By Nadine Chetty

We learnt the lesson on client onboarding a few months ago. We just bagged a client…so we thought. It was quite a lucrative client. I think our biggest mistake was being too excited over it and with that, we completely missed the planning phase. We rushed to the client promising them the world and we soon realised the downfall in what we had just done. We did not have an engagement letter because we were so eager to get the client onboard. That was our first mistake. Because we did not have an engagement letter, the client soon asked for things well out of our scope. This was the scope that we had in our minds and definitely not the client’s.

Because we were afraid of losing the client, we tried to give him what he wanted but in doing that, we began neglecting our current clients. That was mistake number 2. Because we did not train the client on the software, we gave him to use, he hated the whole process as he never experienced the benefit of what we had provided him with. He ended up being an actual nightmare client where us and our staff dreaded his calls. We quickly realised that we needed to change our strategy with our non-existent client onboarding process or else we would pay the price. Here’s the steps and processes that we followed to finally find an onboarding process that worked!

Client onboarding is one of the most important stages in getting a new client. From the get-go, the client can see how well organised, professional and analytical you are. Client onboarding is like a first date. You want to show the best you and impress, impress and impress! To briefly explain the onboarding process if you haven’t already heard the phrase before; it is the process of bringing a new client on board, incorporating training, technologies and orientation. We must remember that we need to train our clients on how we want them to work with us and show them that cooperation will only make our relationship thrive and thus their business. We have seen that explaining to clients the benefits are always a great way to start.

There are a few stages to follow in the client onboarding and it is best to follow these stages because the last thing we would want to do is overwhelm our clients and make them dread working with us. Simple stages help break up the onboarding process which will ultimately lead to a great strong relationship in the future which will turn your client into a great one.

Nailing the Pre-work Stage

This will be where you and your team formulate your onboarding process. It is crucial to include your team in this stage as they would ultimately be the ones implementing these processes upon onboarding new and existing clients.

1. Crucial Information you will need from your client
  • This might be the Tax Numbers
  • efiling login details
  • Any accounting system login details that they might have etc.

If you will be onboarding a client onto a new cloud accounting software, like QuickBooks Online, you will require:

  • Logos
  • Invoice layouts
  • Item codes
  • Asset Registers
  • Trial balances etc.

You and your team should create lists for all different types of information you might require. As an example, you could break the basic sections into:

  • Payroll
  • Value-Added-Tax
  • Income Tax
  • Personal Tax
  • Daily Operations

This will assist you with handling each section separately and thus not overwhelming the client.

I also suggest creating different onboarding requirements for different industries.  This might seem like a mammoth task, but this is why firms are now becoming specialists in only few industries so that they can best serve their clients. Having only a few specialist industries also makes training your team on these industries much less time consuming. With industry specialisation, you can almost standardise your onboarding process allowing for small amounts of customisation which will firstly impress your clients and secondly not cause too much panic on your side.

Once you have found your target market and have created a few checklists, the next step will be:

2. Handpicking your technologies

 This is crucial as you need to find technologies which are user friendly, easily trainable, super-efficient and cost effective. It is best to only chose a few so that again you can master it. The worst impression you can ever give to a new client is stumbling about in your software that you use. The problem now occurs on which ones to choose. There are millions of apps to choose from and this can all sound so stressful but there is light at the end of the tunnel!

  • Communication

We all use Microsoft Office, especially Outlook for all our emailing and document transferring needs but could we not find a streamlined process?

In our practice we use Slack for our internal communications. With Slack you can create portals for all your clients or group them in operations. It is an amazing tool which integrates with so many other platforms. We use Outlook for pure client communication.

Once you have your communication tool, you should look into cloud storage tools. We use Microsoft One Drive due to cost effectiveness and we get 1TB of space per each user.

Cloud storage is of the utmost importance as theft in South Africa is so high, we are at risks to fires and floods and the fact that our computers could crash at any moment in time.  With cloud in general, your data is never lost and if you have chosen the right software, your security is at the highest level.

  • Cloud Accounting Software

Now you need to choose a cloud accounting software that you and your team are going to master, and which is super-efficient and makes you and your clients happy. At our firm, we chose QuickBooks Online. The software is so user-friendly, has a lot of machine learning and tools that assist our clients with running their businesses.

Currently, tons and tons of paperwork are a nightmare, so we have adopted Receipt Bank as our pre-bookkeeping tool. This converts all scanned in or snapped slips into actual bills that publish straight to QuickBooks Online, making VAT submissions and audits a breeze.

With finding your niche market, be it hospitality, manufacturing, retail etc., you will need to find a few add-ons that specialise in those but also integrate with your cloud accounting software. QuickBooks Online integrates with over 25 different apps and add-ons so there are lots to choose from.

