Is it time to break up? Here are 9 red flags that say yes

minute read

Last Updated October 26, 2023

A graphic of three cartoon arms holding red flags.


We’ve all been there.

At some point in a relationship red flags can pop up…but we turn a blind eye. Or we make excuses such as: “They’re going through a rough time.” ”They’ll for sure do it today…they promised they would!” or “They didn’t mean to speak to us that way. They’re just having a bad day.”

And you continue to look for any excuse not to break up.

Sure, we see the red flags in a relationship after the fact. And then we berate ourselves for not paying more attention. You find yourself thinking, “If only someone had pointed out those red flags to me. Maybe, just maybe, I would’ve ended the relationship sooner.”

Well, friends. Today, that someone is me. I’m here to share the warning signs of a toxic relationship…with a client. And to help you see when it’s time to finally, once and for all, break up with that client.

But before we explore the red flags, let’s quickly talk about your ideal clients.

Ideal clients wave green flags

You know the great clients you love to serve and are good at serving? Those are your ideal clients. And while no client is perfect, in general, they’re the epitome of a healthy relationship. They’re the ones that you and your staff love working with. They’re responsive to your questions; they respect your time; they adapt to the technology your firm uses; they pay on time; they take your advice; they’re just a good fit for your firm.

9 common red flags in a client relationship

However, if you’re a firm that tends to struggle with too many of the wrong clients, these are the red flags you want to watch out for. And when these flags start flying, you know it’s time to break up with clients.

They’re never on time

An image of an invoice with a big "past due" stamped in red ink.
Habitual late payers are a drain on firm resources.

Receiving a late payment every once in a while happens. But if you have clients who always pay late (or are way behind on payments), it’s time to let them go. They’re a drain on your firm’s resources, and your team shouldn’t be wasting their time chasing payments.

In the age of digital payments, don’t let “The check is in the mail!” be an excuse. Require ACH or credit card payments…or break up with the client.

They ask for your advice…and then ignore it

Whether you’re sharing your expertise about tax returns or retirement plans, if your client ignores—or questions—the advice you give them, they’re just not for you.

They turn into a creeper

A scope creeper, that is. You know the type. They agree to a specific contract, and then it begins. They start asking for “just one tiny favor”…and then another…and another, until the tiny favors become demands. This process repeats itself until you’re way out of scope, and there’s little hope of reining it in or getting payment for extra services. If you’re experiencing this more often than not, it’s time to break up with those creepers—er, clients.

They’re poor communicators

An image of a smartphone with an unread email count of over 2,000, portraying attempts to reach clients going unanswered.
Radio silence from a client when requesting items by a specific due date is a sign it’s time to break up.

Does this scenario sound familiar? You and your client click. Things seem to be going well. Then, you dare to ask for something to be done by a specific date…and radio silence. You reach out multiple times, in a multitude of ways, but to no avail. Your team spends a ridiculous amount of time trying to get the client to communicate or to receive documentation before deadlines, but you’re met with crickets. If you’re experiencing this scenario with a client, it’s time to break up.

They’re a little too clingy

There’s a big difference between a “sticky” client and a clingy client. And if you have unqualified clients (i.e., 1040 clients) requesting your time and attention way too often, you may need to reevaluate the relationship. If you simply cannot adjust your pricing or service package to meet their demands and make the time investment worthwhile for your firm, then it’s time to break up. Otherwise, they end up being a drain on resources and your firm.

They’re disrespectful

Firms thrive on mutual respect between clients and staff. But if you have clients who are consistently rude and dismissive to your team, they’re not adding anything to the relationship. And they need to go. Sure, maybe someone’s having a bad day and they later apologize, but be wary of clients who lack professionalism and common courtesy on a regular basis. They’ll cause your staff morale to take a dive (not to mention their mental health)—and drive away your team members.

They’re unwilling to try new things

A picture of a man from the shoulders up with his fingers in his ears and a pouty look on his face, refusing to listen to what his accounting firm needs from him.
When clients refuse to listen or adapt, it’s time to break up.

Your modern firm runs on efficiency, and that includes using a streamlined tech stack. If your clients refuse to adapt to the technology you use, it’s going to become a bad client relationship. They need to start using your tech stack, or they need to move along. No exceptions.

They’re too demanding

You’ve done your due diligence. Your firm’s products and services are clearly stated on your website, and you’ve ensured all your clients and prospects know what you offer. But there’s always that one person who continuously asks for (or demands) services your firm doesn’t provide. If you’ve tried explaining that you don’t offer what they need and you’ve recommended them to another firm that does and they just won’t budge…it’s time to break up with that client.

They don’t contribute regularly

We talk about it enough that you know that relying on tax season revenue alone won’t help your firm succeed. Modern firms rely on recurring revenue. And if your firm works with clients that only contribute to your bottom line once a year but don’t take advantage of the other services you provide, it may be time to end the relationship.

Is it time to break up with clients?

It’s hard to know when to let go of a bad relationship. But if any of your clients come to mind while reading through these common red flags, it’s probably time to break up with them. And if you need help ending a client relationship without burning bridges, we have the resources you’ll need.

If you’d like coaching on how to identify your ideal clients and say goodbye to toxic relationships, become a Rootworks member today!

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