The Art of Difficult Accounting Conversations

Jenifer Crader
Jenifer CraderAccounting Manager
Difficult Accounting Conversations

In everyday life, people don’t typically enjoy talking about money - the same can be said in business. The truth of the matter is, this is one of the more common things that we deal with in an agency setting. We talk about estimates, payments and financials with clients and even internally. I have seen that there is a common approach to these conversations, whether it be with your coworkers or with clients, that can help ease and guide the conversation in a positive direction for everyone involved. Follow along below for 5 tips to help you master the art of financial conversations: 

1. Set yourself up for success

There's a lot of misinformation out there about how agencies are compensated, how transparent they are with clients, or even what other agencies charge for what may seem to be similar services or results. As an agency, it is up to us to help inform and shape a client's impression on pricing. 

Send a crystal-clear message from the onset on how your agency's approach to business compares with others in the market. Compile relevant data and be prepared to support not only your pricing structure, but also your rationale for rates, overhead and margins. I have found that setting clear expectations on all things money-related will greatly reduce the need for the following tips and conversations like these. 

2. Prepare yourself

Live your life using the Boy Scout's motto, “Be Prepared’. The most important part of having any type of financially-based discussion is ensuring that you are well prepared and not just jumping into it on a whim. Spend time ahead of the conversation focusing on what the goal of the discussion is, who should be involved, and where the conversation should take place. Ambushing someone into a conversation they also have had no time to prepare for is a good way to ensure all parties leave frustrated and resolution-less. 

While we all hate to talk about uncomfortable things, client or internal finances should not be on this list. Start every financial conversation with a plan. It will help you foster an understanding that this is a normal part of doing business, not just a taboo subject that comes up only when there's a problem.

3. Leave emotions at the door 

Again, even in a professional setting, sometimes money discussions can be emotional. Whether it is talking internally about estimates, billing or financials of a company, or speaking with a client about payment or collections- there is some level of emotion present. The best way to help keep emotions at bay is to focus on the issue at hand. Sometimes it can be easy to bring up other issues or complaints, but that will only keep the solutions and forward-moving process at bay. By sticking to the topic, and this topic only, the conversation will be easier for everyone. 

4. When the tough gets going...

No matter how much you prepare, it is likely that not everything will go according to plan. If you find that you’re getting a negative reaction to the conversation, try the following:

Don’t agree with the facts? Ask the client or employee why, give them time to provide their point of view and then suggest how to move forward. 

Blame game happening? Figure out what the source of the frustration is and try not to be defensive (you get bonus points here because, man, is this hard) and figure out together how you can both come to a resolution. 

5. End On a High Note

If you are anything like me after a difficult conversation, you might feel an instant sigh of relief. “Glad that is over, hope to never have to talk about it again,” but in reality, it is really critical to follow up after a tough discussion. 

Take the time to acknowledge that the conversation happened, that it was tough, and highlight and focus on the good things that remedying it brought about. 

Bonus tip- Get everything in writing! Paper trails are your best friend. Make sure any agreements or arrangements are in writing with both parties acknowledgement, to avoid further uncomfortable conversations. 

Overall, if your agency is able to establish from the start, both internally and with clients, that money is part of every client/agency relationship, then financial conversations will become natural and productive instead of awkward and defensive. A win-win for everyone. Ever experienced an uncomfortable financial conversation in the workplace? What did you find helped? Share below.