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How to consistently complete client onboarding in less than 30 days

On average, how often does it take your accounting practice to onboard a new client … 30, 60, 90 days or even longer? A short onboarding time is something that most successful accounting firms all have in common. Each additional day, clients sit in the onboarding phase, where the risk is greater of them walking away from your firm. As a result, you will miss an opportunity to gain revenue and deliver on the ongoing service work you worked so hard to earn.

From Karbon’s research, the average time it takes to onboard new clients is close to 60 days, with the most progressive firms consistently completing onboarding in less than 30 days.

Here are several key strategies progressive firms use to trim down the time to onboard new clients:

Set a goal, outline the critical path, and be clear on deadlines and penalties. At the very beginning of the onboarding process, establish aligned goals and incentives with your clients to ensure they are motivated to get to the next step. These client goals could include uploading key documents and details to their client manager within five business days, completing the onboarding checklist within 14 days or starting ongoing monthly services within 30 days.

Not only should you outline the goals, but you must also walk the clients through the key steps that are dependent on one another – the critical path. These are what drives the end date of the project. Maybe, you need their 1120 filing before you can set up their contact details, QuickBooks® Online access to begin the discovery work, and a set of answers to enable you to make informed decisions on how to set them up in your tools and processes.

Provide carrots and/or sticks to get them to act. If they don’t deliver responses or documents by each critical path deadline, explain that the result is that the project will either slip out a certain number of days, incur additional fees due to wasted resources or rushed work will be assessed. As long as the goals, critical path and incentives are discussed and agreed on upfront, you’ll get the support and ability to move the onboarding project along.

Ask for information progressively, with client details validated – not populated. One of the major activities for onboarding is the collection of a lot of client information. For tax work, many practitioners use organizers to collect that information, but often these documents become paperweights on the clients’ desk. A surefire way to do nothing is to ask for information they don’t know or don’t have quick access to. Much of the financial information needed fits that category.

The best approach is to progressively ask for information in manageable chunks, beginning with the easiest information to provide first. For instance, ask for their business contacts details, first, and their business ownership details second; or their fiscal year start date, first, and their FEIN last.

Rather than asking clients to fill in the blanks, pre-populate the information for them to validate. As much as 60 percent of what you need is readily available from their social profiles located on the internet, so you can use that as a starter. It is much harder for clients to gather missing information, unaided, than to evaluate whether the pre-given information is right or wrong. If the information you draft is wrong or incomplete, that will still help to remind them. For example, when asking for a FEIN number, don’t just ask for it, but fill-in the blank with the syntax so that they know what to look for (eg XX-XXXXXXX).

Have a dedicated resource to onboard and a well-defined onboarding checklist. When looking at the best accounting firms onboarding, one major common factor is that they have a dedicated resource just to onboard new clients (or dedicated time each week). The underlying reason this is successful is because it eliminates the lag time between client requests. As soon as one request or task is complete, the next one is waiting in the client’s inbox. It leverages the emotional high of the client in completing a prior task, while also capitalizing on the situation that your project work is top of mind. In addition, many practitioners use technology to their advantage. For instance, many used QuickBooks Online Accountant’s Client Request feature to request and capture the related documents, or for more advanced needs, Karbon’s client tasks to fully automate the process with their workflow.

Those firms that don’t have resources to dedicate can still be successful by dedicating a few hours per week (or several times per week) to ensure that the onboarding work wasn’t pushed aside for existing client work.

Finally, the best firms at onboarding have a clear, defined onboarding checklist to follow. This ensures nothing falls through the cracks and makes it easy to request the next item when receiving the previous one from the client. It eliminates the work (and the guesswork) to keep things flowing smoothly.

If you don’t have a checklist, leverage an onboarding checklist from some of the most progressive firms across the globe.

Onboarding clients is perhaps the most important step in your firm’s entire relationship with them. If you can delight them from early on, your chances of keeping that client long-term are high, and you will have a much greater chance of upselling your services or gaining referrals from them.

These strategies will help you set your clients up for success that, in turn, will set your own firm up for success.

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