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How to Successfully Onboard New Clients by Altering Your Approach

Apr 15, 2021
Client Meeting
How you approach your onboarding process can make or break your relationship with a client. If the process goes well, chances are your working relationship will continue to be a positive experience. However, if it does not, you could set yourself for issues down the road. At Summit CPA, we have spent the past few years fine-tuning our onboarding process for new clients. However, we didn’t always have a formal process in place for onboarding new clients.

Initially, we had clients come in and assigned a team to them. From there, the team would work through the client’s issues. This informal process meant that we were working backward and forward simultaneously, as we tried to deliver the client services while still getting to know their business. We soon found that our lack of a formal onboarding stage meant that it took a substantial amount of time to fully onboard new clients, which caused many clients to get frustrated and got several working relationships off to a rocky start.

To increase client satisfaction and work more efficiently, we have since changed our process entirely. In an effort to share some of the insights we have acquired over the years through trial and error, highlighted below are the ways in which you can adjust your approach to your onboarding process to make it as effective and successful as possible.

  • Specify the length of your onboarding process. Determining the amount of time it will take to onboard a new client is helpful when it comes to successfully hitting specified targets and ensuring that your firm is working efficiently. By having a set amount of work to accomplish within a specific time frame, you are also prompted to consistently check in internally with your onboarding team to make sure you’re on the right track. Our firm’s onboarding experience takes place within a 6 to 8-week period depending on the type of service (controllership or VCFO). We’ve found that this length of time allows us to accomplish all the tasks required during the onboarding stage without leaving the client feeling as though we’re dragging our feet when it comes to delivering requested services.

  • Make sure your process remains flexible. While your onboarding process should be formal in nature, we recommend building a somewhat malleable process that can easily be adapted to address each client’s specific needs. Also, informing the client what the onboarding process will look like beforehand and regularly checking in with them is an excellent way to increase transparency and avoid client dissatisfaction. Our firm’s initial onboarding process was too mechanical. We would assign ourselves a set of tasks to complete each week, and we only touched base with the client once or twice a week. Following a very rigid work schedule for each client and communicating with them infrequently is what ultimately led to our previously sluggish onboarding process and client dissatisfaction.

  • Leave some room in your process for adaptation. When it comes to designing a flexible onboarding process, we’ve found that frontloading work can be instrumental. For our firm, frontloading is when we spend the first 2-4 weeks of our 8-week process acquiring and documenting as much institutional knowledge as possible. This part of the process allows us to get to know the client’s business so that we can forecast and begin our advising services. The remaining four weeks gives us the opportunity to fine-tune our processes regarding the services we’re providing the client. In short, we learn more about the client and adjust our approach to help them accordingly. This method gives us room to adapt our formal onboarding system as needed.

  • Divide and conquer. We suggest choosing a team that can work on all the moving pieces of your onboarding process simultaneously. Designating a group to onboard new clients will also help you maintain the pace of the onboarding stage. Your team will also have the opportunity to focus solely on this process, which can help them deliver an even higher level of service. Our onboarding teams usually include the team assigned to the account plus a project manager and an additional accountant. The project manager’s main role is to keep the onboarding on pace and hold everyone on the team accountable. The additional accountant helps out tremendously carrying the workload. We have found that this structure helps lessen the burden of onboarding new clients.

By adjusting your approach to your current onboarding process, you can make the process easier for both your team and your new clients. Also, having a formal, streamlined onboarding process is the perfect way to boost client satisfaction, which can ultimately lead to an increase in client retention, among other lucrative business opportunities.


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About the Author

Summit CPA Group is a fully distributed accounting firm and leading provider of Virtual CFO Services in North America. In addition to providing VCFO coaching, CPA firm augmentation, Summit CPA Group is building a community of CPA firm owners who want to learn how to provide or enhance their existing VCFO service offerings. The CFO Community includes: free monthly CPE webinars, a Slack network, The Virtual CFO Playbook – a course dedicated to teaching CPA firm owners how to build and scale Virtual CFO services, and more. Join the community today and start getting the support you need to grow your firm!