Your Accounting Onboarding Checklist for a Smooth Client Intake
Have you ever wondered what it would take to move your accounting practice to the next level? Or wondered why some practices seem to run like smooth sailing ships, while yours is a never-ending list of tasks that you keep putting off? The Answer to that question might be their accounting onboarding checklist. Building trust through a clear and concise onboarding process is an easy way to make client intake your first win.
The ins and outs of the accounting client onboarding process
Onboarding is the process of taking someone who says ‘I’m interested in your service’ to becoming an actual paying client. Onboarding helps integrate your new client into your firm’s culture, processes and systems. It sets them up with the tools necessary for your relationship to be successful, and it ensures that both parties are getting what they need to do their part of the job.
A favorable first impression is one of the keys to building trust. When your first interaction with a prospective client is clear, concise and well-thought out, it naturally puts you ahead of your competitors. Not only that, it puts the client at ease to know that you have a plan and a process. This builds trust and boosts their confidence in you.
Successful onboarding is only one element to running a successful firm. Download our free ebook, 6 Secrets to Practice Management Success, for a look at six facets of firm activity that can greatly benefit from applying best practices.
Client intake can also be a win for your firm. Having a clear and concise process can create peace of mind and can lessen or even remove a common fear: presenting pricing packages to prospective clients. Once it’s consistent and repetitive, presenting proposals becomes just another process of your business and the successful repetition of it will boost your confidence in yourself and your business. As the process becomes familiar and your brain switches into auto-pilot, the accounting onboarding process will require less of your time and brain power, leaving more of both for your actual work. Finally, having a smooth onboarding process teaches your client your business’s culture: that you know what you are doing and you have a plan that is clear, consistent, and easy to follow.
The 5-step accounting onboarding checklist you can adopt as your own
Check out the following five-step onboarding checklist to help make your intake process a cinch.
First, the Consultation
The first step to onboarding a new client is the Consultation. This is the free phone call used to give you a feel for the client and for the client to get a feel for you. You may want to put a time cap on the length of this meeting, since it is free. During the call, let the client do most of the talking. The key here is to make them feel listened to. Be sure and take notes; it makes them feel like you’re engaged in what they’re saying, and it will help you during step three of this process.
The second, third, and fourth steps, respectively, are the Interview, Assessment and Proposal. These make a nice bundle, because they are intertwined, and because it gives you an opportunity to bill for your efforts. If you’ve been in this industry long enough, you’ve probably spent a lot of time reviewing a prospective client’s books, just for them to change their mind when you quote the price. Billing for this step will ensure that the prospective client whose file you’re reviewing is serious about hiring you, and it compensates you for efforts.
Once a prospective client has purchased this package and you’ve had a chance to review their file, you can set up ‘The Interview’. The interview call is the time to ask the client all your questions. This is where you get all the skeletons out of their financial closet. For a sample list of questions to ask, you can check out my New Client Questionnaire.
After the interview comes ‘The Assessment’. In this step, you review the client’s books again, comparing what you saw in their file to what they told you on the interview call. This will help you gauge the client’s organization and awareness of their own processes. Keep in mind that this stage is for assessing, rather than addressing. Always make sure an engagement letter is signed before editing a client’s file.
Next is ‘The Proposal’. Once you have assessed all that there is to assess, you can create pricing packages to present to the client. It’s a good idea to create two or three options, giving the client the opportunity to choose a package rather than walk away if they don’t like your one option. Then set up a ‘Proposal Call’ to walk them through the packages. It’s best for them to make a decision on the call, so let them know that ahead of time. Clients tend to follow your firm’s processes if the right expectations are set. No one likes surprises.
Lastly, the Engagement. As accounting professionals, engagement letters should always be used to define the scope of the engagement and to confirm the terms and conditions. It’s a good idea to have an attorney involved in the creation of your original engagement letter, then you can tweak it as necessary. Two clauses to keep in mind when deciding what to include are a governing clause (defining which state’s laws you are governed by) and a contractor clause if your firm uses any contract labor. Once the client has signed the engagement, work can begin.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the accounting onboarding process, and new processes are not always comfortable (or successful) on the first go-round. Your clients will notice if you’re using a process that doesn’t feel natural to you, so try it, test it, and modify it to make it your own. Give yourself time and grace to get used to your new work flow and then watch your business thrive.
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