One of my favorite client stories is one of those “problem client” stories. What do you do with a client that won’t follow any normal office protocols, insists that you work for less money, and doubts your capabilities the whole time? The answer is one that I didn’t quite see coming.
They Came to Us in Bad Bookkeeping Shape
Back in 2009, just a year after we started, a dry-cleaning business approached us. The owner had an old-school bookkeeper and was not happy. They had made a lot of mistakes and felt spread thin. I had a meeting with him and his CPA, and they both seemed very skeptical. We got the account, however, there was no honeymoon period.
It was an extremely rough transition. It got so bad that he was telling me, “You said you knew what you’re doing, but you don’t.” (Yes, really, he said that.) I had to push back. I showed him the books and said, “We inherited a complete mess and it’s worse than you realize.” He gave us a little leeway. In six months the transition was finalized.
They Asked Us to Work for Less Money
We came to a point where the work was increasing, so I asked him to increase his retainer. His response was, “No, let’s streamline. How do we make things easier for you?” I agreed to try it his way.
I went back to the team and shifted things around on our end and his end. He said he was good with the new arrangement, but his nudging got worse. He would call us out on small mistakes and always wanted to talk to me rather than anyone else on staff.
I Drew a Line
Fast forward a couple more years. We couldn’t work above the retainer amount but he wasn’t getting the quality he needed because of those constraints. I proposed to double the retainer.
He said, “You’re crazy.”
I replied, “It is time for you to find someone else. I will help you in the interview process.”
Then, We Both Had a Laugh
I stood my ground about the retainer, and guess what? He changed his mind. He said, “I will pay the retainer and shut up because there’s no way I’m going to find someone with your team’s qualifications that can do what you’re doing right now.”
I said, “Really? I was looking forward to you not being my client anymore.”
And we both had a huge laugh.
After that, our relationship changed. We’ve been together through thick and thin for 10-plus years!
Sometimes you have to fire a client for the sake of your business. It’s a serious measure, but so long as you’ve worked hard to make the relationship work, it’s one that may be necessary. If I had parted ways with this client, I would have kept my word to help him find someone else. Doing so showed him my integrity and how serious I was about the impasse we reached.
It takes time for entrepreneurs to master when to do everything to make your clients happy and when to stand your ground. But in time, you may discover that a problem client will become of your best.