When CPA Life Gets Tough: How to Fire a Client (Nicely)

  • Dark Horse CPAs
January 13, 2022

CPAs have some clients in their book of business that can be really hard to work with—perhaps they’re too demanding, have unreasonable expectations, or are slow to pay. Or maybe they’re not a pleasant person to be around or, even worse, abusive and toxic. So how do you fire a client that’s just not working out for your accounting business?

First, Ask Yourself a Few Questions

It can be easy to pull the trigger quickly when you’re frustrated, which may not always be a good thing. Before you do something rash, take a moment to think about your relationship with the client.

Is There No Saving It?

You’ve tried to explain your point of view and reconcile the relationship. But your client isn’t willing to do the same. That’s a sign that the relationship may be beyond repair, and it’s time to cut them loose.

Before you do, is there any different type of conversation you could have with them regarding your business relationship? Is there another approach that might mend fences?

Does It No Longer Make Business Sense?

A client relationship that doesn’t add value to your CPA business may not be one worth keeping. Are you spending too much time on this client’s work or trying to resolve differences with them? Are you losing money? Do they no longer fit the direction you’re headed?

These are all valid reasons for dismissing a client you’re handling accounting for, but take time to consider whether it’s possible to shift the client in some way to align them better with your business. You might find a solution that has benefits for both sides.

Can the Challenges Be Overcome?

If challenges can be worked through, such as reestablishing deadlines or improving communication, you might try working with the client to ensure both of your needs are being met.

Escape Tactics (When It’s Clear It’s Over)

If you’ve exhausted all of your options and know that you should sever the relationship, then it’s time to decide on your move for firing your client (nicely, of course). 

Before reading further, it’s essential to get in the right frame of mind. Here’s what NOT to do when firing a client:

  • Don’t blame the client (even if they’re at fault)
  • Don’t leave them hanging (for example, if you’re mid-project, make it clear how you plan to hand it off to whoever the client chooses to work with next)
  • Don’t fire them by email (that’s just cold)

And now for the specific tactics you can use to make a graceful exit:

Explain You’re Shifting Your Business Plan

It could be a shift in focus to other accounting services or other industries—something you know that would be outside what the client needs from you. Explain this and then refer the client to someone else (who may be a better fit for their business) to show your goodwill towards them.

Inform Them That Fees Are Going Up

This approach is a good option if you have a slow-paying client who you know is struggling financially. Increasing your accounting service fees to a level you know they won’t accept will effectively lose them as a client.

However, try to ensure they have settled any outstanding bills with you before initiating a conversation on your new fee structure.

Tell Them You’re Not a Good Match

If your client is reasonable and you don’t expect much resistance, you can let them know they just aren’t a good fit and that perhaps working with another CPA might be more beneficial to them.

This strategy is a good method to employ if you can tell that they’re feeling the same way—perhaps the communication isn’t there, or there’s a lack of a strong connection. Then, both of you can part with no harm done.

About Dark Horse CPAs

Dark Horse CPAs provides integrated tax, accounting, and CFO services to small businesses and individuals across the U.S. The firm was founded to save small businesses (and their owners) from subpar accounting and tax services and subpar client experiences. These small businesses are Dark Horses among their larger and more well-known competition. Being a Dark Horse CPA means advocating for small businesses by bringing them the tax strategies and accounting insights previously reserved for big business. To learn more, visit our website.


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