How to Work With Difficult Clients: Start By Setting Boundaries

  • Dark Horse CPAs
February 24, 2022

As CPAs, we’ve all had that “nightmare client,” the one who pesters you about every detail or the one who insists on calling you past midnight for a “quick update.” It might be hard to hear this, but people often treat you the way you let them treat you, which is why it never hurts to brush up on how to work with difficult clients. So take a deep breath, and use these tips to help you set boundaries that will hopefully retain some of your sanity.

Be Proactive

Set boundaries early on, ideally before you ever even encounter your first difficult client. Here are just some suggestions:

  • Define clear hours where you’re reachable by phone/email
  • Establish deadlines for when clients can alter their requests
  • Set standardized accounting practices company-wide

Some of these boundaries may depend on your personal preferences or communication style. However, you should remember that these boundaries don’t just protect you; they also protect your employees from getting steamrolled by a challenging client.

Communicate Your Expectations

Nobody wants to be “that client.” Your clients might not even be aware that their expectations are unreasonable.

It’s important to communicate with your client about the nature of your professional relationship. This communication should be initiated as early as possible, and if your business relies on contracts, these expectations might be discussed as part of your business terms.

Make Adjustments as Necessary

Even if you’ve set clear boundaries and expectations, you may still be wondering how to work with difficult clients who just don’t seem to get it.

For example, if you have a client who ignores the boundaries you’ve set, put the ball in their court. If they call after hours, simply ask them: “When would be a good time to discuss this tomorrow?” This approach sounds a lot nicer than “back off” and lets them feel in control of the relationship moving forward.

When in Doubt, Empathize

Sometimes your clients can be difficult because they’re dealing with stresses of their own: a demanding boss, a hectic schedule, or maybe they don’t know how to work with difficult clients in their own workplace.

The point is that when you’re feeling frustrated, you should take a step back and consider what your clients may be going through. Of course, this contemplation may not solve the issue, but at least it will leave you feeling less frustrated.

Train Your Employees

When dealing with a troublesome client, it helps if your other financial team members are on the same page. Otherwise, your client may do an “end run” around you and try to contact your team members with their requests or concerns.

Teach the above tips to your accounting staff so that your whole team understands how to work with difficult clients. This way, your boundaries, and expectations are shared company-wide, and your employees can have the confidence that they’re supported by company policy.

A Better Way to CPA

Are you feeling stuck in your career or even your own company? Thankfully, CPAs can find a better way to do business.

Instead of relying on a traditional accounting firm or trying to make it on your own, consider meeting with Dark Horse to explore your options. We can provide you with the resources you need to grow your practice and become an industry leader.

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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