How firing my accountant made me a better freelancer
Turns out, good client management skills are at least as essential as good work product.
Every year at tax season, I remember the accountant I had in New York City.
He was a marvelous accountant. Careful, thoughtful, always on the lookout for my bottom line. He was also great about answering random questions that would come up in the middle of the year. Even though I kept asking him to invoice me for all the time he spent giving me advice, he never did.
But this accountant had one fatal flaw.
He did not keep me in the loop.
No matter what we were filing or submitting, he would never get back to me with a confirmation that it was done nor send me a copy of the filing. He also wasn’t diligent about letting me know when he took an extension.
It was always on me to follow up.
Call me obsessive, but I really do not want to get sideways with the IRS or any state tax service by missing deadlines. On the other hand, I also don’t want to be a pain, especially when accountants are super-busy — I don’t want to be that client who emails 15 times with the same question: “Did you file it? Did you file it? How about now?”
So, every time a deadline would approach, I’d be on tenterhooks. And after each follow-up, I’d swear this was the last time I’d work with this accountant. The agita just wasn’t worth it.
Eventually I found a different accountant — an awesome accountant who keeps me informed! An accountant who’s created systems (like a client portal), that make it easy both for himself and for his clients. Because all the documents are uploaded to the portal, the client can follow along and see the progress being made or the documents that are still outstanding. I’m betting that not much of his time is wasted answering as many irate phone calls and emails as my old accountant.
So, how did this experience make me a better freelancer?
I realized that the quality of my work product is necessary but not sufficient to bring clients back for repeat engagements. No matter how great I may be at doing my work, communicating my progress to the client is an essential element of the service.
The less stressed out clients are, the more likely they are to love you and hire you again.
In fact, whenever I talk about the freelancing life with other seasoned pros, the same experience comes up for all of us. We often were the freelancers that replaced an unreliable person who drove the client crazy.
We all have opportunities to walk in our clients’ shoes and understand what it’s like. The more we take the time to deconstruct our experience and understand what distinguishes service providers we love from those we want to replace ASAP can significantly increase our freelancing success.
It’s an exercise worth doing.
A version of this article was first published here.