In today’s new episode of Grow Your Firm Podcast, we interview Robert Colburn, a Senior Outsourcing Consultant at CliftonLarsonAllen, on different ways accounting firms can build their own systematic client onboarding process while simultaneously growing their firm.

In this interview, Robert and I dive into:

  • Two important steps in determining the ways to automate your client onboarding process
  • Deciding on your role to your clients
  • Steps to take when launching your very own onboarding process
  • and much, much more!

 Click Below to Listen to the Interview:

Show Links: 
Robert Colburn’s LinkedIn Page

Key Summary

The client onboarding process can become a headache, quickly, especially when you do not already have systems in place or staff to help transition new clients to your firm. Some firms even shut off their onboarding process and stop sales completely, because they just cannot handle the work.

Instead of stunting the growth of your firm, in today’s Grow Your Firm Podcast, we sat down with Robert Colburn, a Senior Outsourcing Consultant at CliftonLarsonAllen. Robert has developed key strategies to building your own systematic client onboarding process that not only allows you to keep the sales funnel on but also builds trust with your new clients.

Let’s dive in.

Defining Your Onboarding Process

Some CPA firms have been making the choice to fine-tune their onboarding process and some have just simply ignored it whether or not they realize the importance.  What I am talking about is the importance of processes fulfillment in your client acquisition efforts.

Robert says there are two beginning steps you should take to automate your client onboarding process .

The first step is to know your business model and to focus on the services you provide to your clients.  

Set your levels and expectations of services.  Understand what you do really well as a business and know what you can refer elsewhere to your trusted sources.  Robert thinks it is really crucial to automate your client onboarding process early and to get your services up and running before you start to win clients.

The second step is finding out how you can use outside technical expertise, programs, or applications to help execute your onboarding strategy.  Examples of some of these services are

  • Accounting programs like QuickBooks or AP Processing
  • Tax applications or
  • Client file sharing programs  

To automate your client onboarding process is really important because it communicates what your firm is about and what products and services you will provide to the client.  
Take the time to identify and diligence which technologies you believe will better implement your services and maintain your contact with clients real-time going forward in your business relationship.  Know what you want early on so that you experience no real interruptions to clients during the actual onboarding process

And appreciate that product vendors become extension of your brand and part of your positioning of your firm.  A lot of these outside vendors have dedicated support teams and staff that can work in tandem with you, your team, and your clients for product implementation, training and onboarding.  Form a good, working partnership with these vendors.   

Build those relationships not only with your client but also with the product teams so that you can trust the product with your clients going forward.  Gain trust in the application features, the interface, and its usability   

What is Your Role To Your Clients?

As a firm owner, think about what your business role to your client will be.  What is your business philosophy?  Do you desire to be an everything-to-everyone kind of shop or do you desire to specialize in your service capabilities and then outsource the rest.  Then you can think about appropriate steps in mapping out your process to give the best onboarding experience to your clients.  

If you are that jack-of-all-trades shop, then you can provide a more customizable and personalized onboarding experience for your client.  

Otherwise, decide to what extent you as the firm owner will handle interactions between your client and the vendor.  It is important to identify how you personalize this approach when you automate your client onboarding process .  Be upfront and honest with your clients about these relationships.  Are you their number one contact?  Do you prefer the establishing a back-end relationship or a front-end relationship with your vendors?  

Robert suggests that, for your tech-savy clients, choose a hybrid approach: You can answer some client questions and the vendor can directly answer any other questions.  For all others, choose to be the conduit between the vendors and clients.  But be careful warns Robert “you could hit your bottom line really hard when reaching out to the vendors frequently especially if they are charging a per-hour rate”.  A third consideration is to have a dedicated staff member in-house who is that go-to person for all things technical.

Phases of the Onboarding Launch
The way to automate your client onboarding process is broken down into two phases according to Robert.

  1. The initial onboarding phase can take approximately 1 to 3 months to complete.  Review the process and adjust accordingly to make sure it will be working optimally for the client
  2. The ongoing phase is continuous and is reviewed periodically for fine-tuning.  So in essence you are always onboarding your client.  In doing so, you are fostering a great, interactive relationship and strengthening rapport with your clients.   

Introducing a New Product or Service and Working with Your Teams

If you choose to introduce additional outside products or services, Robert suggests to set expectations ahead of time with your team members “so they don’t feel overwhelmed with a big shift.”   

The introduction could be drastic and delivered all-at-once allowing your team to be fully immersed in the information.  It will be entirely a new mindset.  Or it could be gradual, introducing one product or service at a time and not moving forward until the team gains comfort with these new initiatives.   

And the manner in which you decide to introduce new changes to your team all depends on how much they are involved in these services.  Some may feel nervous that their efforts will be replaced by technology, especially if you have a full accounting department already dedicated and involved.  Robert assures that these concerns are merely misconceptions since adding new services would create more opportunities to win additional business and to grow the firm.

The Importance of Remembering What Your Clients Value

While everyone may get excited about adopting new technology, what is most important at the end of the day to your clients are their end returns:  Cash flow analysis, profitability reports, and reduced expenses.  

“It is important to remember the desired outcome.  It is important to remember not just the tools but the cohesive package.

Understand the value of your services.  Are clients looking for this value?  When thinking about how to automate your client onboarding process with your clients, be sure to customize your clients’ needs during the first of the proposal meetings.  This analysis is called a Needs Analysis.  Identify those critical components.  

Leverage the knowledge from your vendors and customize it.  Use the spec lists, check lists, and other basic materials to edit accordingly.  Contextualize and integrate the information to help make it work for your clients going forward.  This way when the actual onboarding process occurs, it will be quick, painless, effortless, and a success. Good luck!

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