How to Ensure a Potential Client Is a Good Fit

When Polymath, LLC became a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor back in late 2008, one of the questions on the profile for the "Find A ProAdvisor" website was to check a box indicating whether or not we would offer a 1-hour Free Initial Consultation. Ever since checking that box, the initial consultation has been an important part of our client onboarding process. We have honed it and refined it over the years, and now I'm going to share that process with you, in the hopes that you may adapt it to fit the needs of your practice and thrive.

Before meeting with a client for the first time, you want to already feel confident that this new relationship has the potential of being a good fit. Make sure to check out our article on the importance of the New Client Questionnaire.  

Polymath's Initial Consultation Agenda

Introductions and Meeting Purpose
Set the stage for the conversation, and establish yourself as the facilitator of the meeting. Introduce yourself and your team, and let the client know that the purpose of today's meeting is to get to know each other a bit better, establish a rapport, and ensure that this relationship is going to be a great fit for both sides. Make sure that the client knows that this is not the time to go over their books and get work done; there will be plenty of time for that once you are moving forward with the relationship.
 

Learn about the client... Be sure to Listen
It is very important to make sure that the client feels heard from the very start. Try to listen and take notes without interjecting or offering solutions at this time. Be sure to ask:

  • What is the client's company vision? What do they love about what they do? What are they working to accomplish?
  • What are their current pain points?
  • What are they looking for in a bookkeeping/accounting relationship?
  • Who else is on their team?

*Special story #1 - When asking who is on the client's team, we like to use the analogy that they are the coach of the soccer team, and we are one of the players on the field playing for them to win. It is our job to empower them to lead their business and their team, and part of that includes knowing who else we are playing with. As a bookkeeping firm, we need to know if they have tax preparer, financial advisor, business coach, and so many more important roles. Do they have a key employee that we may be working with closely? This way, we can "pass the ball" to the appropriate person when the need arises, or see when they have a hole in their defense and recommend a colleague who can help. 

Go through the Resources Folder
Now that you've heard a bit about the client, it's time to offer them a bit more information about your team and your firm. We like to make sure that the client doesn't leave the meeting empty handed, so we have put together a resources folder for them that acts as a visual aid for this part of the conversation.

We begin with a "Who's on Your Team" worksheet and then share the items below.  (When meeting with a client remotely, we make sure to send them these forms as attachments in advance.)

  • About Us - Go over your firm's Vision, Mission, and Purpose with the client. Show them that having a relationship with them is more than just a job to your team, and that this is a big part of what makes you Trusted Advisors. Check out our About Us to learn about our Vision, Mission, and Purpose.
  • Our Team - This worksheet shows our full team at the firm, including photos and brief bios. This way the client can put a face to the name of each person they might ever speak to. It also discourages "imprinting," which is when the client forms an attachment to a single team member and will not talk to anyone else. Here is what ours looks like.
  • Client Rights and Responsibilities - Have a written document that clearly defines what the client can expect from you, as well as what you expect from them. Offer this printed out in their packet during the initial consultation, have it available to view on your website, and be sure to reference it as an addendum in your service agreement. This will establish your relationship as a two-way street, where both parties hold the other accountable. Click here to see ours.
  • The Roadmap - Remove the fear of the unknown by showing the client the step-by-step timeline of what your developing relationship will look like over the next several months. This will remove pressure and miscommunication while also opening the conversation to discussion about potential important deadlines and extenuating circumstances that could affect your plans together. Visit our site to get an idea of what this can look like.

Next Steps: The Discovery Phase
If everything in your conversation has been going well so far, you can now begin the planning process with the client to begin the relationship. At Polymath we call this first step the Discovery phase, and we would have already touched on it with the client when we were discussing the Relationship Roadmap. There are a few important pieces to emphasize here:

No changes are made to the client's books during the discovery period; it is research and review. This is what helps you create a clear starting place and be able to price the project from an educated perspective rather than taking a guess.

The Discovery Phase is a valuable service, and it needs to be priced as such. Polymath uses a 15-point checklist  and gives the client a Discovery Report at the end of this phase, complete with our recommendations for next steps.

Be sure to give yourself enough time to really do the Discovery Phase justice. We always schedule Discovery for the calendar month following the month in which we are meeting. If the client is in a hurry, then you can discuss with them how their expedited timeline may alter the flow of your work and the price of the engagement.

