Some clients are like barnacles on the hull of a ship, according to leading QuickBooks consultant and advisor Joe Woodard: “They drag you down.”

In a general session address at Scaling New Heights, a conference for QuickBooks ProAdvisors and Intuit Solution Providers held in Orlando, Fla., June 23-26, Woodard laid out five key points that have helped him build his own business, and the first was: “Be barnacle free.”

“On a sailboat, barnacles are animals that cling to your hull and drag you down,” he explained. “But they’re under the surface. All you know is you’re going slower and you don’t know why.”

“The biggest barnacle in your practice is your clients -- sure, some are the wind in your sails, and some are the wind -- but many are barnacles, and knowing which ones to scrape off is critical,” he continued.

He laid out a few characteristics that are typical of “barnacle” clients: They whine about fees; they complain about work quality even when you know it was well done; they don’t supply needed information on a timely basis; and they aren’t teachable. Those kinds of clients should be fired.

“It’s a scary thing,” he acknowledged, “but I have never had anything but a net gain from firing a client.”

 

Four more

Woodard also shared four other tips that have helped him in his business:

  • Sell with a soft landing. Taking a metaphor from parachuting, Woodard explained that accountants shouldn’t try to land a client all at once -- that’s a good way to break a leg, or lose a client. Instead, ease new clients in through three or four steps. Do a one-time data file analysis, for instance, to gauge the state of their books. Then, if it’s a prospect whose staff isn’t well-trained, offer to have them in for a morning of training. As a possible third stop, offer to do a one-time fix of any problems you noted in the file analysis. Only then -- once you’ve built your creditability, and had enough exposure to the client to determine if you want a long-term relationship with them -- should you push for the large, high-price-tag engagement.
  • Follow through. Don’t let the end of an engagement be the end, Woodard suggested. When you finish a particular task, “Ask them if there’s anything else,” he said. “Say, ‘I can come back in a month and see how you’re doing.’ Do a file analysis a month later. Then maybe you do it quarterly. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of clients who made it more than 30 days without a cleanup.”
  • The Four Ds. E-mail can be a major distraction, and even an impediment. To handle it efficiently, Woodard suggested following the Four Ds: If you can take care of an e-mail in five minutes without inconveniencing some else, then do it; if someone else should handle it, then delegate it; if you can’t handle it now, defer it -- but don’t leave it in your in-box; and if you don’t plan to act on it at all, then delete it -- but set your e-mail program to never permanently delete files, so you can retrieve it if it turns out you were mistaken.
  • Create distinctions. Woodard pointed out that there are tens of thousands of QuickBooks ProAdvisors, so that merely have the credential doesn’t make a practitioner stand out. They need to identify themselves with a niche or topic, and focus on it in marketing and social media -- in their blogs, their tweets, etc. “Tell a story that’s unique,” he said.