When To “Shut It Down!” – Nightmare Clients and How to Avoid Them

October 14, 2014 Yoseph West

I’m sure you’ve heard the nightmare stories out there – clients who show up to their accountant with a garbage bag full of receipts; ones who balk at paying a reasonable accounting fee when they’ve had a multi-million dollar year in sales; or ones who second-guess every single step their accountant takes.

As an accounting business owner, you only want to work with the best clients that value your work and expertise. It can be hard to wade through the bad clients to find the gems, which is why most accountants have some sort of screening or pre-qualification process that all client inquiries go through. It helps them identify the best clients for their business. Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of a good client.

Characteristics of good clients

Clients who communicate

Cameron Hushyar of Keep Accounting said it this way: “Bookkeeping is a team sport.” If communication fails at any point in the process, then the relationship fails. A good client is one that is responsive and helpful to you. They understand that they are one of many clients on your roster, and so should make your life easier, not more difficult. They answer your inquiries promptly and completely, and understand why you’re asking for the information that you’re asking for.

Clients who are tech-savvy

Even with all the cloud computing news out there, it’s challenging dealing with a client that is unfamiliar with technology. Lior Zehtser of Connect CPA says that this unfamiliarity slows down the entire accounting process, and leads to delays that have negative impacts on both the client and the accountant. Clients unfamiliar (or uncomfortable) with the idea of cloud computing or technology-assisted accounting should look elsewhere for accounting services.

Clients who are established

Dealing with a client that’s used to the whole idea of accounting, regulations, and deadlines can make like much easier for cloud accountants. That’s not to say that new businesses are bad clients, they’re simply a different type of client that can require a lot more time and hand-holding than you may be willing to do at this stage of your business.

Clients who delegate

Clients who are used to delegating work to other people or teams are going to be easier to work with. That’s because they trust the people they’re asking to do the work. They understand what their own limitations are, and are ready to work with experts in those areas to get the job done. Connie Vanderzanden of The Accounting Department calls it the “willingness to let me lead.”


Attract the right clients – every time

The above is just one half of the equation.

The other half is for you, the accountant. Here are some things you can do yourself to help avoid the pitfalls of the nightmare client, and attract only good accounting clients:

  1. Stop thinking that you need to accept any and all clients that come your way.
  2. Just say no to the clients that aren’t a good fit for your practice.
  3. Only work with clients who value the work that you do.
  4. Develop clarity about who your ideal client is.
  5. Write down a list of their characteristics and use this list for each prospect that contacts you.
  6. Determine what your deal breakers are, and then stick to them.
  7. Target businesses that need your style of expertise, and so would pay more for your accounting services.
  8. Charge more. You’ll find that clients who can afford to pay higher fees are typically easier to work with, as they have many of the characteristics listed above.
  9. Get referrals from existing “good” clients.
  10. Continually revise your qualifying process. Chad Davis of LiveCA says it’s a continually evolving process for his team.


Are you ready to end the nightmare and work with better clients?
Well then, get on with it!


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