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Accountant onboarding new clients with checklist
accountants and bookkeepers

How to create an effective client onboarding process for new practice clients

The onboarding process is a client’s first chance to get to know your business properly. First impressions matter, so the onboarding process is critical. Being onboarded with a standardised process from start to finish helps to build your clients’ confidence in your business, saves time and keeps things moving. For the purposes of this article, onboarding is defined as “the process of bringing a new client on board, incorporating training and orientation.”

It can help to have a client onboarding checklist that walks you through the process, ensuring you have all the bases covered before you even make contact with the client. Here is an accounting client onboarding checklist that can help you devise a successful onboarding process from start to finish.

Why do you need an onboarding process?

Firstly, it’s worth understanding why you need an onboarding process. Accounting clients have usually considered a few options before deciding to go with your services. However, they still have time to back out during the onboarding process. Therefore, we will define success as when the relationship between your firm and their business becomes routine.

When you are integrating a new client, they are observing you and making decisions about your practices and how you run your organisation.

Implementing a client onboarding process can benefit your accounting practice by allowing you to get to know each client individually and work to your clients’ needs and ensure they will stick around for the long term.

Following an accounting client onboarding checklist can help your firm and new clients get off on the right foot. 63% of customers consider onboarding processes when deciding to subscribe to a service or purchase a product, and this also applies to B2B clients seeking accounting services.

Challenges when onboarding new clients

Many firms run into obstacles when trying to devise an effective client onboarding process. For example, it takes time to build rapport with a new client and learn about their needs. There are plenty of firms out there that don’t want to invest time into the process, and that’s where you have a key opportunity to stand out.

Challenges can include:

  • Not asking enough questions 
  • Not asking the right questions; be sure to include open-ended questions that give clients an opportunity to provide you with plenty of information
  • Not managing expectations and being transparent about what you can offer
  • Wasting time 

If you feel that your current client onboarding process is clunky, outdated, or ineffective (or worse still, if you don’t yet have one), keep reading to learn how to craft a seamless client onboarding experience.

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The accounting client onboarding checklist

This accounting client onboarding checklist template can help you devise an effective process. However, keep in mind that every business is different and you should put your own spin on the process.

Accounting firms should consider their target clients, business goals, and unique selling position (USP) when crafting an onboarding process. Inject this template with your firm’s personality, and you can create a successful onboarding experience.

1. The pre-work phase

Before you even think about onboarding, there is much to be done in the pre-work phase. You first need to identify who your ideal clients are and what services you are providing them. 

You also need to figure out how to reach those target clients through marketing. Consider where you can find the target audience and how to reach out to get them interested in the onboarding process.

Without leads, there is no point in an onboarding process at all.

2. Create a roadmap

The next step is to create a standardised roadmap. There should be some room to accommodate a client’s unique requirements, but the major steps should be replicable between clients and laid out in a clear, logical manner. What you’re looking for here is standardisation.

It’s useful to create a roadmap that you can send to the client, too. This lets them know that you are organised and you know exactly how the process will work. It also ensures your team delivers on what you promise because there is a set checklist to follow.

When devising a roadmap, you also need to choose the critical technologies you will use to onboard clients. These technologies include the apps and software you will use to manage clients and leads, get your work done, stay on top of onboarding, and speak with clients. 

Limiting the number of apps you use can help your teams become more confident and keep the process organised.

3. Making contact

Perhaps the most important part of onboarding is the initial contact. The first conversation is crucial in establishing a relationship with the client, so it’s best to start with some basic introductions and then get them talking.

Have a set of bookkeeping questions for new clients, including:

  • What accounting services/software have they used so far?
  • What has worked for them and what hasn’t?
  • What are their business goals?
  • Why did they choose your services?

It’s essential to get to the root of their problems and understand how your accounting firm can help them. Reassure them that you understand their problems and explain how you aim to solve their issues. Tell them what your services are and how you conduct your engagements. What are you really great at? What is it like to work with you, and why do they want to be a part of that?

Reassure them that you understand the problems they are facing, and you can provide the services or assistance they need to get through them. It’s about differentiation and how you do business. Don’t forget to explain that you can help them grow their business. This may seem an obvious service that you provide, but they may not know that, so you should articulate it.

Your team should be well-trained and equipped to have these conversations. It should not feel awkward and scripted, but it should seem organised and professional.

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4. Define the engagement

During the initial conversation between the accountant and client, you also need to lay out the terms of your relationship. Both sides need to agree on their responsibilities and deadlines.

For your firm, this means having a clear understanding of what the client expects from you and how to deliver it. For the client, this means understanding what they are paying for and what they need to provide to ensure you can complete your work. 

At the end of the conversation, when everything is contractually agreed, schedule a client meeting to let them know you are serious about the relationship. 

5. Break down your requests

Next, set a goal and a critical path to success. Show everything that you will need from the client, but ask for that information incrementally. Set deadlines for the next pieces of information required, and celebrate when they are met. Be clear with what happens if they aren’t met in terms of delays, additional costs, etc.

This cycle of asking for information and documentation in sections or chunks, explaining why you need them, and then celebrating when they are received makes the entire process fly by because the client is not being overwhelmed, and they consistently feel like they are progressing and having success. The key is to be proactive about asking for critical documentation and details.

6. Provide informational resources

Clients usually have questions after a meeting that they think of later, or they forget something you discussed. You should craft a detailed resource that answers frequently asked questions in case they need it. You can send clients this in a follow-up email. Make sure there is also a dedicated resource for their information where everyone in the firm can access it. 

You should also provide contact details for someone at your firm who is responsible for handling their account or answering questions. This adds a personal touch and helps the client feel secure.

7. Training the client

Training the client begins during the first phone call, but it continues through the entire relationship. ‘Training’ them means teaching them what they need to know about working with you and using the critical technologies they need to interact with you. 

Here’s a few ideas when planning training materials for your clients:

  • How you work together
  • How your accounting firm is structured
  • Who the key people are
  • Who to contact if they need help
  • How they should contact your firm when they need support
  • How to submit documents 
  • Schedule sessions on working with QuickBooks Online or whatever processes and systems you use

Training materials can include a short video, step-by-step instructions sent in an email, a link to a web page, or a short document.

8. Get to Work

The final phase of onboarding is getting the work done, but this phase continues throughout the relationship. It’s time to deliver on what you promised during the onboarding calls, whether that be accounting for the last few years or getting started planning for the future.

It’s important to provide the client with weekly check-ins and consistent updates so they can feel confident in your processes and keep everything on schedule.

After all, onboarding is not the only integral part of the client-accountant relationship. It’s still important to keep fostering trust throughout the entire engagement. Again, success is when all of the above is routine for both your firm and your clients. 

Final thoughts on client onboarding

The key to a great onboarding process is to make every step clear. The client should know what to expect from you before jumping on the call, and they should leave the meeting feeling even clearer about your professional relationship.

You can develop a seamless process using the checklist above and keeping your client in mind at every step of the way. By having a watertight onboarding process, you can increase retention and boost your reputation, so don’t underestimate the importance of this simple tactic.


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