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You’ve Won the Client, What Next? Your Guide to Onboarding New Business

Lewis Bird
Posted by Lewis Bird on Jun 25, 2024 3:00:00 PM

Onboarding an accountancy client is not just a matter of admin. Done well, it will set you up for a long-lasting and fruitful business relationship—executed poorly, it will cause a world of frustration.

Getting off on the wrong foot

As with personal relationships, both sides of a business partnership must set expectations early on. The most common mistakes in onboarding accountancy clients relate to misunderstandings about time and scope.

I want it done yesterday!

Every business owner understandably thinks their needs are the most pressing. However, returning annual accounts a week after the year-end is not achievable for most accountancy firms. Onboarding should lay out clear timelines for standard workflows. Clarity on turnaround will prevent later frustration and ensure the client gets your information on time.

What do you mean you won’t come to my office?

Failing to define the operational details of accountancy tasks can cause frustration and misunderstanding. Your new clients are likely used to a part-time bookkeeper visiting their office to process receipts. If not told otherwise, they may naturally expect this of you. A description of processes during onboarding will avoid such misunderstandings (and hopefully result in the client scanning receipts!)

How to successfully onboard accountancy clients

Since starting in 2007, we’ve onboarded thousands of clients and learned a lot about what to do (and what not to do) along the way. Here, we share five ways to lay the foundation for a happy and lasting client relationship.

1. Initial sales calls/meetings—make it about them

Though we won’t dwell on sales here (an article in itself), successful onboarding starts before the ink is dry. Sales meetings are a chance to establish trust and rapport with potential clients. Listen carefully to their needs and expectations before hitting them with a run-down of your services. This prevents assumptions on both sides (see examples above). A common mistake is leaving the listening part until the onboarding meeting when both sides are locked in.

2. Paperwork and admin—keep it clean, simple and compliant

Onboarding admin is unavoidable: letters of engagement, compliance checks, professional clearance, etc. However, how you deal with the admin sets the tone for your working relationship. To avoid email back-and-forth, it is best practice to provide clients with a checklist of required information. An online dashboard tracking their progress coupled with secure online document sharing is even better.

3. Onboarding meeting—have the right team at the table

The initial onboarding meeting should include the lead partner, the salesperson, and any specialists working on your client’s account, for example, your VAT or bookkeeping team. This demonstrates personalized service and helps ensure everyone is working to the same expectations.

Meeting people in person (or on a video call) shows respect, builds trust, and establishes working methods. It is also the time to establish communication channels. At SKS, we assign clients a single point of contact who will field calls to the correct experts. We find clients are happier with this if they have met the experts first.


This meeting may reveal opportunities for additional work. In a recent call to help a client set up a new company, we realized they needed help shutting down their old one.

4. Technology and training—don’t leave clients on a limb

Ensure that any logins provided by your client are stored securely using specialized software.

You may have asked your client to adopt new software, such as switching from spreadsheets to a system such as QuickBooks or Xero. If this is the case, we set them up with training from the software provider.

5. Keep in touch—troubleshoot early

Early problems in client relationships arise from miscommunication. Hold a weekly check-in call for the first six weeks of your client relationship to answer any questions, update on wins, and smooth over any problems. If all is well, you can reduce this to twice a month.

A case study: Onboarding a restaurant business

At the start of 2024, one of our member firms won a new restaurant client (two founders, 20 employees) through recommendation.

In the initial sales meeting, we established one of the founders was handling the finance. They no longer had time to keep up to date with bookkeeping, payroll, and end-of-year compliance. They also needed advice on tax and payroll for the hospitality sector. Finally, we established they could benefit from management accounts outlining which dishes were selling well to aid their stock control and buying. Having provided these services for other businesses, we provided guidelines on cost, scope, and timing.

On signing the terms of engagement, we sent the client a checklist of required information. They provided this through a secure document-sharing system. We also collected info that enabled us to access their EPOS system and accounting software.

The onboarding meeting included the two restaurant owners, an SKS practice director, our salesperson, and our heads of bookkeeping, tax, and payroll. During this, we prioritized short-term goals (to get their accounts up to date) and long-term goals (to establish regular management reporting).

We discussed communication, and the restaurant founders were happy to use the practice manager as a single point of contact. We also made it clear that they were welcome to contact our experts directly.

Weekly contact with the client during the early weeks of the partnership enabled us to build confidence by demonstrating early wins in tax and payroll. It also enabled us to mitigate a small issue relating to the recategorization of some transactions.

The next stage in the client journey

In our most recent article for Woodard, SKS Head of Marketing Natalie Jones shared some tips on attracting high-profit clients. Here, we have covered onboarding. In our next article, we will discuss the next step: how to retain clients.

Sponsored Content: This article is generously brought to you by one of our valued sponsors. Their support enables us to continue delivering expert insights and the latest industry trends to our dedicated community of accounting professionals.

Topics: Practice Management, Client Experience


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