Client Onboarding Tips for Accounting Practices: Setting the Stage for Long-term Relationships

Tim Sines

Managing an accounting firm and finding the right accounting workflow process is hard, but neglecting the client onboarding process is easy.

Why?

Client onboarding is the last thing on the mind of a busy accountant with a growth mindset. Most are laser-focused on acquiring new clients and keeping old ones. Beyond a handshake, few accounting firms put actual energy into welcoming clients to a firm. With a successful client onboarding process, you set clear expectations, gather necessary information, and lay the groundwork for a long-term working relationship.

But, this doesn’t magically happen as soon as the client decides to retain your services. It takes a well-planned, systematic approach to client onboarding that blends technology with personalized touchpoints. From the moment the prospect turns into a client, every interaction should be designed to nurture trust, foster open communication, and facilitate a harmonious working relationship.

And it all starts with your onboarding.

Ready to transform your client onboarding process from a potential pitfall into a powerful retention tool? Let’s dive right in!

Develop an Onboarding Plan

First things first, develop an onboarding plan. That starts by identifying key stages your clients must go through during their relationship with your accounting firm.

Managing an accounting firm is hard, but neglecting the client onboarding process is easy. Here's how to effectively onboarding your new accounting clients. Share on X

Typical stages might include:

  • Introduction – The “honeymoon” stage is where the new client gets to know your firm, its services, and core values.
  • Client Analysis – A meeting where you assess the specific needs and goals of the prospective client.
  • Service Initiation – The stage where you officially begin the agreed-upon services.

Develop an Onboarding Plan

Create a Checklist

After developing an onboarding plan, it’s time to create a checklist to guide the onboarding process. This checklist outlines all of the necessary steps and documents needed at each stage of the onboarding process to prevent oversight and ensure consistency across all your clients.

A checklist may include the following:

  • Initial Consultation Checklist – List all the tasks that must be completed before, during, and after the initial consultation.
  • Documentation Checklist – A list of all necessary documents and information you need from the client. This may include financial records, like previous tax returns, balance sheets, and profit & loss statements. It could also specify any legal documents required, such as business registration certificates or partnership agreements.
  • Service Checklist – An outline of each service you provide and the respective deliverables.

Segment Your Clients

Dividing your clientele into segments can allow for a more personalized approach. For example, you can segment your clients based on factors such as business size and industry type. Then, you can tailor the onboarding process to cater to each segment’s unique needs and expectations.

Here’s how it can be implemented:

  • Identify Key Segmentation Factors – Identify the primary factors that distinguish your clients, such as their specific needs and preferences.
  • Research and Analysis – Conduct detailed research to understand each segment’s unique requirements and expectations. This could involve studying industry trends, business cycles, and the common challenges businesses face in each segment.
  • Personalized Onboarding Plans – Develop separate onboarding plans for each segment, considering each group’s unique characteristics and needs.
  • Customized Communication Strategies – Tailor your communication to suit the preferences and expectations of each segment. For instance, a startup might prefer a more informal, agile communication style compared to a well-established corporation.
  • Tailored Upsells – Although a client may initially sign up for one service, you can always offer another service that is beneficial to their end goal. Make upsells part of your onboarding process, not as a way of shameless self-promotion but as a way of matching client’s needs with the services you offer. This ensures that your advice is always pertinent and valuable.
  • Segment-Specific Training – Organize workshops, webinars, or training sessions that address the unique challenges and opportunities of each segment.

Set Timelines

Assign specific timelines to each stage of the onboarding process. Clear timelines guide a smooth and efficient onboarding process. Here’s how to set and manage these timelines:

  • Initial Phase – Assign a date for the initial consultation and information-gathering phase.
  • Integration Phase – Set a defined deadline for setting up the client into your system.
  • Milestone Markers – Create specific checkpoints throughout the onboarding process that designate important achievements or completed stages.
  • Progress Tracking – Use milestones to track the progress of the onboarding process and ensure that everything is moving on schedule.
  • Client Updates – Set a communication schedule to keep your new client informed throughout the onboarding process. This helps build trust and confidence.

Communicate Regularly

Piggybacking off of the last section, it’s essential to stay in regular communication with your new client. Not only does it foster trust, but it also improves collaboration. Here’s how to naturally stay in touch:

  • Welcome Letter – Send a warm welcome letter outlining what the client can expect.
  • Progress Reports – Regularly update your new client on what work you’ve done or what you need them to do.
  • Open Channels – Give a list of ways your new client can contact your firm with any questions or concerns.

Create Digital Welcome Packages

Creating a digital welcome package sets a professional tone and facilitates a smoother onboarding process. It shows that your firm is prepared and ready to face the demands of the new working relationship.

Here’s how to go about developing one:

  • Introduce your firm – Briefly outline the history and core values of your accounting firm. Also, introduce the team members who will be directly working with the client, including their roles and expertise.
  • Detail the services offered – Break down in detail the services you offer and explain each in terms that are understandable to non-accountants. Highlight any services that can be customized to meet the client’s specific business needs and preferences.
  • Introduce your way of working – Explain the communication channels available and when a client can expect a response from you. Introduce any digital tools or platforms your firm uses for document sharing or client collaboration.
  • Set client expectations – Clearly outline what is expected from the client regarding providing information, documents, and timely feedback. Also, describe the procedure for resolving any disagreements or issues that may arise during the collaboration.
  • Provide additional resources – Incorporate content that educates the client about the basic accounting processes and terminologies. This can help them to engage more effectively. Also, offer a section of frequently asked questions to address common concerns and clarify how your firm operates.

Create Digital Welcome Packages

Use an Accounting Client Portal Software

You and your client will be swapping a lot of documents during the course of your working relationship. You need a way to handle it efficiently and securely. And attempting to do it over email alone just won’t cut it. You need secure accounting client portal software.

A client portal software provides a secure platform for exchanging sensitive information. Through encrypted channels, your clients can safely upload their financial documents without the fear of data breaches. It’s also centralized so your clients can access all necessary documents and information in one place.

Client portals often have features that allow real-time updates and notifications. Clients can be instantly notified about the status of their accounts, pending tasks, or any updates, which promotes transparency and keeps clients in the loop at all times.

Your client portal can also offer self-service options. This way, you empower your new clients to handle certain tasks, such as updating their contact information or downloading financial statements. This saves you both time and enhances the client’s experience by giving them more control over their information.

Learn more about Mango’s robust client portal feature here.

Final Thoughts

Now, it’s time to implement these strategies and lay the groundwork for long-term client retention. It all starts with planning out every step of your customer’s journey, before, during, and after they’ve signed up for your services.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out a free demo of Mango Practice Management Software now.

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