There’s nothing quite like that feeling of landing the perfect new client. Not only is it great to watch your accounting practice grow, but there’s something about the chance to get a fresh start, even on such a small scale.
Obviously you want to put your best foot forward and get the relationship with your client started out right. With that in mind, here are three things accountants and tax professionals should be doing with every new client.
Conduct an intake interview
There is a temptation, especially when a tax deadline is looming, to simply accept a new client sight unseen. Someone calls your office and says, “Hey, I need someone to help me with my taxes.” You say, “I can do that. Bring all the necessary documents in anytime this week and we’ll get started on your return.” You hang up the phone and get right back to what you were doing. You’re busy, right? You don’t have the time for a proper intake interview.
Of course, the problem is that without an intake interview, there’s no way to know if this new client is a good match for you and your practice. Instead, take the time—even if it’s just 15 or 20 minutes — to have a conversation with your client. At a minimum, you should get a feel for their financial situation and what they expect from you. In addition, you should give them an idea of what you expect from them—how you want documents and information delivered, the kind of response time you expect, and anything else you need to help your practice run like you want it to.
Don’t be afraid of losing potential clients at this stage. Though you may be tempted to take any business that comes your way, it’s actually good for your business to weed out a few clients in the intake interview. Besides, you’ll find that most people are happy to help make your job a little easier if you just take the time to give them a few instructions.
Send out an engagement letter
You should really be using engagement letters with all your clients, but it’s especially important with new clients. With existing clients you usually develop familiarity and a good working relationship over time. That familiarity can sometimes let you get away with not formalizing an engagement with an engagement letter.
With new clients, you have none of that.
Some accountants and tax professionals worry that using an engagement letter for every engagement is cumbersome or too formal (or both). However, if you have good engagement letter boilerplate and a fast way to get the letter sent and signed, it doesn’t have to be a long, painful process. And, by “keeping it informal,” you’re really just keeping both you and your client guessing.
Ask how they found you
This can be part of your intake interview, but it’s important enough that it deserves its own section.
When you get a new client, you should always find out how they found your practice and why they decided to go with you instead of any of the other local accountants. And you should write the answer down.
You shouldn’t give any single response too much weight, but over time you’ll start to notice trends in the answers you receive—trends that will help you understand how to better market your services. Maybe you’ll find that most of your business comes from referrals and that a few people are doing most of the referring. Maybe you assume that all of your business comes from referrals and you’ll be surprised at how many clients found you through Facebook. Or maybe you’ll find that most of your clients just happened across you in the phonebook and you’ll realize that you need to take more control of your marketing.
Whatever the answers are, they will give you valuable information that you can use to grow your business and build your reputation. It’s a simple question. Don’t forget to ask it.