Dear Danielle: Client Wants to Do a Background Check on Me

Dear Danielle:

I have recently purchased a few of your items and love them. They have helped me tremendously! Thanks. 🙂

I have a question: I have done a couple of consultations and the client has asked if they could run a background check because they will be disclosing some bank and financial information to me. I have no problem with them doing this and can’t blame them for asking; however, I was wondering if you had heard of a service where I could get the background check for myself and just be able to send it to the clients when they ask for it? The main reason for this is that in the same way that they don’t want to hand over their banking info to me, I do not want to hand over my SS#, birth date, home address, etc.

Great question and thanks so much for asking. I don’t have any recommendations for you when it comes to background checks. Obviously, it’s everyone’s personal choice, but I highly discourage allowing clients to do personal background checks. Even if they themselves have honest intentions and are not some kind of shady character, if their computer or systems or office security are compromised somehow, that information can get leaked out in all kind of ways through no fault of their own. Having been a private investigator in a former life, this is a really bad idea for all kinds of reasons.

Plus, it’s just the wrong mindset to cater to. If you were an employee they were considering hiring, it might be appropriate, but this is a business relationship, not an employment one. A background check also doesn’t guarantee that someone can be trusted. There simply has to be a certain level of trust extended to each other or there isn’t room to do business together.

You didn’t say what kind of work you will be doing for them, but generally, trust in business is something that grows and is earned in stages. With some exceptions, of course, it’s very often not necessary to need that kind of sensitive client data right off the bat. You can let the relationship grow naturally as you continue working together over those first months and getting to know each other. As they see things progress and they get more comfortable, they will know the right time to share that information if and when it’s needed.

I do want you to think about this from a different perspective. Have a conversation with the client. What might really be going on behind their request? Do they simply have trust issues beyond what is reasonable? Is there something they aren’t seeing or feeling from you that they need to in order to feel more trusting?

There are all kinds of ways you can help instill trust and credibility without submitting to background checks:

  • Put your name and face on your website. People connect with people, not anonymous, nameless, faceless entities. This is one of the most potent, instant trust and rapport builders you can employ!
  • Put an address on your website. Not your home address, but some kind of mailing address as well as an email and contact number. This satisfies an emotional (not logical) need people have to see that you can be contacted in the “real” world if need be. It just gives them added assurance. When you don’t provide that info, they feel there is something to distrust.
  • If you are in the U.S., get an EIN number from the IRS (this is so that you don’t have to provide your SSN when you are an unincorporated sole proprietor), and then provide new clients with a completed IRS Form W-9.
  • Put a copy of your business license/registration in PDF format so you can provide that to clients as well. This shows that you are credible, legitimately registered business.
  • Have errors and omissions (E & O) insurance and provide a PDF copy of your certificate to new clients.
  • Provide a values/promise statement on your website. Tell clients that you have a feedback process instituted in your business and will solicit their input at regular intervals throughout the relationship. Let them know if they are ever unhappy, you encourage and welcome their feedback and will do everything in your power to rectify any unsatisfactory performance.
  • If you belong to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and have a spotless record, place your membership seal on your website (their code will link to your BBB profile where they can read your record for themselves).
  • Provide clients with testimonials on your website. Have a PDF list of clients who are happy to talk with your prospective clients about you and your work.

As you can see, there are all kinds of things you can and should be doing that will help new clients feel comfortable and safe with you. But do politely decline the background checks. It’s far too intrusive and just not the right place to start the relationship off.

Do you have others to add to the list? Please post in the comments!

5 Responses

  1. All great suggestions Danielle!

    Whenever I send out a contract for a new client to sign, I always include a confidentiality agreement and/or a Non-Disclosure Agreement along with a W-9. If that’s not enough for them to feel comfortable, then they aren’t the right client for me.

    A lot of times these seemingly small demands are indicators of the way the rest of your relationship with this person will play out over time.

  2. Terry McNeal says:

    Thanks for sharing this Danielle. This was highly insightful. There is much too much very personal information being put out in the universe and we all need to protect our good names, businesses and financial information.

  3. Virginia Lee says:

    Great information Danielle! In addition to the confidentiality agreement you can also provide references of current or past clients to the new client. Nothing speaks more for your reputation than the good word of your clients. Quite often, I am more surprised at the ease with which my new clients provide their own passwords to their online accounts after just speaking to me once over the phone. We can also ease our clients minds by telling them how we store their user information.

  4. So well put, April! “A lot of times these seemingly small demands are indicators of the way the rest of your relationship with this person will play out over time.”

    I do want to address the whole confidentiality agreement thing. I know it’s been somewhat of a trend in our industry for folks to automatically provide that to clients. However, that’s like a tenant supplying the lease to the landlord. It’s not your role and you could be creating beyond-normal liabilities where you don’t need to. It’s the client’s place to be talking with their own attorney and providing you with their confidentiality agreement, not the other way around.

    Here are a couple of old posts on this topic:

    Dear Danielle: Should I Sign a Client’s Confidentiality Agreement?

    Confidentiality Agreements Are Not Your Responsibility

  5. Annette says:

    Thank you for such detailed tips Danielle as always. You opened my eyes once again on the NDA.

    Virginia you are so right also. I try to make sure I am the one who brings up what I will be doing to keep their data safe.


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