Choose a handful and become pros in them. The final crucial operational software that you would need would be a payroll solution as well as financial statements compiler and for that I would recommend Draftworx Cloud.

Now that we have the Pre-Work Stage out of the way, let’s now work on an amazing Client Onboarding system that is going to just wow our clients from day 1!

Steps to an amazing Client Onboarding System

1. An Engagement Letter

You should create an engagement letter on what your client’s needs are and what services and solutions you will be providing. Once the client has gone through this engagement and agreed to all stipulated details, you are less likely to experience any scope creep as you have had this important conversation before any work has been carried out. This also stipulates your fee structure so there are no surprises for both parties. A great app for this is Practice Ignition.

2. An Onboarding Questionnaire

You should have created this template in the Pre-Work Stage, so the major part of this process is to ask the right questions. Make sure all your questions and answers have been jotted down to avoid missing crucial information form the client.

I always feel that the questionnaire is best done sitting with the client instead of through an email as you can extract more valid information that you would have not received through a computerised survey. Adding personal touches always make the whole onboarding process much friendlier.

Once you receive all information, you are ready to get the project or monthly work rolling. I feel that a new client should always work with a senior member of the team until such time that he/she feels comfortable enough with another member of your team. If you will be handing the client over to another colleague, you should include that colleague in the whole onboarding process so that the client feels comfortable and your colleague gets an understanding of his needs and how his business operates, and this is how strong business relationships are built.

3. Get the setup or project rolling

This is where you take all the information that you have gathered and perform the duties as per your engagement letter. If this is a client that you will be moving from Desktop to Cloud, then your first step with be the conversation of the data. If you are starting him of fresh on QuickBooks Online, then you would need to add in all his customers and suppliers.

The most important step in all of this is training. Training needs to be provided to the client to show him exactly how the software will benefit him and the easiest ways of him using it to get things done. The client needs to become confident in creating an invoice on his own or snapping an expense. Patience is key when it comes to training because you might have to go over the training more than once. Remember, you do this basically all day every day. This comes easy for you.

Communication with your client is key through all these steps. Answer any questions he might have, get him excited about the new relationship. Remember that once you have gotten the work rolling out, inform the client on the turnaround times that you expect to complete these tasks so that he is always in the picture.

4. A Welcome Package

This is something small that we provide to our clients to officially welcome them onboard. This doesn’t have to be any extreme but a little cheat sheet with all your business’s information and some key dates that the client would need to remember. You could also include some common Q&As in the mix. Anything that you would think would be beneficial to the client in the beginning of his journey. This welcome package is something to make them feel a little special, that they are not just another number in your practice but that you care. At our practice, we also like to give our clients something small like a branded pen or t-shirt. This gets them energised about working with us. This is a real seller!

5. Check-ups

Whether this be face to face, telephonic, virtual call etc., it is so important to check up with your client. Ask him how his business is going, how he finds the accounting software, if there have been any hiccups along the way. This makes the client again feel that you are there to help his business grow and that you care. Remember that if you catch mistakes or slips ups early, you’ll be able to keep more clients happy. Also, with these check-ups, its also key to find out if the team have missed any steps or anything that needs improving because we want to learn from this and perfect the onboarding process a little bit more one onboard at a time.

6. Client Onboarding Checklist

The last and final step to all this, well it needs to be done concurrently with all the other steps, is a Client Onboarding Checklist. This is must. Not only does it look cool, it really helps you keep in check with where you are and any stumbling blocks that you are experiencing. And let’s face it, us Accountants absolutely love checklists and to do lists. I know I would never remember everything without them. Here’s a few key points that we have in our client onboarding checklist:

  • Send a Welcome message along with your business proposal and engagement letter
  • Go through the client onboarding questionnaire with the client
  • Assign the client to their new team (if applicable) and provide training to the client
  • Start with the setup process of the tasks and gathering all relevant information
  • Have a meeting with the team with the team leader to discuss the clients needs and the services that we will be providing
  • Get your team to reach out to the new client to familiarise themselves and book a kick off meeting with you present
  • Have the kick-off meeting
  • Check-ups
  • Welcome Packs
  • More Check-ups
  • Done!

We sometimes want to blame our clients and think that they are awful and are just there to try and make our jobs harder but if we really think about it, we may have not explained our processes to them, and this can result in confusion and frustration on both sides of the relationship.  What we are doing in our firm now, is redoing the “onboarding” process with each of our clients from the practices that we have learnt over the years because it is not only important to do this with new potential clients but also to our existing ones whom feel they have lost touch with the relationship.

I hope that by reading through this article, even though long, that you have picked up some tips and tricks on better ways to automate some of the processes and improve on areas already implemented. Let’s get out there and make some clients smile! And remember that a good client onboarding process should not only retain your client but encourage them to buy new services from you in the future.