A few years ago, it used to take our accounting firm anywhere from 30-60 days to onboard a new client. We made a goal to beat that.
Over the last two years, our firm has whittled our onboarding process down from 30 days to seven. It’s taken a lot of time, effort, training and even risk, but we’ve distilled onboarding into a series of documented processes, templates and checklists. We’ve even redefined our business to accommodate a quicker onboarding process. Here’s how we did it.
Step 1: Identify your niche
When we started Xcelerate Business Solutions, we worked with everyone from builders to lawyers to nonprofits. We couldn’t regiment processes across our client base since different businesses needed different onboarding processes. Focusing on a specific niche, however, has allowed us to sell our expertise and build efficiency within the firm, and we like that approach.
Our business coach from Crankset Group agreed we should focus on a niche but also advised against rushing into a decision. He argued it was essential to understand what drew us to a specific niche. This approach appealed to us. We gathered data and paid attention to how we felt working with different types of clients, both for- and nonprofit.
We got our final answer from our mission as a firm: “Helping Families Thrive.” Greg had been a pastor, and we had both helped found and set up a church in Seattle, Washington (referred to in the industry as “planting” churches). We believe in giving back to the community and helping other families excel. For this reason, we focused on churches. We understand their business from the inside out and appreciate what they want to accomplish.
Turning away that first for-profit referral was scary. However, focusing our efforts on churches has allowed us to hone our skills and refine processes that work better for us. We can now fit our clients’ needs in a way we couldn’t if we tried to be all things to everyone.
Step 2: Define your client
We used traits such as size and resources to define our ideal client. After all, working with a $4M church is different than working with a $750,000 one. Once a church hits the $6M mark, it needs internal accounting staff and a larger board as well as services at a scope we don’t necessarily provide. Plus, we like the idea of growing with our clients. We can effectively accomplish that if they are smaller organizations.
When we receive a referral, we can quickly discover if the new church is a good fit and what types of services and support the organization will need – all based on our experiences with other clients. We have proposal templates and pricing based on church size, the dollar amounts of donations, services and the number of locations. If a prospect is interested in our services, we can deliver a tailor-made proposal that aligns with our onboarding process quickly.
Step 3: Excel at your technology stack
When we clarified our niche, we got much better with our tech stack. We could create precise, scalable processes for our clients aided by technologies like QuickBooks Online, Bill.com and Expensify. When a new client comes on board, we set them up with these apps.
If a prospect resists our technology recommendations, it diminishes the chance we’ll work with that church. For example, consider AP. Churches often have multiple bill approvers (many of whom are volunteers) in multiple locations, making coordinating with paper checks a massive challenge. Plus, nonprofits need robust tracking and the separation of duties to prevent fraud, ensure the proper stewardship of funds and comply with grant guidelines and donor requests. We steer our clients toward adopting Bill.com. They can then handle bill payments online anytime, anywhere. It also streamlines the process on the firm’s end so we aren’t mired in time-consuming administrative tasks.
We prefer to hire tech-savvy accountants who are certified in our tech stack solutions and comfortable with videoconferencing. We also hold training courses for employees every Thursday, which helps us stay on top of the latest technologies.
Step 4: Document and refine processes
It took two years for the firm to evolve from no set processes to documented ones. It was time consuming, but the documented procedures created a foundation for onboarding and allowed us to build electronic workflows and templates. A significant impetus was a goal we set as a firm: Let’s get new clients onboarded in seven days. It united us in purpose.
We have established processes and protocols for every step and day of the onboarding process. Each process has a template with a checklist that is well tested and foolproof. It assigns firm responsibilities, eases transitions and ensures we have what we need in a timely manner.
We also have checklists for new clients that outline everything they need to get to us based on the services they select. A smooth onboarding process also conveys our expertise and professionalism to our clients.
As a result, the onboarding process takes seven days from the moment the church signs our contract.
We start with a welcome letter that introduces the assigned account advisor and outlines everything we need from the client to move forward. The account advisor is the church’s consistent contact and handles the implementation phase. Templates are assigned to different people with each new client and cover everything from selected services to implementation process and timelines. What follows next is checking off the boxes for each template’s list – and most accountants love to check off boxes.
Firm employees are very much involved in how we create these processes, and their efforts make us all better. Together, we continually refine these processes in real time.
With onboarding running smoothly, we are now turning our attention toward what we call “global processes.” If something happens to anyone on our team, we don’t want it to impair our ability to deliver. It’ll probably take us another year to pin these down in the same manner as our onboarding process.
However, our work to date has enabled our own family thrive. Next year, we’re taking the firm and our kids on the road for seven months to meet clients around the country and show our children the United States.
Jessica and Greg Daley are the co-owners of Xcelerate Business Solutions, an accounting firm started by the couple to help pay the upfront costs for the adoption of their children, but ended up becoming a way to support the whole family and allow for healthy-life balance. The firm focuses on helping small businesses and churches invoice,...