How to streamline your client onboarding experience


Jonathan Bareham

Director and Co-founder, Raedan

Jonathan Bareham, Director and Co-founder of Raedan, caught up with Alice Best from Practice Ignition at the Accountex Virtual Summit in May to discuss Raedan’s onboarding process. They have shared this fascinating interview with the Digital Accountancy Magazine as there was some really useful advice for the digital accountancy firm of today.

Alice: Jonathan can you tell me about Raedan’s story and how you’ve got to where you are today.

Jonathan: Yes, of course. We set up Raedan just under 10 years ago. My background is computing as much as it is accounting so, when we started Raedan, technology was really important. This was how we set up and how we selfishly made life easier for ourselves as bookkeepers and accountants, as well as how do we improve the experience of the clients and the businesses we work with by using technology?

Obviously, things have changed a huge amount in 10 years. The one thing that's been consistent for us is Xero, and from day one we've been Xero partners. Obviously, as new apps and things have arisen like Practice Ignition, we've been able to bring those in as well and keep technology at the core of everything we do.

Alice: I guess when you first started 10 years ago, Practice Ignition hadn’t actually been founded then. It would be great to hear what your onboarding process looked like prior to introducing Practice Ignition and some of those other tools that weren’t in existence then?

Jonathan: It looked terrible! We used a badly thrown together Word template which was our proposal system and then a combination of Word documents that we had to piece together each time we wanted to do an engagement letter. There was no system, there was no process, it was ad hoc. We would forget to do things all the time and things would be messed up and we’d have to go back to clients six months later and say, “Oh, sorry, we should have done this at the start, but we've missed it. Can we get it done now?”.

When we first saw Practice Ignition six years ago for me it was the proposal that was important. The thing that really blew my mind and made me desperate to use it though was the way in which it pulls together engagement letters based on the services you're picking for those clients. Six years ago, that was a very, very new exciting thing that we hadn't seen anywhere else. It blew our minds and I couldn't wait to start using that functionality because I could just see straightaway it was going to save us a huge amount of time, ensure we didn't make mistakes and ensure those engagement letters, which are so important, were right.

Alice: Let us fast forward to 2020 and how your current onboarding process looks like today:

It is clear the integrations are key to the whole process. Having tools that are set within an overall ecosystem of integration clearly works for you and, in my mind, it’s definitely the best way forward when building any process - whether that’s your onboarding process or internal workflows within the firm.

Jonathan: Actually looking at this, it seems like there's lots of different apps and things - and maybe that's a bit overwhelming. I think I'd say two things. One is to start with the key apps. So, for us we already had Xero, Practice Ignition came in, and then we pulled in other bits of technology over time.

The other thing for us is we've always had this idea about best of breed. So, by looking at the individual aspects of our onboarding process and the things that were important to us and to our clients, we pulled in all these different pieces that we felt, individually, could do that component the best.

"One is to start with the key apps. So, for us we already had Xero, Practice Ignition came in, and then we pulled in other bits of technology over time."

Secondly, it's all about client experience and I think when you get both of those right, the biggest thing that comes out of it is confidence - confidence for us and the team. We know things are being done and they’re going out and we’re getting notifications that things have been done. So, we can be confident that there’s a process and a system in place that means all the important stuff gets ticked off.

But then, it’s confidence for clients because at these initial stages, we start telling them, “We want to do this and we want to have that” and it means that when we actually deliver on them the clients have confidence in those early days that these things are being done.

And so, even in this pre-sale process, we do a lot of things where we try and prequalify our clients. But the basic process is we try and funnel all leads that come through our website to trigger a notification that can go through to all of the teams so that people know that we've got new business and leads coming in. It also means that if one person isn’t in, someone else can pick up that lead and we're not leaving those prospects waiting. That's based on Gravity Forms that sits on our website.

Gravity Forms is an integration with WordPress similar to other form programs. They are very easy to set up and integrate and Gravity has a great ability to link to other things. So, Gravity is actually the thing that drives the Slack integration, it drives Mail Chimp, it can also do stuff for us with Dropbox. We don't use it so much in onboarding, but we use Gravity Forms elsewhere and we have a Dropbox integration so that people can upload files as they fill in those forms.

