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How to Help Your Clients Help You


Whether you're onboarding a new client or collecting information for the 2022 tax season from an existing one, errors in paperwork can create huge headaches. Billie Anne Grigg of Profit First Professionals uses her expertise and experience to offer some tips on how to help your clients make your life easier.

Jun 23rd 2021
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It might not seem like it at times, but our clients really don’t want to make our lives difficult. In fact, most of our clients are willing - and happy - to provide us with the information we need to properly onboard them and prepare their books and tax returns.

The problem is, they’re confused. Not about what we need, but why we need certain information and why we’re asking them to provide it in a particular way. And without understanding the “why,” many clients will either drag their feet about providing us with the information we request, or they’ll send it to us in a manner that is not conducive to our workflow.

How can we help our clients make our lives easier? Let’s start by taking a look at what might not be working so well.

Your Client Portal Isn’t the (Whole) Solution

Accountants and bookkeepers love tools and workflows. We’ll spend hours researching the perfect client portal and then hours more setting up the workflows in that portal to streamline and automate the information collection process. Our goal is to make it easy and safe for our clients to provide all the information we need to properly fulfill our engagements with them.

So, it’s really frustrating when we can see that our clients have visited the portal and even viewed the documents, but they haven’t followed through with completing them.

There are a few reasons clients don’t follow through on our requests for information:

  1. We’re asking for too much. Or, more specifically, we’re asking the client to complete too many different documents. When a client is faced with various documents to complete, they can become overwhelmed, and overwhelm often leads to procrastination.
  2. We’re not explaining why we need the information. Without a proper explanation of why we’re asking for certain information, some of what we request could seem intrusive. Think about how you felt the last time someone asked you for bank login information, or your Social Security number, or any other personal information. You immediately went on your guard and wondered why they were asking for it. Your clients feel the same way.
  3. The request isn’t as self-explanatory as we think. Keep in mind that we live and breathe accounting, bookkeeping and/or taxes. Our clients don’t. What seems like simple mathematics to us can look like differential calculus to our clients. Confusion - like overwhelm - can lead your clients to procrastinate.

The Fix

No one wants to go back to sitting across a desk from a client, asking them questions, and then writing their answers on a notepad. Fortunately, there are some things we can do to help our clients give us the information we need and to feel comfortable doing it.

  1. Streamline your documents. If you require the client to complete multiple information documents, you’re asking for at least one piece of duplicate information on each one. Instead of filling your client portal with multiple documents for the client to complete, try to reduce your information-gathering documents to just one or two forms. Also, only ask for the information you need in the moment. You can ask for additional information as the need arises.
  2. Create video guidance. Anything you request that can cause your clients to ask “Why?” should be accompanied with a “Because” video. Hyperlink these videos to the request, and make sure the video opens in a new tab so your client doesn’t navigate away from the request form. Also, strive to keep any video guidance under two minutes in length. Anything that requires more than five minutes of explanation should be broken up into two or more different videos.
  3. Restate the obvious. Remember, what is obvious to us might not be obvious to our clients. My litmus test is to ask myself, “Could a 10-year-old understand this?” I’ve even been known to run things by one of my children to make sure they can understand it. I’m not saying our clients are children, but if a child can understand what you’re asking for, then so will your client.

Beyond Onboarding

The onboarding period isn’t the only time when clients might be slow to provide information. Fortunately, the same fixes apply, even to your long-time clients.

Tax pros, you can streamline your tax organizers by creating a question-based form to help you collect all the information you need to prepare your clients’ tax returns without confusing them with requests for information that doesn’t pertain to their situation.

Bookkeepers, you can create forms and other tools your clients can complete and then link those to your bookkeeping software with Zapier, IFTTT or other automation tools. This allows your clients to assist you in your work without requiring them to navigate accounting software they might not be familiar with.

And all accountants, bookkeepers and tax pros and their clients can benefit from a video resource library that explains what you’ll be asking for and why. Add the link to that library to your signature line to keep it close at your clients’ fingertips.

Final Thoughts

Our clients want to make our lives easier. They realize doing so results in better service and more timely reporting. Our job is to make it easy for our clients to make our lives easy. By streamlining our requests for information and explaining why we are requesting what we’re requesting, we can create a win-win situation for ourselves and our clients for the entire client relationship.

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