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Why I Purge My Client List Each Year

At the end of each year, I review my client list.
As a Chartered Accountant, there are rules around how to do this and there is a requirement to ensure no conflicts of interest and not acting for clients where you know they aren’t complying with legislation.
But for me, it’s more than that. These are the factors I use to decide who to purge from my list each year:
1. Do they pay their bills on time
Now, with the Covid-19 lockdowns and businesses taking a beating, I’m not going to consider delayed payments over the past few months as a factor.
What I am looking for, though, is the consistent, regular late payers. More particularly, those clients who don’t seem to make any attempt to pay their bills at all and that’s been the case for multiple years.
There are clients I’ve had who befriended me and then draw on my good nature to do the next piece of work because they need it for the bank or to meet a tax deadline and so I get sucked into continuing to work and still not being paid for any of it.
2. Seek advice from their friends
There are times when the advice I have to give is not exactly what the client wants to hear. I know that. And I have no issue with clients seeking a second opinion as long as it is a professional opinion.
However, seeking the advice of friends who both don’t know the full facts and aren’t qualified to provide advice is stupid at best and sheer lunacy at its worst.
One such situation arose a number of years ago. The client didn’t take my advice at the time I gave it, continued on oblivious to the issue. Kept asking friends and family and eventually about a year later did then what I had advised to do originally and then told me that they’d followed xyz’s advice to do it.
3. Employ appropriate accounts staff
I then look at whether the business has the appropriate people looking after the accounting records. This may not necessarily be the level of qualification the person has, rather it’s whether the accounting records are in basically good shape or whether they are in a mess that requires significant effort to fix.
When I had a team, I didn’t worry as long as the client agreed to the extra fees to fix the mistakes. Now, when I don’t have a team, I’m less inclined to spend my time fixing these types of issues as it does take many many hours of work.
I don’t mind working with a bookkeeper who is qualified and happy to take on advice to improve their capability, but I have one client who employs young people to be their receptionist and then gets them to do the bookkeeping work too.
4. High maintenance
I consider how often the client or their staff contact me and why. This comes hand in hand with the level of expertise person has in undertaking their role. My view on this has changed now that I don’t have a support team to handle the day to day questions.
5. Services provided
As my business has evolved, so too have the services I offer. That means that when I’m reviewing my client list, I also look at what services they are using. This is a conscious decision about what work I want to be doing in the upcoming year. I determine where my focus needs to be and identify which clients fit in and which don’t.
For each client, I put them through this list and determine which ones I need to let go. Once they’ve been let go, it feels like my stress levels have reduced considerably. I no longer dread the ringing of the phone with yet another question, or email requesting more work to be done when they haven’t paid the outstanding bills.
Let’s face it, at the end of the day we all want to be working with people we like and who we enjoy working with. We want respect of our time and efforts and our capabilities. We want people who value what we do and pay in a timely manner.

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