For those of you out there who say that your clients don’t pay you on time, they don’t take your advice and they don’t do what you asked them to do, this will hopefully be a wake up call. I get to read a lot of what everyone goes through on the different message boards and groups I belong to, and this may sound harsh, but it seems some of you are suffering from "battered advisors syndrome".
Let’s talk about some of the situations I have read about lately and how to avoid them in the first place. Recently I read a very long thread about engagement letters and how important they are. Many people in the thread insisted that the only time they haven’t gotten paid is when they neglected to do one. I have to admit I haven’t done a single engagement letter in my 11 years of being an advisor. Before some of you go nuts and start calling me names, let me add on that in 11 years, I have only had 2 “clients” who did not pay me to the tune of 3.5 hours of work. Not only that, but the vast majority of my clients pay within 7 days.
Some other issues I get to read about are the threads about clients who do not treat the advisor with respect. They either don’t follow your advice, don’t respect your time or some other transgression that shows that they don’t value you as they should. Or they try to nickel and dime you to death.
So let’s talk about how to get your clients to treat you the way you should. Let’s establish the Consultant’s Top 10.
- You have the right to be paid the highest amount possible. If you aren’t charging at the top of the annual Intuit survey, take this a huge hint and raise your rates asap. Remember that price and value are tied together so get up some gumption and charge more. Your clients will treat you better.
- You have the right to be paid on time, every time. Send all of your invoices on a weekly basis. Make sure that your clients can pay you by bank transfer or credit card. Send reminders each week. Also, if you bill on a weekly basis, no deadbeat client can get too far behind since if they do, you will fire them.
- You should only do business with people that you know, like and trust. If I dread going to see you, if you aren’t any fun to be around or if you are just a general pain in my butt, you are gone. I only choose to do business with people who I want to and who deserve the advice I can give them. I didn’t go into business for myself to put up with a bunch of you know whats.
- You should expect your clients to respect your time. If a client shows up late one time, we are still cool but I will mention it. If you do it a second time, and you weren’t run over by a Mack truck, then you have shown you don’t respect me and you need to find another advisor.
- You should be able to make a difference in your client’s business. If during an engagement, I figure out that they aren’t taking my advice, aren’t doing any better and are just giving me lip service about our agreed upon goals, then we chat about it and if we can’t move in a forward direction, then they are fired. (geez, I am starting to sound like Donald Trump!) But the goal here in all seriousness is that I should be able to look at their Profit and Loss and see that since I have been working with them there is an improvement. If not, what is the point of my service?
- You should get to know your clients as people and care about the things they care about. Clients have different motivations and you need to get really clear on what those are and how you can help them to achieve their goals. Spending an hour looking for a penny on a bank reconciliation is typically not a great way to help them get more free time and more money.
- You should speak to them in simple English. Sure I know what A/R and A/P are but I certainly don’t use those terms or the “D” or “C” words with them either. If you want them to respect you, respect them by using terms they easily understand and explaining accounting concepts to them in simple terms. They really do want to understand how their business is doing and it is up to you to help them with that.
- (I learned this one from Joe). You should not be afraid to push back. Clients do not pay you to be a yes man. Sure, it can be uncomfortable to tell a client that their salaries are too high or that the Maserati outside is not doing great things for their whole financial picture BUT your first loyalty should be to being a consultant and consultants want the best thing for the business itself.
- You should never fear being fired yourself. I have said some pretty bold things to clients over the years and while it may have been uncomfortable for the moment, in the end they thanked me for being honest and for trying to actually help them. And before someone says, “But Terri, I will starve to death if I fire this client”, I have fired clients at points where my business wasn’t all that great because I firmly believed that bad clients just bring more bad clients and who the heck wants that? I wanted to grow a business with people I truly want to do business with, not a bunch of whiny jerks. I wanted clients that I could consider as my work family and would actually want to see over the holidays.
- Think of all your client relationships in the same way you would think of someone you are dating. You are hoping to build a long term relationship but you aren’t married yet. That means that you should evaluate every interaction you have just like you would if you were dating someone. If you would dump a girlfriend/boyfriend for the action, think the same thought with a client. Recently I drove 1.5 hours on a hot day to see a prospect. They owned a restaurant and didn’t even offer me a beverage. Needless, to say, they are not a client of mine.
Terri Wilson is owner of ThinkQuick, LLC, a Cincinatti, OH based QuickBooks Consulting Company. She is an Insightful Accountant 2015 Top 100 ProAdvisor. She is certified in QuickBooks Point of Sale, Enterprise and Online and Advanced Certified in QuickBooks Desktop.