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3 Essential rules for successful client relationships

April 26th, 2022 by Rebecca Mihalic 4 minute read

For accountants and bookkeepers, relationships with clients and customers are their business’ most important asset. Whether you provide compliance, advisory, bookkeeping or other financial services, your clients count on you to understand their numbers and help their businesses grow. Beyond the service offering, maintaining healthy working relationships depends on clear and consistent communication. With that in mind, let’s have a look at the three key aspects of your client engagements that can reduce stress and allow your work to shine.

1. Managing expectations

If you remember one thing about managing your clients’ expectations, let it be this – clarity is key. When business relationships break down, the culprit is usually a disconnect between the expectations of the client and the service provider.

The best way to safeguard your working relationship is by having your client sign a comprehensive engagement letter, laying out precisely what is expected of both parties. Here are some key points to include:

  • Deliverables - Since deliverables can be tangible or intangible, it is crucial to be as concise and realistic as possible. Both you and your client need to be clear about what you are delivering and what that entails.

  • Timing - Timing is about answering basic questions; how often you will be providing service and when you expect to complete work.

  • Pricing - Whether hourly or fixed fee, being transparent about your pricing from the beginning will build trust with your clients.

  • Client Responsibilities - Even though you might be unsure what information you need from your client initially, set a timeframe for responding to queries and providing information.

  • Terms of Work - This is about stating your payment terms and establishing situations that force you to cease work – such as non-payment. You can also request information or data necessary to commence work and set your contactable hours.

  • What is Not Included - Avoid the weight of unrealistic expectations by communicating exactly what is not provided by your business. This will vary based on your service offering but usually relates to the assumption of services based on your current offering.

2. Manage client work against team capacity

Inevitably, some periods will be busier than others for your business, especially when your workload is dictated by when your clients send their work in to be completed and have high demands on turnaround time.

If you allow stress to mount as you exceed capacity, it will have implications for your client relationships and the quality of your service. More importantly, it can generate mental health problems by creating an unsustainable work environment. Protecting work-life balance is an essential selling point for modern employers by creating parameters that eliminate dead time or reorder unworkable responsibilities.

To mitigate this you can implement a system where you set the parameters for when work will be done, instead of allowing clients to control this aspect of the workflow.

With well executed planning that considers your team's capacity, client due dates and allows time for urgent or new projects, you can plan out the year's work in advance.

You can then communicate to your clients the best time for them to send their information based on your capacity plan, instead of this being a client led decision.

With early communication that explains the process you can assure your clients that:

  • This process will help reduce turnaround on work, as you have planned for it.

  • All of their compliance due dates will be met.

  • You have capacity for urgent and ad hoc requests.

3. Communicate early and honestly

Many relationship issues stem from poor communication. Consider your own day-to-day, is there anything worse than having work sprung on you at the worst possible time? Here are some basic rules for communicating with your clients that will help maintain a healthy relationship.:

  • Communicate early and often – the more notice you can provide, the better. Resist the temptation to avoid problematic conversations and schedule communication reminders to ensure your client is up to date with any changes.

  • Tell them exactly what to do and when – you can never provide too much detail. Be concise but ensure your clients know all relevant information and processes. Answer frequently asked questions in advance to limit the need for client follow up.

  • Deliver bad news as soon as possible – this could mean admitting to an error or relaying an unexpected turn of events. Regardless, dragging things out will only prolong your stress and leave your client with less time to respond.

  • Use one-to-many communication where possible – when information is relevant to more than one client, one-to-many communication tools such as social media posts, email newsletters or webinars can reduce time constraints and engage clients.

Finally, remember that taking control is a process unto itself. While there is never a bad time to enact positive change, power dynamics with clients form slowly and can’t be expected to change overnight. Ease into things with clients you are comfortable with or identify small changes that won’t invite pushback. However you approach things, proper communication and planning can only lead to happier clients and a healthier business.

Find out more by reading our expert guide on How to Take Control of Client Relationships with Engagement Letters

Ignition is here to help

The most successful client relationships are built on trust, open communication, and realistic expectation-setting. Understanding your client's needs, pain points, and objectives is key to determining the solution you can offer.

Further, keeping the feedback loop open, indicates your commitment to improve and grow with them. Clients appreciate an openness to feedback and a willingness to learn and improve. Follow the advice mentioned above to build lasting relationships with your clients and to keep your professional services business thriving.

Ignition helps you create exceptional client experiences and foster win-win relationships. With features that facilitate proposals, billing, and client management, Ignition’s client engagement and commerce platform makes doing business a breeze. Start a free trial today.

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