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

  1. What is Client Onboarding?
  2. Accounting Client Onboarding Checklist
  3. Leveraging Technology to Enhance Client Onboarding
  4. Common Pitfalls in Client Onboarding
  5. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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:

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 

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.

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.

Tax services provided through Harness Tax LLC. Harness Tax LLC is affiliated with Harness Wealth Advisers LLC, collectively referred to as “Harness Wealth”. Harness Wealth Advisers LLC is an internet investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). Harness Wealth Advisers LLC solely acts as a paid promoter for unaffiliated registered investment advisers. Harness Wealth Advisers LLC’s registration as an investment adviser with the SEC does not imply a certain level of skill or training.

This document should not be considered tax, legal or financial planning advice. It is provided for information purposes only. To the extent that the reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific topic discussed above, please consult a tax, legal and/or financial professional for advice specific to your individual circumstances.