Growth & Customers

Client onboarding: How to create a smooth process for new practice clients

If you want to grow your practice with happy and profitable clients, a smooth client onboarding process is a must. We'll show you how to build one.

Do you want to find profitable clients who truly value your work? Of course.

But it’s actually a misconception that great clients already exist ‘out there’. They’re made during the client onboarding process.

First-class onboarding benefits both you and your client because it puts you on the same page from the beginning. You can establish what you need to help them achieve their goals, from fair pricing to receiving timely information.

And in return, your client has peace of mind and can feel confident they’ve made the right choice.

Here’s what we cover in this article:

It’s the process of welcoming new clients into your practice and moving as efficiently as possible to a smooth and healthy working relationship.

From a technology perspective, using a client management system can support you in making these processes easier.

The process can be broadly categorised into these stages:

  1. Contract: This covers the proposal, signing the engagement letter, and arranging payment for the work.
  2. Information gathering: Everything you require to start the work. E.g. your client’s business information, contact details, paper records, or system passwords to access their accounts.
  3. Kick-off meeting: A face-to-face or online meeting to introduce the team, build rapport, set expectations, and provide training if required.
  4. Follow up: Having a call 30 days after the kick-off meeting is a great opportunity to nudge your new client for any outstanding information, allow them to ask any questions, and provide clear next steps.

Onboarding sets the tone for your client relationship.

If you don’t take the opportunity to set expectations, write goals and educate clients upfront, it’ll be much more difficult and time-consuming down the line (if the client stays long enough to give you that opportunity).

During the onboarding process, it’s your responsibility to understand what drives your client.

Your value corresponds to the size of the problems you solve.

So go deep and ask questions that get to the heart of their personal and financial goals, beyond submitting accounts on time.

The process is also an opportunity to find out what concerns they have, and how they like to communicate.

Getting to know your client will ensure you start creating value quickly and build a strong relationship with purpose. This will reduce client churn, which occurs when the client’s expectations aren’t met.

By delighting your client, you’ll be able to increase profits.

Happy clients are likely to refer friends and family after an excellent experience. The 2021 Nielson Trust in Advertising survey found 88% of people most trust recommendations from people they know.

You’ll also find it easier to offer additional services to existing clients once you’ve built trust. PwC found companies with great experiences have a 16% price premium on services.

Rightly or wrongly, you’re not only being compared to other accountants but top companies such as Apple, who have created amazing customer service experiences.

Your client’s expectations are high, so you need to offer the latest technology solutions to provide a world-class experience and stay competitive.

Here’s what technology can do for you:

Simplify pricing

You know your fees need to reflect many factors including the number of business transactions, the state of financial records, and the industry type, but it’s nearly impossible to calculate with confidence.

Pricing software does the complicated calculations for you and takes the guesswork out of fees.

Create transparency

With a simple, systematic approach to pricing, you can break down your fees precisely. This allows you to step your client through them, so they can understand the full value of what they’re paying for.

It puts you in control of your profitability, and if you can’t do that then it’s hard to control anything else.

Eliminate scope creep

It’s a huge problem for accountants traditionally when client demands increase year-on-year. Scope creep happens because the initial scope was not clearly defined, making subsequent fee discussions difficult.

With practice management software, you have a clear paper trail to refer to, so you can introduce a methodical approach to reviewing your clients every few months.

Your clients’ needs are constantly changing, and so should your fees.

Build consistency

Using practice management software ensures everyone across the firm uses the same processes, document templates, and pricing structure.

This shows professionalism to your clients.

You can also use your software to automate repetitive tasks such as setting up letters of engagement. This free up your team’s time for value add work.

Using a centralised system means all necessary information is captured and easy to find, so clients don’t have to repeat themselves.

Creating your client onboarding process starts with designing one that works for your practice. This is best achieved with input from as many people as possible.

A successful onboarding process needs to be easy to understand, easy to replicate, and easy to adopt across the firm.

In all stages of the process, seek to educate the client and prepare them for what’s to come. Think about how you can avoid unnecessary back and forth down the line.

When you’ve decided on the necessary steps, consider what technology would reduce the workload on staff and ensure a seamless process.

Once you’re happy with the process, you must document the steps, including who is responsible for each step and when it needs to take place.

You want to ensure there’s a smooth transition from one step to the next because a haphazard onboarding process will stress your client (and you too).

Build-in clear deadlines for both you and your client.

Then take this documented process and turn it into a client onboarding checklist for your teams and a roadmap for your client.

A checklist helps you stay on track and identify any missed actions in the process.

A roadmap can also be in the form of a checklist that shows your clients exactly what needs to happen for onboarding to complete.

This demonstrates your organisation and instils confidence in your clients. Checklists keep both you and your clients accountable for your promises.

Continue to encourage feedback and refine your process once it’s up and running. You won’t get it completely right straight away, but the goal is to be better this month than you were last month.

  • Make it a priority. It could be tempting to put onboarding on the back burner, but it has huge flow-on effects for your practice. If your goals are to get more clients and to serve your clients well, then you can’t achieve either without an effective onboarding process.
  • Automate where you can. Many of your onboarding tasks will be the same across clients, such as sending welcome emails, proposals and inputting information into systems. Save huge amounts of time and reduce human error by utilising practice management software to automate these common tasks.
  • Document the entire process. Make sure there’s a template for all teams to access, so the process is completely transparent and nothing can slip through the cracks.
  • Provide a roadmap for the client. It’s important to keep them in the loop, so they understand why certain things need to happen and what is required of them.

Ultimately, a successful onboarding process will be a quick one, so you and your client can start working together on their most important goals.

By encouraging team collaboration and involving new technology, you’ll build a smooth process that creates happy and profitable clients.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in December 2021 and has been updated for relevance.