectations. 

Providing upfront information

Have a well-designed website that includes hours of operation, a Q&A page, and a calendar for setting up an initial, short complimentary conversation. Make sure the amount of time for the call or in-person visit is clearly stated and any paperwork you want the person to bring is clearly defined. Use the automatic acceptance email to reaffirm the items you will need and the scope of the conversation, along with a fee schedule if the client chooses to go overtime. Of course, it should be worded politely. Consider something like, “I respect your time and will keep our meeting to one-half hour (or whatever time you’ve allowed). If you would like to extend our meeting, the fee is _________.” You may also want to say, “Please come with a sense of what your financial needs are so that I can quickly assess how best to help you. Here are some questions to consider and some documents to bring to make our time more efficient.” 

Setting boundaries at your initial consultation

Begin by listening to your client’s needs and expectations. Have a list of questions that will help you collect that information quickly so that the client does not waste the complimentary consultation time rambling. 

Listen also for the client’s personality and the type of work the client does. Do you want to work in that industry? Do you have the expertise? Does this person seem like she will treat you with respect, or will she expect you to be available at any time to answer questions? Does he seem negative or critical of others, thus likely to also treat you that way? 

You do not have to accept clients with whom you will not enjoy working. You can simply say that you don’t think you would have a compatible working arrangement and perhaps refer the person elsewhere. 

Once you have a sense of the client’s needs and you are willing to work with this person, be it an individual or a business client, offer your client several levels of service along with pricing. Discuss your policies and procedures and inform your new client that he or she will receive a scope of service that will clearly outline your policies and procedures and the specific services you will provide for that package. Be sure to include in the agreement what fees will be assessed for additional work outside of the clearly-defined scope. Include items such as:

  • Hours of operation and the best way to contact you (do not provide a personal phone number)
  • Expected time frame for responses to email or phone messages from your client
  • Expected time frame when you expect responses from your client, including critical paperwork or financial information
  • Any other information that may be specific to your practice or to the type of client, business, or package 

Be sure to demonstrate that you respect your client. Your scope of service should also define what your client can expect from you with regard to your client’s boundaries. This will make it easier for a client to accept in writing what looks like limitations to access to you. Have your client sign the agreement of policies and services. 

What about current clients?

Inform your current clients that you have made changes to your policies and scope of service, even if you previously did not have written policies or scope. Provide current clients with your new written policies and any new packages that you have developed. Offer to talk to your existing clients, at no cost to them, to answer any questions they have about your policies and to see if they would like to choose one of the packages. 

Ask your current clients to sign and return the service agreement.

Avoiding scope creep

Once you have defined your expectations, avoiding scope creep is simply a matter of sticking to your own rules. If your client calls with a “quick question” or asks you to perform a task that is not in the scope, you may innocently ask, “I’d be happy to help you with that. Remind me, is that already in the scope of your package, or are you requesting an additional service?” This could quickly cool down a client who does not want to pay for the help. If the client does need extra help more than once, you may suggest a different package that might actually be more economical than paying extra for multiple one-off services. 

You may also choose to help a client, even though the service requested is outside of the person’s service agreement. It’s your firm, you can do what you want. But remind your client, in a polite way, that it is a favor. 

Dealing with difficult clients

If you have difficult clients who consistently do not respect your boundaries or policies, ask yourself some critical questions: Does the firm make a good profit from this client? Does this client pay on time? Does this client cause me or my staff unnecessary stress or treat us disrespectfully? Is it worth it for my firm to retain this client? Am I ready to restate the boundaries in writing and request that they are signed by the client, with the agreement that there will be an additional charge each time the boundaries are broken? 

If your client does not respect you and you can’t afford to lose this client, make an extra effort to find additional good clients who can replace the profit from that client. When you’re ready, give the unpleasant client notice that you will be terminating your business relationship and he will need to find another accountant.

Nurturing respect

Your clients will respect you if you respect yourself. They will consider you a professional and not just an employee or a freelancer if you set a professional tone. 

As a financial expert, you have knowledge that they do not have and that they need. Believe in what you have to offer and don’t “settle” for clients who do not respect you. Your good clients will recommend you to others and your practice will grow with high-quality clients who value your expertise. Remember to visit regularly, your Pennsylvania experts in professional tax and accounting development, to view our courses and enjoy the benefits of membership to help you grow your business.