How to handle challenging clients

challenging clients


As an accountant or bookkeeper, sometimes you can get the feeling that life would be OK if it wasn’t for the clients!  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you feel about your clients), they are a necessity to having a successful practice.  The key is to manage them so that they never become challenging, or alternatively, change them from challenging to good clients.

Why is a client challenging?

  • Pay late.
  • Don’t pay.
  • Demanding – It might be that they give you the information late then immediately are on the phone wanting to know how much tax they owe.
  • Give you information late or incomplete.
  • Don’t do what you want them to do. It’s frequently the case when you give a client a request for information that they don’t send it all or send the wrong year!
  • Ask for feedback then don’t do what you suggest.
  • Want you to work for them on specific areas even though it’s not included in the quote and they don’t want to pay extra.
  • Treat you badly by being rude, inconsiderate or aggressive.

What can you do about challenging clients?

I don’t believe it’s worth giving up on a client until you’ve given them a chance to change.

But even before that stage, you have to be certain that the information and advice you are giving them is accurate, timely and clear. Make sure you aren’t contributing to the problem!

It’s important to make sure that your system is not letting you down.  You need to have a good system for quoting and invoicing and chasing debtors.  You must give your clients clear guidance so that there is no margin of error on what you need from them.  Also, be very clear on the work that is included in your fee.  Agree the fee with the client before work commences.

There are two approaches for dealing with challenging clients – the stick or the carrot.

The Stick:

1. Sack them

If you’ve completely had enough of them, why keep working for them?  You’ve given them loads of chances and been patient with them, but to no avail. In this instance, then they need to go.  Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and energy, which will affect your motivation. I know this is difficult, as you can’t introduce them to another contact as you would feel guilty handing over a bad client. You just have to give them a couple of chances, keep explaining clearly what is expected of them, and if this doesn’t work, let them go.

2.Charge them extra if they give you their information late

With this one, only do it if you’re prepared to lose them as a client.  I did this a few years ago with three clients who always gave me the information late.  They all paid the extra amount but then they all found another accountant.  In many ways, this is good as your time is freed up and it’s less stressful, but you also need to watch you don’t shoot yourself in the foot with regards to your cashflow! It goes without saying that this approach has to be mentioned in the terms and conditions when you start working together.

3.Refuse to work with them unless they use the software you want them to

If a client is consistently late but you have access to what they are entering on the software, then you can monitor what information has been entered and the quality of the information.  If they are working on spreadsheets that aren’t in a shared file, you have no way to track their progress.  They can tell you they will get the information over to you in the next few weeks but in reality, there is no way they’ll be able to achieve this.

4.Keep increasing your fees

By doing this, you will still have a difficult client but may be prepared to put up with them as you’re earning more from them. However, I’m not sure that any financial recompense is worth a really bad client!

The Carrot:

1.Give a prompt payment discount if they pay early. It’s amazing how this can motivate people to get organised!

2.Give them clear feedback on what you need.  Ring them and go through it with them so they know what’s expected. Remind them to contact you if they have any questions.


I think the challenging clients can be broken down into the ones who don’t care and can’t be bothered and the ones who don’t understand.  In the latter case, an hour of your time training them can work wonders!

The impact of managing challenging clients

Overall, the biggest impact of ensuring your clients aren’t challenging is on your own stress levels.  It’s so frustrating when you’ve tried everything, and the client’s attitude and behavior hasn’t changed.

An improved client will give you:

  • Increased efficiency

You won’t have to waste time chasing and the accounts and tax returns won’t need to be prepared at the last minute.

  • Better cashflow

By clients paying on the day they’re supposed to pay, your cashflow will improve.

  • Improved motivation

You know yourself that when you are continually chasing clients – whether for information or payment or both – it’s no fun.  Work becomes challenging and frustrating.

With fewer challenging clients, you will have more time to support your ideal clients… and also more time to find more of them!

Good luck with tackling those challenging clients.  Don’t ignore them and bury your head in the sand – they’re not going to suddenly change without your input.

If you’d like some more support in understanding how to deal with clients, book a FREE Discovery Call with me today.

Anna Goodwin @2023 All Rights Reserved.