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Danielle

Question About Clients in Limbo

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Over my few years of being a VA I've had a couple clients that just kind of disappear cause their ventures don't work out or things come up in life.

 

My question is, how long do you keep all their stuff on your computer? Like for example I had one client that moved away from their online business venture and I had a ton of stuff saved on my computer from working with them. Eventually after two years I just trashed it all. After all I'm not an online backup system.

 

I've had this situation a few times and never know what to do with all the files. Do I just hold onto them forever? Maybe I should put something into my contract saying I'm not responsible for keeping your files as I'm not a storage facility. They should have copies of everything, but I know with many of my current clients, they are always asking me to send files to them cause they've missed placed them somehow.

 

What do all of you do in these situations? Or have you even had this situation come about?

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Hi Danielle,

 

I have an article in my contract that states:

 

RETURN OF PROPERTY. On termination of this Agreement, or whenever requested by the parties, each party shall immediately deliver to the other party all property in its possession, or under its care and control, belonging to the other party to them, including but not limited to, proprietary information, customer lists, trade secrets, intellectual property, computers, equipment, tools, documents, plans, recordings, software, and all related records or accounting ledgers.

 

That's pretty clear cut, but the reality is a little fuzzier, eh? Email attachments alone make this a complicated issue.

 

When a client sends me a digital "copy" of something, it's for my temporary reference and use, to get the work done. The keeping and organization of their digital documents is not my responsibility. However, similar to your situation, from time to time a client hollers for help finding something they've misplaced. If I still have that "copy" of it, then I'll send it.

 

If I set up an account for a client, MailChimp for example, I make sure it's in their name and that they have all login info and full administrator access. I'll then add myself or ask them to add me as a user with appropriate permissions.

 

In other words, their office is their office and mine is mine. Keeping this as separate as possible and the responsibilities clearly divided protects us both. With so many accounts of all kinds getting hacked these days, it's more than enough responsibility to oversee your own stuff.

 

If a contract ends or just gradually fizzles out, it's time to get rid of any info that you might be held liable for or that would conflict with your contract if retained. And to hand off access and remove yourself from tools you've kept control of. (Remove yourself as a user, from a shared folder, etc.) Keep just enough to show that work was performed and to serve as backup for billing, but the rest really needs to go. Maybe set yourself a reminder to do the purge if you haven't received any fresh work from a client in X length of time.

 

Hope this helps a little!

 

Best,

Denise

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PS to the below. I also prompt them to change passwords that I've had access to. It's a best practice that shows good faith and also makes clear my responsibility has ended and the hand-off is official :)

 

(Remove yourself as a user, from a shared folder, etc.)

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As a bookkeeper, I get all electronic docs from my clients (or download them myself). I request separate logins/passwords from new clients and then disable/delete the account access when I am done working with them. Every January the QB file is 'closed' for the prior year and I burn all client docs and a QuickBooks backup to a cd-rom and send it to the client (certified mail). I keep a copy of the cd-rom for myself in their client file, just in case, as backup to the work I performed. Then all prior year documents are purged from my computer. If I lose a client, for whatever reason, I do the cd-rom burn/certified mail/document purge two months after last contact. This minimizes what I have on the computer at any given time and, if they lose the docs after I send them certified, that's their problem - not mine.

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Great idea about putting a clause in your contract forthwith which I highly advise.

 

I have kept everything for past 7 years (same as government does) on my hard drive saying that, I'm at a point right now where I need to clean off my hard drive so great question!

 

Personally if I've not heard from them within 2 years I plan on just deleting their files.

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If the files are taking up a lot of storage space in your computer, I would burn any documents to a CD and put the CD in a file folder and keep it in storage (with any other files). In the event the client contacts you again, you will still have access to the information, but if the file size(s) are minimal, I might just keep the information stored in a "file" in the computer. (More than likely, I'd burn the docs to a CD, this way keeping only current clients/activity on my computer)

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I think I will add something into my contract from now on. :)

 

Maybe I'll just backup a few things from clients that are in limbo and if they come back I will have the stuff. Personally, I don't even want to have backups of files laying around. I have enough of my own files to keep track of let alone clients that went into limbo months and even years ago.

I basically have 3 homes so having a physical backup would be difficult as I am going between all three of them constantly. The only ideal way for me to backup files would be online, which would cost me money, and I'm not about to pay to hold files for someone else.

 

So after writing this I have concluded I'll just add something to my contract, and possibly contact my clients in limbo and tell them I'm 'spring cleaning' my computer and if they would like I can send them any files I have saved on my computer.

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Sounds like a plan forthwith Danielle. Maybe just back up onto CDs the ones you have and store at the one place. If you ever need them at least you know where they are and tell the client they are in storage and will take a week or so to retrieve.

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