The onboarding process sets the tone for the entire client-accountant relationship. It is the first experience a client has with you and if they find it too confusing, overwhelming or complicated, your future together could be doomed.
A poor onboarding experience—for either party—can seriously hinder your growth, decreasing the likelihood of you being able to up-sell your services, gain referrals, or keep your client long term. You must have the processes in place to ensure you can provide the most seamless, simple and speedy onboarding as possible.
The time it takes from your first conversation with a client to performing routine work for them, can vary. For most accountants, this onboarding takes between 6-8 weeks. But for some impressive firms—those that have developed a great process—onboarding can take just a few days.
A poorly planned onboarding process will take far longer than one that is well thought out. Even an extra couple of days per onboarding can add-up quickly across all the new clients your firm takes on. If your firm is to grow you need to employ processes that will continually cut your onboarding time down, and the best way to do this is to ensure everything is as easy as possible for your client.
There is always room for improvement.
Ask for what you need progressively If you’ve ever had a mountain of information and demands thrown your way at once, you probably felt fairly overwhelmed. So why do this to a client—the last person you want to overwhelm?
Break down what is required of them into smaller segments, and ask for it in a progressive and logical order. You may want to begin by asking for Form 1120 to understand the basics, followed by information on their staff. The exact requirements might vary, but the process never should.
Asking for requirements progressively also means that you will receive them the order that suits you. It’s much better to receive what you need as soon as it is ready, rather than receiving it all at once, two days before a deadline.
Wherever possible you should also validate what you are asking for. Explaining why you need something, and even providing examples, will go a long way to building trust and confidence from your client (more on that later). It’s important to help them understand why every piece of the puzzle is important.
Make everyone’s responsibilities clear From the beginning, you must lay out the responsibilities of both parties. Make it clear what you will be doing and what you expect from your client in order to provide them the service they are paying you for. You must have a clear vision together.
Some clients may continue to handle some tasks such as payroll on their own. This can work well if handled properly—the boundaries of who is doing what must be made clear from the very start.
Automate processes wherever possible The onboarding process can be very similar from client to client, so don’t reinvent the wheel each time. Employ a system where you can record the most common tasks and requirements, and replicate these for each new client.
The system you use to track your onboarding must also allow for all involved staff to be included and keep track of the progress. If set up probably, you should only need to make a few small tweaks to suit the unique needs of each individual.
Build confidence & trust Instilling confidence in your clients and earning their trust is vital for a successful relationship. This starts at onboarding.
Make sure they are comfortable with what is required of them, and feel capable of providing it. If they don’t, give them the training they need. It might mean explaining how to complete a document or use a system—be careful not to assume the tasks that seem obvious to you will be simple for them. You must also make it a habit to regularly check in with your client to ensure they don’t feel like they’re drowning.
Larger firms who have multiple staff involved with one client also have the added complication of ensuring that a client is familiar with all the staff they’ll be dealing with. Make sure all relationships are handed off properly and everyone is kept in the loop with how an onboarding is progressing. Having one central place for all information, that is visible to everyone, is vital.
If you are struggling to grow your firm, we challenge you to implement at least one of these ideas. If you do, we’d love to hear the progress and result. You can also reach out so one of our advisors can help you out.
Also, if your firm has implemented any other strategies to onboard new clients, we’d love to hear from you.