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Overview: Let’s talk about client onboarding in the world of accounting – these tips can help a prospective client decide if you’re the right firm for them

Client onboarding is more than simply welcoming new clients to your team. If you’re equipped with great communication skills and work ethic, you might have an upper hand in gaining a new client long-term. But it requires more than that in order to progress to onboarding.

Client onboarding for accountants is a chance to get a clear idea of your client’s concerns and uncover the needs that your team might be able to tackle that have long been neglected or gone unidentified.

Efficient communication especially produces a healthy, long-lasting working relationship that many clients desire. And, let’s be honest: there’s nothing more important in your relationship with a client than those few initial encounters you have in the first weeks or months.

As an accounting firm, understanding how to make the first impression worth everything is crucial. Consider the following points when trying to onboard an accounting client.

  • Avoid Misaligned Conceptions and Expectations

  • Ask Information Progressively

  • Set Define Boundaries to Avoid ‘Scope Creep’

  • Points of Improvement

From proposal to contract-signing isn’t an easy job. However, with these tips in mind, you’ll have a better chance to present your company and its benefits to a potential client.

Meanwhile, on the client’s end, these initial discussions with your firm could turn out to be a determining factor as they assess your agency’s services and benefits.

Let’s discuss what you can do to identify your client’s style of work and collaboration, and set expectations about how your team does the same.

Avoid  Misaligned Conceptions and Expectations:

Be realistic while you’re outlining the client’s goals. During the sales cycle, it’s common to make big promises. Your client remembers what you promised them, so communication must be, well, communicated across your team members.

Ensuring consistent communication on the back-end will result in a seamless onboarding process if the client does decide to go with your firm.

To prevent misaligned conceptions and late deliveries, consider having templates for your process. Document each interaction before estimating the actual project.

We like this comprehensive template/guide to bookkeeping client onboarding. Not only does it provide pre-onboarding tips, but it also goes into detail about:

  • Time frames

  • Kickoff meetings and

  • Welcome packages

Your entire crew and client should be on the same page. This checklist is one of the easiest and most effective ways for your team and the client to document and track goals, discussions, and expectations.

After all, the last thing you want is to look like a disorganized firm when trying to put your best foot forward. Yikes.

We also highly encourage you to mention any tools or software you’ll use to assist your client in their project. This ensures that there are no surprises.

Also keep the notes or forms that the client has completed so you can easily access important information (that could also be easily forgotten) such as:

  • The main reason for hiring

  • Logins to the applicable applications
  • Basic business plan and future discussion

 Ask Information Progressively: 

While you’re trying your best to gather the most relevant information from the client, receiving a comprehensive response from the client is a challenge in and of itself. Trust us… we know.

Our suggestion: Begin the questioning process on your end. Some questions you can consider to jumpstart the process if the client needs more time to respond:

  • Consider why this project needs to be worked on.

  • Discuss the possible reasons with your team and pen them down.

  • Is it a startup that requires your expertise?

  • Or an old worn-out thing that needs to freshen up?

Pen down your questions then show the client that you’re genuinely interested in their business, their project, their goals by reaching out to them progressively with questions.

What we mean by progressive asking is that you don’t ask questions out of the blue, unanticipated, and without any anchor.

Build up to asking these questions, otherwise taking the opposite route can exhaust the client and make them feel overwhelmed while making you look intrusive.

No matter how creative your ideas are, you can’t achieve a client’s goals unless you know what they are.

Set Defined Goals to Avoid  ‘Scope Creep’: 

Scope creep… an interesting term, we’d say. Maybe you’ve encountered an organization or agency that becomes demanding each time you connect with them. Or maybe you are this type of organization.

Either way, scope creep is not good.

Scope creep can occur when the scope of a project is not properly defined, documented, or controlled, and it’s generally considered harmful.

This typically results in adding additional features or functions of a new product, requirements, or work that is not authorized (i.e., beyond the agreed-upon scope)

For example, you may have agreed to a standard package including preparing balance sheets, data analysis, and cash flows delivered 20 days after the close of the month. A few months later, what if your client asks you to assess the stocks’ performance, other types of investments, or bonds as well?

This situation is more likely to happen when you have a strong onboarding process with transparent communication. The only possible solution is to gently remind your client of the terms you both agreed on and let them know that those services are available too but at an additional price.

Read more about scope creep in project management here. Just because you’re in accounting doesn’t mean you can’t be affected by this harmful pattern.

 Communication is Critical for Efficient Onboarding:

Before taking an active look into our Onboarding, it felt like it took forever, for everyone. Today, we can get on board a new customer within two weeks; We have a clear system that involves multiple team members working in the background to make things as easy as possible.” W. Michael Hsu, DeepSky

Constant communication with your client and discussing the concerns that you’re facing while working on their project is important. Also, before getting things done, see if your client is responsive to minute details. If he’s responding to each concern and question you’re asking of them, know that they are serious about their goals.

Points of Improvement:

Every problem has a solution if it’s addressed in time. If you can’t help streamlining client onboarding, the following techniques will improve efficiency.

KICKOFF CALL:

While scheduling a call, you want the best experience possible. Be professional in your dealings and accommodate the potential client.

For example, meeting through video chat is a great way to build rapport with the client before beginning your work relationship. This can be and has been, done via Zoom. It’s professional and allows you and the client to meet “face-to-face” to discuss objectives.

Use this opportunity to present your client’s detailed outline and plans – as this kickoff call is a great time to project the roadmap and expectations.

Your roadmap should include:

  • A rough timeline of the completion of the project

  • Project summary

  • Any research you have

  • Tools you intend to use

The more prepared you are, the more chances you have to get a client on board.

Don’t be afraid to probe for questions during this kickoff meeting. Doing this will let the potential client get a glimpse into where things are headed and how your firm communicates.

Pro-tip: Never leave the conversation without a clear understanding of what will or will not happen, or who will be held accountable.

WELCOME PACKAGE:

When your client signs the agreement, now’s the time to keep the momentum moving. You should have a welcome letter to offer to the client. Contained in this welcome package will be the expectations.

If you want to create an exceptional client impression, we advise having dedicated sources for your client. This is how you establish accountability.

In Conclusion: 

Client onboarding is usually considered as complete once your business has a reconciled pile of information, reports, and access to relevant transaction data.

  • Continue to expand on the client’s experience by not overlooking them.

  • Keep your communication consistent.

  • No matter how efficient your team is, stay active in front of the client to provide confidence.

  • Everything you do for your client speak volumes with their audience; remember that you’re a direct reflection of them, their goals, and their success.

Keep iterating, learning, and seeking ways to improve, because client onboarding isn’t a static process. It’s a constant part of many industries, including accounting, and it’s constantly evolving.

We are never satisfied to keep the same process in place if there is a better way to do something. We routinely ask our team members to tell us three things that they see that we can do in a better way.” – Donna Bordeaux, Bordeaux & Bordeaux CPAs

Review and adjust your methods based on the feedback your client is giving you. Searching for a good accounting firm isn’t really “fun” work, so client satisfaction is key. If your client is content with your services, chances are that they’ll be with you long-term.

Click here for more tips on better client communication.

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