Working as an accountant can be intellectually and emotionally rewarding, but sometimes the biggest obstacle to doing the job is the client themselves.
A lot of accounting clients will fall into a small handful of stereotypical personality types, so we’ve broken these groups down and provided some tips on how to overcome the challenges that each might present.
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This is perhaps the most common type of accounting client; a person who has decided to hire a CPA without really understanding anything about what services such a professional will be able to offer.
Inexperienced entrepreneurs and small business owners who have little knowledge of an accountant’s role will be equally hard to convince that any work you do is worth the money. This can lead to conflict, confusion, and general consternation for all parties.
The best solution is to educate these clients so that they understand everything that is involved in a CPA’s work. They do not need to become experts themselves, but so long as they are given a grounding in the basics, their appreciation of your achievements will be much greater. Having them stay up to date with tax affairs is also useful.
The only thing worse than outright ignorance is being ill-informed, which in combination with arrogance can make a CPA’s job very difficult.
Clients who think they know everything there is to know about accounting will also want to micromanage a lot of the main aspects and could ultimately sideline your own efforts.
Managing this relationship is relatively straightforward, so long as you are willing to step in when called upon and stay out of the way where necessary. A soft touch will avoid any bruised egos and you can make simple suggestions and provide additional materials that will prove useful so that the client will steer clear of hubristic mistakes.
Accounting clients who turn up at the end of the year with a shoebox full of receipts and an armful of invoices to dump on your desk might make your blood boil. Aside from being disorganized, this type of client might naturally assume that their haphazard filing is a problem for you to solve, or that if there are any discrepancies you will be able to spot them in a flash and fix them in no time flat.
Once again the art of gently steering a client toward the right information and giving them advice about the services and solutions they can harness to make life easier for everyone will help. From government requirements for record keeping to independent recommendations for accounting software, information is key to overcoming bad habits and preventing clients making false assumptions about your responsibilities as a CPA.
It is all well and good for an accounting client to trust that a CPA will do what’s best for a business, but this positive attitude can be problematic if the client expects you to pull off amazing feats of financial wizardry from day one.
These unrealistic expectations can manifest themselves in various ways, from imposing impossibly tight deadlines to expressing extreme displeasure if your tax obligations haven’t magically been reduced to zero.
Unfortunately, some clients who have unattainably high standards will never be satisfied, or might deliberately behave in this way because they believe it will keep you motivated. Those who can be set straight will likely respond best to not only a clear, concise explanation of the realities of the job, but also examples and evidence of how things should play out in a business of their size to bring their expectations back down to Earth.
An overzealous accounting client who is always looking over your shoulder and demanding results is a problem, but some people sit at the other end of the spectrum and either fail to respond to your communications completely or put you through to a subordinate who is less than helpful.
Working with a client who refuses to reply in a timely fashion is basically a matter of persistence and patience. And if this comes to feel like it is completely unsustainable, always remember that you are entirely entitled to end the relationship rather than trying to patch it up on your own.
Bryce Welker is an active speaker, blogger, and tutor on accounting and finance. As the founder of Crush The CPA Exam, he has helped thousands of candidates pass the CPA exam on their first attempt.
The views expressed in the Contributors section are not necessarily the views of Palma Financial Services, Inc.