Art of Accounting: Clients That Outgrow You

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IMGCAP(1)]When I started out I lost clients. Very few, but still losses.

Some couldn’t be helped, such as a bank wanting a larger, more established and better capitalized firm. But some, early on, could have been retained, and that is what I want to talk about today.

Clients always feel they are important. Many want to continually grow and want advisors who can lead them. Once they feel they will outgrow you, they look elsewhere, regardless of the reality and your ability.

Perceptions become reality, and it is our job to manage these perceptions. I learned early on that everything counts—how I dress, my shoes, how my hair is cut (when I had hair), the condition of my office, the texture of the paper and font used for the financial statement, the spacing of the lines on what I write, the briefcase I use, being out of breath when late to a meeting or just simply not appearing in control. There are many more things, but the point is that intangibles shape the way clients think and how they feel about you.

To a great extent, you can control the intangibles. Use the items in the previous paragraph as a mini checklist and work on whatever you believe is applicable to you. I also believe you need to establish your firm as being superior. This includes becoming a presence in the accounting profession—being active in societies, writing articles, presenting speeches, perhaps teaching a course at a local college—and making your clients aware of your activities and proud of you, and themselves for having you as their accountant. You should also become active in industry associations where you have multiple clients.

What you do for yourself should also apply to some extent to your staff. Unless you have brilliant people who consistently deliver the best work possible, never missing a deadline, the staff also needs to be aware of their image and how it affects the firm’s image.

One other thing is you should make your clients aware of new services you add and technical conferences you attend, and that you are on top of the tax and accounting updates that affect them.

There will always be some clients who will outgrow you, just as some that you will outgrow, but you don’t have to lose the others. Manage your clients’ perceptions, and the losses will be at the barest minimum.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, published by and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition,” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or

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