They say you never get a second chance at a first impression, which is why your client onboarding process is so important. Onboarding, or the logistics and actions around getting a new client set up with your practice, sets the stage for your relationship going forward.
An excellent onboarding process lays the groundwork for a positive partnership. It clearly states expectations on both sides of the table, opens the line of communication and feedback between you and your client, and establishes trust.
However, on the other hand, a poor onboarding experience can lead to frustration, decreased confidence in your abilities, and eventually, to client churn.
Having an onboarding checklist for new tax and accounting clients can help you avoid this situation by outlining those key first steps for positive engagement. By following the same steps each time, you’ll demonstrate consistency and efficiency.
In short, a well-structured onboarding process can help you keep the clients you have and potentially gain new ones.
How to onboard a new client: 6 simple steps
The onboarding process starts before you even meet with your prospective client. That means you’ll need to do some “pre-work” before diving into your onboarding plan. Ideally, you’re going to create a standardized process with each step clearly laid out. While each client’s requirements are going to be a bit different, this process should remain mostly the same no matter who you’re bringing onboard.
Follow the six steps outlined below to successfully onboard a new client and sow the seeds of a productive, positive and hopefully long-term experience working with you.
1: Schedule a new client onboarding meeting
The first step in your onboarding process should be setting up a kickoff meeting. This initial meeting is critical to getting everyone on the same page and establishing a respectful rapport between you and your client.
Schedule the meeting for a time that’s convenient for your client and make it clear whether you’re meeting in person or virtually. When meeting virtually, make sure the meeting software you’re using is working properly by taking it for a “test drive” before the start time. In the meeting invite, be sure to include the link for your virtual meeting. It’s also helpful to include an agenda so your client will have an idea of the topics you’ll be covering.
At the start of the meeting, briefly review the project details. If your client has any initial questions, invite them to ask right away. Also, make sure that your client is familiar with your work hours and knows how to contact you (email, phone, instant messaging, etc.). In turn, take a moment to learn how they prefer to be contacted and about their preferred working style.
2: Review roles and responsibilities
During the kickoff meeting, review project goals, milestones and key processes with your client, making note of any important dates or special concerns. Next, walk through the roles of everyone involved with the project, from who will be responsible for enforcing deadlines to who will take lead on specific tasks.
You should take this opportunity to clarify and further define the scope of your role. That way, you’ll be better able to estimate project costs and the overall timeline when it comes time to create their contract. In addition, you should discuss responsibilities and expectations for each person involved in the project.
3: Ask for feedback
Before closing your kickoff meeting, give your client the opportunity to ask any remaining questions. Be ready to listen and make note of potential areas of confusion. If you’re unable to answer a particular question right away, let your client know that you will follow up with a call or email as soon as you can.
If you run out of time for additional questions, double-check that your client has your contact info so they can send them in later. Also, invite your client to pass along any other questions they may think of as work on the project gets going.
Before signing off, be sure to thank them for taking the time out of their busy schedules to meet with you.
4: Create a contract and invoice
Now it’s time to create and send a contract for sign off. This contract serves as a legal representation of the services and payment agreed to by both parties. If you’re not confident in your contract-writing skills, there are a number of online services that can help you create one. You might also use an online tool like DocuSign to receive a notification when your client has officially signed their contract.
Before you get started on billable tasks for the project, make sure you also give your client a sample invoice that reflects the payment terms agreed to in the proposal. They can then send a payment that is then immediately refunded to be sure the setup is working properly.
5: Show your appreciation
Everyone likes to feel appreciated and valued. Welcome packs can be a great way to set this tone with a new client while also making your practice stand out from the competition. Your packs might include an intro document answering frequently asked questions and listing the contact details for any team members, along with a calendar showing important accounting and project dates. In addition to a physical welcome pack, you can create a digital one as well, accompanied by a “Welcome to Our Practice” email.
To give the pack a more personal touch, you might also include a welcome gift such as a branded keyring, coffee mug or an edible treat. A hand-written note is another thoughtful option.
6: Create a follow-up plan
While onboarding might seem like a “once and done” task, it’s important to leave the door open for consistent communication and updates. Make a plan for when and how you’re going to check in, particularly around key project milestones. However, don’t only reach out regarding a pending deadline. Be sure to also schedule regular messages to share progress and request questions or feedback. To avoid forgetting about these follow-up tasks, make calendar invites to remind you to reach out.
Peace of mind for you and your client
The onboarding process is a fantastic opportunity to quickly demonstrate your value to a new client. That’s why it should be treated with as much care as any other strategic business process. By making your new clients feel welcome right from the start, you’re providing them with peace of mind that they made the right choice by selecting you as their tax and accounting partner. And hopefully that will lead to a long-term and productive working relationship.
If you’re looking for additional ways to grow your tax business, Surgent Income Tax School offers a comprehensive course and a number of continuing education (CE) courses to make sure you have all the tools you need to run a successful tax business.