You wouldn’t think a bookkeeper would have to worry about giving bad news. After all, it’s not like we’re doctors saying, “I’m sorry sir, but you only have six months to live.”

Unfortunately, we are frequently in the business of giving bad news. In the last six months, I’ve had to give bad news on more than one occasion, with things like the following:

  • I see evidence of employee fraud.
  • You’ve been levied fines and penalties for payroll or sales tax because it wasn’t set up properly.
  • Your checking account is overdrawn. (There’s always a reason – they forgot to make the deposits, or they didn’t tell you about a large expense they had coming out – but obviously, it’s always bad news).

It is easy for clients to blame their bookkeeper for the bad news, too, and out we go. That last bookkeeper let my account get overdrawn. You know that old adage – the messenger always gets shot. While I can’t guarantee you won’t get metaphorically shot, here’s my approach to delivering clients bad news:

1. Act fast. Like Superman and his speeding train, get the information to them as quickly as possible. Dragging your feet only prolongs your agony, and can make the client suspicious that you are trying to hide something.

2. The facts, ma’am, only the facts. Tell it straight, with all the information available to you, but nothing more. Rambling on and on won’t change anything
3. Communicate carefully. I try to do this via email in almost any situation. However, there are times that a call is necessary, if it’s something sensitive and it’s possible your client wouldn’t want it in email. For fraud situations, I create a folder in Google Drive or Dropbox with all of the evidence uncovered, password protected and get on a call with the client so that we can review it together.
4. Admit if it’s your fault. I wrote an entire article about this awhile back. There are three steps to this: acknowledge the mistake, apologize for it and make amends. ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Have options to fix the problem planned out before you tell the client.
5. Offer a referral. If the issue is over your head, be aware of this – tell the client and let the client know you’ve done some research and have found 2-3 qualified people that can handle the problem.
6. Stay on top of it. Make sure you keep in touch and follow through with your part of the solution.
7. Be human. Acknowledge the impact of the problem on the client. Be compassionate. After all, you’ve probably had bad news delivered to you a time or two.

Delivering bad news is never easy, but it is an opportunity for you to deepen the trust and rapport you have with your client. When handled properly, you’ll not only keep the client, but you’ll also deepen the trust and loyalty they have in you. Good luck!

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