Don’t Call It a Cleanup!

Don't Call It a Clean Up
clean (someone/something) up
to make a person or place clean and tidy

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s was a ton of fun. We played outside every day, and we made a mess!!!

I can’t recall a day when my mother did not tell me to “clean up that mess!” Yes, with an exclamation mark. Usually said with frustration. Sometimes said with anger. To this day I cringe when I hear the words “clean up.”

I didn’t realize that while I was having fun, my mother was working hard.

She was an office manager for a small manufacturing firm. She went to work early and was home by the time school finished. I loved that my mother was home for my brother Justin and me.

At the time, I did not appreciate how hard she was working to keep the house clean, to keep food on the table, and to have dinner ready for my father. What kid does?

My mom didn’t like to clean. She did not get joy out of vacuuming, dusting, or folding clothes. But she did it. She did her best, and she did it every day.

I didn’t understand that when my brother and I tracked mud into the house, spilled drinks, left food out, didn’t wash our dirty plates, left toys and clothes everywhere, etc., that it was a mess my mom was always battling. How frustrating for her!

You’re insulting your prospects.

To this day when I hear a professional say, “We need to clean up your books,” I cringe.

As accounting professionals, our professional opinion is that many (most? all?) of the books we take over need to be “cleaned up.” Many times, we take over bookkeeping from a business where the owner did it themselves.

What we fail to understand is how hard that person worked to get their books into the shape they’re in when we see them for the first time. How hard they worked to get them to the point of running a business and paying taxes.

When the first thing you tell a prospect is that you’ll start by “cleaning up the books,” you are INSULTING them. You’re insulting their hard work. You’re insulting their lack of bookkeeping knowledge. You’re insulting their business.


Ever wonder why a meeting seemed to go well but you still did not get the opportunity to work with the prospect? Maybe you insulted them – or their spouse or another family member – without realizing it.

You’re insulting your profession.

Now, think about what you’re doing to the profession when you take over the books from a peer and say, “We need to clean up your books.”

You are insulting the previous professional.

Ever wondered why bookkeepers don’t get the respect they deserve? Business 101 is “do not insult the previous provider.” But our profession does it every day.

No wonder business owners don’t what to pay higher prices! Why would they when every time they switch providers they are told that the previous professional made a mess…and now they have to pay a lot of money to have it “cleaned up.”

mess /mes/
1. a dirty or untidy state of things or of a place:
2. a situation or state of affairs that is confused or full of difficulties:” the economy is still in a terrible mess”

Don’t call it a cleanup!

The remedy is simple: Stop calling it a cleanup!

Choose a positive descriptive word instead. I like renovation.

ren·o·vate (rĕn′ə-vāt′)
tr.v. ren·o·vat·ed, ren·o·vat·ing, ren·o·vates
1. To return to a condition of newness, as by repairing or remodeling.
2. To impart new vigor to; revive.

Whatever word you choose, take a novel approach and complement the demanding work that has been done…even if it is not up to your standards. Which are largely personal vs. technical, by the way.

Stop beating up your predecessor when you evaluate a prospect’s books. All you are doing when you tell the customer they need their books cleaned up is that the previous bookkeeper did a bad job! That the prospect themselves, who selected that bookkeeper, did a bad job. That the owner should have known better, and that they “let” the books get this way.

How deflating. You can see how the prospect might think, “Am I making the right decision to move to another provider? I know what I have now, but what assurances do I have that this professional is any better than what I currently have?”

The next time you speak to a prospect, try saying, “I have reviewed your books, and they have done a great job getting you to where you are. However, my suggestion is that we renovate them and implement a slightly different structure. One that not only supports you where you are today but also has the flexibility to scale as we work together.”

By simply using a different word to express how you’re going to help the prospect, you are providing a much better EXPERIENCE. That is how you unseat the incumbent.

Regardless of what word you use: renovate, remodel, optimize, etc. just remember this: “cleanup” is now a dirty word in your firm’s vocabulary.

Ron Saharyan
Co-Founder of Profit First Professionals


3 thoughts on “Don’t Call It a Cleanup!”

  1. When I originally commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added I receive four emails with the same comment. There has to be a way you can remove me from that service? Many thanks!

    1. Hello there,
      Thank you for reaching out about this. We hate that you’re getting 4 of the same emails!

      Let’s try this first: In the notification emails, you should see a link to “Manage Subscriptions.” By clicking on that link, you will have the option to remove the subscription to the comments on that page.

      When you have a moment, will you please try this or let us know if you have already tried this, please?

      Thank you So much!

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