This is when you would set the price for the Discovery phase. Generally by this time you have an idea of how much of a mess you may be walking into. Keep in mind that, while no changes are being made to the books, you are working to document all of the issues you can find to help eliminate surprises as you move forward with the relationship. Generally Polymath charges between $250-$1250 for discovery, depending on the client's size, complexity, and potential mess.


*Special story #2 -When discussing the Discovery price, this is when the client will often ask what the monthly maintenance is going to cost them down the line. Our favorite analogy to give them is Housekeeping. Pretend that you want to hire someone to regularly clean your house, and you want to know how much it will cost each month. Now pretend that your house hasn't been built yet. We don't know how many rooms you have, which ones have carpet vs. hardwoods, or how much of the maintenance you are planning to do yourself. Do you do your own laundry and dishes, or is that expected of us? Until we have a better understanding of what this is going to look like, there really isn't a way for us to even ballpark a price for the monthly maintenance.

That being said, it will set the client's mind at ease to have even a wide ballpark. After sharing that analogy with them, we let them know that our smallest, most basic clients can be as little as $150 per month, and that the largest, most complex clients can be upwards of $3000. The important thing is that we want to ensure that the value we offer to our clients always exceeds the price of our services. That will set their mind at ease, and show them that you are on their team.

The Un-Sell
Most people we've spoken with generally call this the "close." This is when others would try to "seal the deal." That's not how Polymath rolls. We want to make sure that this relationship is going to be a great fit for both sides. We do not use any manipulative tricks or hard sales techniques. If you want to LOVE your clients as much as we love ours, here is what we recommend:

Ask yourself, are they a good fit for us right now? Are you sure YOU want to take on this relationship? There is no sense in wasting time for both parties if your gut is telling you "no." It may come down to the client's communication style, demeanor, or maybe the software they use isn't your favorite. Whatever the case may be, if you're not feeling stoked, you don't have to work with them.

Ask yourself, are we a good fit for them right now? Maybe your workload and timeline is not a match for their needs. Maybe you don't currently have the training in the apps they require. Maybe they would simply be better suited with someone else, and maybe you even know who that person is. If you are able to listen to their needs for an hour and wrap up the conversation with, "I think I may not be the best fit for you, but I know who is," you get to be the hero in the eyes of that client as well as the other ProAdvisor you refer them to.

Ask them how they are FEELING about the discussion today. Encourage them to be honest. Focus on connection and superb service, not the need to close. Understand that if it is not a fit for them, it is ultimately not a fit for you, either. This will help you release attachment to the outcome so that you don't inadvertently make the client feel pressured.

If, and only if, both sides feel excited to move forward and comfortable that there is clear understanding of price and expectations, this is when you ask, "Are you ready to sign a Discovery proposal for the price we discussed." This is the fish or cut bait. Some potential clients are full speed ahead until it comes time to put money on the table, and then some true colors start to shine. This is important for you to know. Polymath always gets payment before beginning work, and as a result we have no accounts receivable. It's wonderful.

Follow Up Immediately
If all signs are pointing to YES on both sides, use the momentum of that great interaction to make sure to get everything in writing as quickly as possible. Don't wait for things to cool off, and definitely don't give the client a reason to question your follow through. We endeavor to get the proposal out to the client either that day or the next, depending on the time of day. We follow up the proposal with an email thanking them for the opportunity to work with them and letting them know how excited we are. We also use this opportunity to get everything in writing and reiterate the timeline. We encourage them to contact us with any questions, and remind them that we do need a signed proposal as soon as possible so that we can set aside the time needed for them on our calendar.

Believe it or not, with just a little bit of practice all of that can happen in a single one-hour conversation. This process has saved our team quite a lot of time and headache, as we used to go back and forth deliberating with clients who were never going to be enjoyable for us. Now we only ever focus on the relationships that we are confident we will love.
 

About the Author

Ingrid Edstrom

Ingrid Edstrom

Ingrid is a bookkeeping nerd and CEO of Polymath. She loves taking a topic that most small business owners put on a scale from boring to terrifying and turning it into a fun and rewarding part of entrepreneurship. Ingrid is the creator of the Ask A Bookkeeper puppet show, founder of the Southern Oregon Bookkeepers Association, and leader of the Southern Oregon Woodard Group.

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