Why You Need a Standardized Onboarding Process (and How to Get Started)

Why You Need a Standardized Onboarding Process (and How to Get Started)

When you bring on a new client, what’s the first step you take? Do you have an orientation, or an overview presentation you can share? Do you have a one-on-one sit-down to go over pertinent information and ensure all frequently asked questions are answered? Or you do simply send off a contract to be signed and cross your fingers that the rest falls into place?

Whether you realize it or not, the process your firm takes with a new client can set the tone for the future of your relationship. A well-planned program can start things off on the right foot, reassuring clients that they’ve made the best possible choice, while a shoddy or lacking introduction may cast doubts before you’ve had a chance to demonstrate what you can do. If you’ve never before considered the efficacy of your onboarding – or if you haven’t given it much thought at all – it may be time to develop a standardized practice for your growing accounting business.

What is Onboarding, and Why Does it Matter?

When you’re eager to get started with a new client, it’s only natural for your excitement to overtake the process of getting the ball rolling; but failing to set your new project up for success can be a costly mistake. A standardized onboarding process is critical when bringing on a new client.

In essence, onboarding is the process of providing a new client with all necessary information about your firm, the services they will be receiving and any other relevant details that may influence the course of business. This process can be fairly casual or highly formal, depending on your brand and the services you have to offer. But, at the very least, it should be consistent from one client to another.

The benefits of a standardized onboarding process can be immense, even if the advantages aren’t necessarily clear from the start.  Here are some essential considerations for your onboarding process:

  • A consistent brand. When you standardize what you offer your clients, you’re essentially solidifying your brand and creating a stable, consistent reputation in your industry.
  • Prevention of scope creep. Clients who understand your abilities, services, and limitations will enter into a partnership with you with eyes wide open. When both parties have a mutual understanding of expectations and requirements, the scope of service will be clearly defined. Preventing scope creep actually starts with the engagement letter but it is further reinforced during the onboarding process.  
  • Increased engagement. A strong onboarding process helps clients build positive relationships with you from the start, increasing the engagement they will have with your firm over the course of your partnership.
  • Improved retention. When clients are engaged, informed, and educated, they’re far less likely to walk away from what you have to offer.
  • Enhanced scalability. With a streamlined process in place, you can onboard customers faster and start work on an accelerated timeline, providing more room for scaling and growth.

Developing a Winning Onboarding Process

So, you know the importance of a strong approach to onboarding, but there’s a difference between understanding the basics and implementing a standardized process you can stand behind. A standard process needs a few different elements to ensure all the pieces are properly in place.

Participation Guidelines

Who will be involved in onboarding? For very small firms, this may be limited to a bookkeeper; but for larger companies, management may also contribute. Be sure to identify who plays a role – as well as how they play that role – before getting started.

Set a Timeline

When acquiring new clients, the quicker you get started, the faster you’ll start making money, so onboarding should start as soon as contracts are signed. When you leave clients hanging, it can harm your reputation and give them time to reconsider.

A set conclusion point is a little harder to define but is equally important. Your onboarding should take longer than a day or two but shouldn’t dominate the initial year of business. Note that churn rates are highest in the first 90 days, so your onboarding should be wrapped up well before the three-month mark.

Define Key Responsibilities

Onboarding is primarily about assimilating your client into your processes and ensuring all necessary information is communicated, but doing this may be harder than it sounds. Before jumping in, take time to define the things you need to share, the ways in which you plan to discuss hot topics and any data the customer must provide. This can include:

  • Training presentations
  • Firm overviews
  • Meetings with key players
  • Procedures to gather all required client data
  • Meetings for software installation and training
  • Transition guidelines as your firm takes over bookkeeping and accounting functions

If, how and why these steps are necessary will largely depend on your particular business, but be sure to devote plenty of time into outlining what you need to do and the best ways to do it. When in doubt, trend toward more information, not less.

Onboarding may seem like a daunting step to take when bringing in new clients, but a little time and energy can yield a successful process. By understanding the benefits and developing a procedure that resonates, you can improve retention, build long-lasting relationships and give your business the resources it needs to grow successfully.