In the process of growing your accounting firm, building better client relationships is one of the most important elements of long-term success, and that starts with a robust client onboarding process.
In this guide, we explore best practices for client onboarding for solo CPAs and small accounting firms, as well as how Harness Tax can help modernize and add efficiencies to the ever-evolving process.
Table of Contents
- What is Client Onboarding?
- Accounting Client Onboarding Checklist
- Leveraging Technology to Enhance Client Onboarding
- Common Pitfalls in Client Onboarding
- How Harness Tax Can Improve the Client Experience
What is Client Onboarding?
Client onboarding is the process of welcoming a new client into your accounting firm, but it goes much deeper than that. During this critical phase, you, as a CPA, have the opportunity to lay a robust foundation for a successful, long-term client relationship. Proper client onboarding involves a meticulous gathering of all necessary documentation and information from your new clients, as well as spending time fully understanding their needs and any upcoming life events, in order to establish a robust foundation of trust and open communication.
Why is Client Onboarding So Important?
Every time you take on a new client is an opportunity to deliver a memorable onboarding experience, and show that you are fully invested in their success. Remember, clients have the freedom to choose who they work with for their accounting services, and by going the extra mile, you can build trust, fully understand their goals, and prevent churn.
Accounting Client Onboarding Checklist
To deliver a consistent and comprehensive new client onboarding experience, consider following a checklist, such as the example we’ve shared below. Not only will this ensure you follow all necessary steps in your client onboarding process, but it will also allow you to add more structure to your process, and identify areas for improvement over time.
- Client introduction email: Start by sending an email to your new client thanking them for the opportunity to work together and provide a clear set of instructions on what you need from them. You’ll want to direct them to an engagement letter, a tax questionnaire, a payment portal, and more. A strong welcome email can provide a resource for clients to go back to, and can help speed up the onboarding process.
- Signed engagement letter: Before any work takes place, be sure to get an accounting engagement letter signed. This will ensure that the scope of work is clearly established and that both you and the clients will be satisfied with the structure of working together.
- Billing setup: Next, get your client’s payment info configured in your invoicing system, and take the first payment to begin work. By using an online invoicing system, you’ll not only help modernize the client billing process, but you’ll also provide yourself the opportunity to collect more on-time payments.
- Completed tax questionnaire: Once your client’s engagement letter is signed and payment is collected, have them complete your tax questionnaire. You’ll likely already have a tax questionnaire that you use, but this could be a good opportunity to further refine your process, or move to a more streamlined online approach. While working with sensitive client information such as past years’ tax returns and other financial documentation, be sure to use options that can help encrypt data, and avoid transferring sensitive information over email wherever possible.
- Account access: If you’ll be providing bookkeeping services for your client, you’ll now want to gain access to the accounting systems or bank accounts. To ensure proper security, make sure that you only have view-only access to their accounts, and do not use shared login credentials. Many platforms, such as QuickBooks, allow for accountant-level access, making it easy to follow security best practices.
- Set clear expectations: Lastly, it’s important that you set clear expectations with your client of how you prefer to work. Whether it’s general working hours or preferred methods of communication, being upfront about what works for you, and gathering similar information from them can only lead to a more fruitful relationship over time.
Leveraging Technology to Enhance Client Onboarding
We’ve talked a lot in our onboarding checklist about leveraging technology and software to streamline and help secure the client onboarding process, and the ongoing client experience in general. Here are a few categories of tools to consider:
- Secure client portals: Document intake and storage can present a myriad of cybersecurity and identity protection risks for both you and your client, so it’s very important to ensure that you have a safe and secure method of handling client information. When looking for a client portal or other cloud storage solution, consider its access controls and encryption methods, and avoid sending and receiving sensitive information over email whenever possible.
- Online payments: Leveraging an online billing and invoicing system to not only facilitate timely payments and easier billing but also to enhance security and improve record-keeping
- Digital signatures: Adopting digital signatures can expedite your contract manager process and offer a quick and secure way to sign documents. There are many digital signature platforms available today, so look for the one that offers the best combination of features and cost.
- CRM Systems: Customer Relationship Management platforms make it easy to keep track of and stay in contact with your prospects and clients. A good CRM will include contact management, sales and renewal pipeline tracking, and automated email communication, making it easy to send email reminders in advance of deadlines, or send automated personalized emails about quarterly tax estimates or other important notices.
At Harness Tax, we provide access to a modern software suite covering all of the above use cases, making it easy for you to offer a robust client experience from day one. By joining Harness Tax, you can take the guesswork out of platform selection.
Common Pitfalls in Client Onboarding
While adding technology to client onboarding can help modernize the process, there are still common pitfalls that software alone cannot help you avoid. By looking out for them ahead of time, you’ll save yourself
- Rushing the process: Take your time with the client onboarding process, and don’t skip over any critical areas. Accounting can often feel urgent from the client’s perspective, but it’s on you to ensure that you have all that you need.
- Superficial understanding: Getting to know your client on a more personal level can help you better understand their wants and needs, and how to deliver an experience that they will enjoy.
- Not setting clear boundaries: It’s important to be upfront about your communication and work style preferences in order to build a client relationship that works for both sides. Similarly, by learning how your client prefers to communicate, you can deliver a more personalized experience that shows them you care.
- Inadequate note-taking: Ensure to document important details discussed during the onboarding process. Keeping comprehensive notes in a centralized system allows for a consistent and personalized service, facilitating smooth transitions between team members handling the account.
How Harness Tax Can Improve the Client Experience
Harness Tax is a modern platform designed to help solo CPAs and growing tax firms offer a best-in-class client experience. When you join Harness Tax, you gain access to a modern software suite and an in-house support team to help with basic needs, from coordinating client servicing to tax return e-filing and other administrative tasks. In addition, our Concierge team will work with prospective clients to schedule meetings and help you manage the sales process to not only match you with better clients but also close more deals.
- Modern software suite: Harness Tax offers a modern software suite that provides you access to the tools you need to deliver a high-quality client experience.
- In-house support team: Our in-house support team is dedicated to assisting you with operational and administrative tasks, tax filing, and other client service needs.
- Community of experts: Being a part of Harness Tax offers you access to a community of industry experts, providing you opportunities to network with other accounting professionals, and ask questions of those with expertise in certain areas, such as crypto taxes or equity compensation.
If you’re interested in adding efficiencies to your accounting firm, and improving your client onboarding process, consider joining Harness Tax. We’d be excited to partner with you.