When you first decided to set up an accounting business, you probably had a vision. You imagined delivering an outstanding service to loads of great clients that recognized your value and rewarded you with money and enjoyable professional relationships.
You probably didn’t picture being called at 11pm the night before a major deadline to fix their mistakes. Or having to ask your team to put up with rudely worded emails. Or spending hours trying to fill gaps in someone’s barely existent financial records.
In reality, it’s rare not to have some clients you’d secretly like to drop.
But here’s the truth: You are (at least partially) responsible for these situations.
Yes, some clients will always be difficult. But it’s on you to manage their expectations and make it clear what your standards are.
This starts right at the beginning. On day 1. When you onboard them.
In this article, we look at:
- How the onboarding process can create “bad” clients
- Why you need an onboarding checklist (plus free template)
- How to evolve your onboarding process
- Final thoughts
How an onboarding process can create “bad” clients
Don’t get us wrong—your clients have no right to treat you badly. But if you don’t have a solid onboarding process, it’s simply more likely to happen.
Because in many cases, the client won’t even realize that what they’re doing isn’t acceptable. They can’t see things from your perspective, and if you don’t call them out (especially in the early days), they’ll just assume this is the way it works.
If, when they first signed up with you, there was no clarity around…
- What would be delivered
- How strict deadlines must be treated
- What flexibility there is around working hours
- Who’s responsible for what
- How and when they should pay you
- What counts as additional work
…then you’ve not set them on a path to success.
When an issue arises, there will be no understanding or structure to determine how to resolve it. You’ll either get into conflict, or worse, you’ll stay quiet and take losses by over-working and under-charging.
Why you need an onboarding checklist (plus free template)
When you have a smooth onboarding process, you see a different story.
Not only do fewer issues arise, when they do, everyone understands what needs to be done. It’s clear where responsibility and accountability lies, and if someone isn’t holding up their end of the deal, you have the steps taken in onboarding to refer back to.
There will be bumps in the road with any client, but if you’ve built a solid foundation from the start, you’ll manage them better and maintain a more positive relationship.
So, how do you make sure your onboarding process is smooth?
You only need 1 simple tool: a tried and tested onboarding checklist.
This is a series of steps that you take every time you bring on a new client. And we mean every time.
Not only does this help your practice be more consistent and deliver a better experience (and first impression), it also offers a tangible way to continually improve.
To get you started, we’ve created a free onboarding checklist template, which you can download below. It has the most essential steps in, but you’ll want to customize it for your practice.
Once you have this in place, you can use it to give every new sign-up the potential to become a dream client.
How to evolve your onboarding process
Even a smooth onboarding process will need to change over time. Both your client base and your practice will change, and what works now might not be as good in a few years.
If you offer a range of services, or you serve many different types of clients, you might want to create more than 1 onboarding checklist.
You could have 1 for new bookkeeping clients, and another for new tax clients. Or maybe 1 for sole traders, and another for large companies. Whichever way you categorize clients, develop checklists that are easy to stick to, and continually test them.
If you run into issues with a client, reflect and ask, “what could we have done differently in onboarding to prevent this?” if there’s a clear answer, update your checklists and see if it makes a difference.
Another thing to remember is when to evolve your checklist collaboratively. Ask your team (especially those on the front line) to share their thoughts on how it could be improved. It’s also a good idea to involve them when reviewing the performance of the process, so they can each share their perspectives and experiences.
If you take anything away from this article, it should be to prioritize your onboarding process.
This will help you deliver a consistent and streamlined experience to new clients, while minimizing the chance of conflict later.
More than anything, it’ll serve as the foundation for better relationships, which means less late nights working, and more evenings relaxing.
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