Your ultimate 7 step guide to onboarding new clients to your accounting firm (+ downloadable checklists!)
Get your new client onboarding right and you create a loyal client who buys more from you and regularly refers your firm for life. Get it wrong, and you either set up an unhappy client from the get-go or you lose them within the first 3 months. New clients are 3 times more likely to churn in the first 90 days of working with your firm, so getting your accounting onboarding process right is essential. This article shows you how to refine your onboarding process to seven steps while also providing you with a new accounting client checklist to ensure that it’s a success!
The 7 crucial steps to accounting onboarding
The client onboarding process begins once you have buy-in from your client that they’d like to go ahead with your services. To ensure a smooth and successful onboarding period, however, you will have to do some prework beforehand.
Here are the 7 steps to accounting onboarding:
1. Research and set expectations
Before your initial meeting with your potential client, do your research and prepare. Take the time to get to know your client, delve into their history so that you can adapt your standardised onboarding process to them specifically – what work have they needed from accountants in the past and why did these relationships end? Once you know this you can appeal to their needs.
Instil confidence in them by explaining the onboarding process in clear and logical steps. Let them know exactly what will happen and when, and what programs and systems will be used to set their expectations. This also ensures that everyone in your team will know what they need to deliver and when too.
2. Find out your client’s needs and wants
You are laying the foundations for this new business relationship in this first meeting so find out as much as you can about your new client so that you can begin the project. Only then can you show that you are their solution.
An onboarding questionnaire is the best way to get client information and you should already have a standard set of questions that you ask your new clients. Questions such as “what is working for you and what isn’t?”, “what are you using now, why did you choose it and do you like it?”, and “where do you want to take your business?” will help you get to the root of their needs and wants, and they will help you understand what motivated them to come to you. Once you have the answers, reassure them that you understand the specific problems that they are facing and how your services can help overcome them.
3. Map out the onboarding framework
You should already have your proposal and filled in questionnaire, now it’s time to explain the framework of the relationships with the client so that they can be aware of where they fit among the bigger picture.
A typical accounting onboarding framework or workflow is as follows:
- The signing of the contract.
- Initial payment and set up billing.
- Get the authority to act for the client.
- Add client job to workflow.
- Introduce the client to the team assigned to them.
- Introduce them to the lead point of contact who they can get in touch with for support.
- Outline the project summary, the technologies that will be used, the timeline for completion, and anything that may be needed from the client.
- Explain how the firm is structured and how this relationship will be an extension of each other’s teams.
- Welcome package.
- Check up call.
(Don’t have a workflow? Download our new accounting client checklist here!)
4. Explain key concepts and principles
A successful accounting onboarding process is about building a strong relationship with your client and the best way to do this is to educate them on what to expect from the process and reinforcing their purchase decision every chance that you get.
Provide a welcome package with everything that they need to know about working with your firm; outline key concepts and establish your principles, highlight what your practice cares about and what drives your decisions, and help them understand what it’s like to work with you and why it’s great that they are a part of that. Not only will this make them feel special, but it will also set expectations for your relationship from the get-go. The less smoke and mirrors the better.
5. Identify responsibilities
A successful partnership requires two players, so identify both of your responsibilities as early as possible. Discuss what your practice is going to do for your client and outline their specific responsibilities too. You’ll need to explain how you will both need to work together to achieve the best result. If the work requires that the client be transitioned to someone else in your team, make this transition as smooth as possible and let them know what to expect from the person that they will now be working with.
6. Set an action plan and follow up
Now you have everything you need to get started on the client’s project, it’s important to end the initial meeting with a clear action plan. Schedule the next meeting and provide a new accounting client checklist of everything that they will need to prepare and provide for said meeting. Give them clear instructions of what to do, how to get it to you, what the deadline is and the implications for any missed deadlines. Create a realistic timeline with deadlines spread out (this will prevent them from being overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done!).
Make sure to call your client around 14 days into the relationship to check that everything is running smoothly and that they are happy. This will show them that you are attentive to your clients but also allows you to give them a nudge on any documents that they may be slow to give you.
7. Get to work and build relationships
Your new client is most likely to churn in the first 90 days of you working together, so get working and prove the value of your work as soon as possible! Communication is essential in this stage as you build and deepen your relationship with the client so prioritise tasks based on what they care about most and check in on them to make sure that they are staying on top of their own responsibilities too. Often, it’s the lack of communication that loses clients so give them consistent updates to show that things are moving forward and check in on them every week. They will appreciate the reminder.
Now that your client is fully onboard and secured after the dreaded 90 day period, reflect on the process. How can you refine and improve it? Can you automate parts of it? Is there any extra value that you can add?
Accounting onboarding takeaways
To successfully onboard new client to your accounting practice, you just need these 7 steps. The more you can refine and standardise this process so that it applies to every client, the better! To help you do just that, download our new accounting client checklist as your guide.