Public Practice Headaches – Save Your Future Self

Clearline Consulting - Public Practice Headache

For public practitioners, it is busy season. For some of us that means lots of tax compliance work. For others it means financial reporting deadlines for the multitude of December and March year-ends. For most – it is both!

It is not an easy time of year to add items to your ‘to do’ lists, but it is probably the most appropriate time to take note of the clients who are making your public practice busy season more complex and stressful than it ought to be.

You know the clients we are talking about. They never respond to your emails and voicemail reminders to get you the vital information you need to serve them. They provide you and your staff with bookkeeping and accounting records that are a mess. Then, when it is all said and done, they are dissatisfied with your invoice.

Why not jot down a few names of these clients (the old 80/20 rule) and create yourself a little cleanup project once busy season is over. It may also be helpful to categorize this list into a few buckets:

  1. First, the worst ones. The ones that keep you up all night and make you want to hide in bed all day. These are the ones you should just cut loose. If you have never done this before it can be a bit daunting. However, if the result is an improvement to your practice, to your staffs’ moral, or to your sanity, it is worthwhile. Do it. You will be surprised how liberating it can be.
  2. Next, the clients who are good in many respects but continually struggle to provide you with adequate accounting records. They are pleasant and well intentioned but just can’t seem to deliver the goods. What can you do to help them, help you? Many of these clients have internal or external bookkeepers who would appreciate your support and guidance to improve the internal records. Maybe your client needs a prompt or reminder to invest in their staff. Can you help with this and do some training with them in the off-season? Consider creating templates they can use to keep their records in good shape.  
  3. Finally, the clients you aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to or maybe can see just enough light at the end of the tunnel. You may be tempted to increase your fee. This rarely helps solve the longer-term issues. Perhaps you commit to one more year with this client and provide a detailed list of your expectations in a client service letter, outlining all the information you need and when you need it. If there is improvement you have a good client, if not add to bucket number one next year. Rinse, repeat.

Public practice is a difficult business but it is your business – these are your decisions.

What are you going to do with this list this time of year? Likely nothing. Just put it in the top drawer and know that when it slows down, you can direct some attention to working on the business rather than in it.

In our July/August newsletter, we will revisit this topic and provide you with some tools to make the final decision and communicate with clients who need to find another public practice service provider next year.

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