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Will You Accept This Rose? Determining Which Clients Stay and Which Go

Nick ViallTonight on The Bachelor, Nick Viall will presumably propose to one of two women in what the television network promises is the “most dramatic finale yet.” At the start of the season, 30 women were all vying for the bachelor’s attention in the hopes of becoming his fiancé. Each week, as part of the journey to find “the one”, he had the difficult, and sometimes awkward, task of sending women home during the rose ceremony. Even though Nick is a veteran of reality television dating shows (he was the runner-up on two seasons of The Bachelorette and also appeared on Bachelor in Paradise), he often expressed how challenging it is to say goodbye to the women.

Now I know that CPAs do not distribute roses to their clients that they wish to retain, however, like contestants on The Bachelor, practitioners often explain how “breaking up” with a client is far from easy. Luckily, the AICPA’s Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) has tools to help with this process so that your client isn’t crying in the limo ride home.

Evaluating your clients is key. Reviewing your firm’s client list regularly is a healthy and smart exercise. Just because you’ve worked with a client for several years doesn’t mean that the relationship is ideal for both parties. Ask yourself, where do I envision my firm in a couple of years? Then consider if this client’s needs align with your vision. Do they add value to your firm? Are they easy to work with? Would another firm be better suited to address your client’s concerns? Based on the answers to these questions, rate your clients accordingly. PCPS members have access to a client evaluation tool which helps firms rank clients based on a set of established criteria.

Crafting a disengagement letter. Once you examine your client list and determine which clients to keep and which to part ways with, it’s time to write a disengagement letter stating that you’re ending the relationship. When written effectively, this letter reminds clients that you considered their business needs and acted in their best interest. The PCPS team has developed a sample disengagement letter that you can use as a guide.   

Having the “break up” conversation. This meeting is not all that different than breaking up with a significant other. Think about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it in advance. You may even find it helpful to run through the conversation with a colleague before meeting with the client. Just remember to stress that, “it’s not you, it’s me.” Your firm and your client are moving in different directions and because of this, you are not going to be able to serve the client as you had in the past. 

Disengaging with clients isn’t easy, however it’s important to realize the value of this process. As your firm evolves, so should your client base. Evaluate your client list on a regular basis to determine which clients you will retain and which you will part ways with. Next, you should prepare for the disengagement process by drafting a disengagement letter and planning for the “break up” conversation. In the end, the AICPA is here to support you throughout the process so that your roses don’t turn into thorns.

Alexis Rothberg. Communications Manager. Association of International Certified Professional Accountants- Public Accounting. 

Nick Viall image courtesy of ABC News.

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