Mail Chimp then does some initial stuff so that clients and prospects hear back from us straight away. One of those things is to try and get people to book a call with us so we can have those initial discussions. We use Calendly and Zoom which integrates really nicely for us and help us set that call up and make sure those things happen and don't get missed. In addition, the client or prospect get that immediate feedback from us.

Alice: In a world where we’re getting younger entrepreneurs building businesses, I think speed, in terms of being able to address leads, is definitely important.

The client meeting is still the really key part of understanding if you want to work with that client and explaining exactly what you can do for them. Talk me through actually formalizing that process.

Jonathan: One point to note is that, although the process is automated, we do have a lot of human contact as well. One of the key things at this point is really getting to know your client and understanding what they need then creating a

proposal in Practice Ignition and making sure the right services are in place. When the proposal is accepted, we have a number of things that kick off from that.

It has been really beneficial that we have the process automated. For example, we had sent a proposal to a potential client just before we went off to Xerocon for two days. On the first morning, my Apple Watch went off and it was a Slack notification indicating the prospect had accepted the proposal. So now I know that's come in and I am confident that, even though most of the team are at the conference, these automated tasks are kicking off and making sure that that ball keeps rolling.

One thing that happens with our onboarding process is that Practical Ignition is linked to Karbon which we use for our communication and workflow management. It pushes the specific workflows for the tasks that have been agreed in Practice Ignition into Karbon. This is great because it gets that ball rolling straight away - the jobs are there, they're deployed, and we can make sure they go to the right people.

Using Karbon also helps prevent scope creep because anyone in the team who is doing a piece of work should have that piece of work tagged to a job or a workflow in Karbon. So, if there isn't a workflow in Karbon then it was not in their service agreement. This is an immediate red flag to say are we are doing something we’re not being paid for and we haven't agreed to do? Is this outside of the engagement and the scope?

The automation helps us ensure we are confident that we are getting paid for everything we do. We've also got the link to Xero so we know that our invoices are being generated on that day and they’re being sent out thanks to the Practice Ignition and Xero integration.

We use GoCardless for payments. So, going back to the example at Xerocon, one of the next things that comes through is effectively that the client has completed the onboarding process. So, they’ve filled in this form and given us some of that early information we need. Then we get another notice that they’ve signed up to GoCardless and this is all driving through Slack. It’s a lovely thing to be able to sit there at a conference, or wherever you are, knowing that these things are going on and clients are engaging with them. Plus this is all still turning and working whilst we’re doing whatever we need to do.

Alice: I love the fact that it is automated, but it still seems very much like the human interaction. So, once you have gone through the initial onboarding and set up, that brings you to the first six months with the client. I pulled this diagram off your website, which outlines to the client exactly what the next stages look like. Can you talk me through why you do this and how it's helped.

"One point to note is that, although the process is automated, we do have a lot of human contact as well. One of the key things at this point is really getting to know your client and understanding what they need"

Jonathan: For us, this was that marketing piece and this idea of client experience. One of the drivers for us was to compare this to when I go out and buy something from Apple - you get that perfect white box and then everything about it is just perfect as you open it up. For me, this is our drive where our goal is that we want the client to look at us the way they look at their iPad when it arrives.

We worked with the marketing company the Profitable Firm to ensure that the messages we send to clients keep them engaged with us. Our process ensures that they’re hearing from us and they're getting messages to make sure they understand what there is that we can do for them.

To be honest, the way this is mapped out isn't precise and we're working on an update. We just wanted the clients to know that when they start up, initially the image might be they don't see much stuff going on because we're doing this “boring stuff” in the background, contacting HMRC, all of those kinds of things. We then start rolling out some things like Xero tips, Receipt Bank tips, the other apps we use. It’s just rolling out the information gradually to clients, not bombarding them but letting them know we're always there. At the end of month six, we re-check back to the start to see how their Xero looks and just ask them how it is going, how we are doing and if everything is going as they expected.

Alice: And I guess that's also really in line with the way that you use Mail Chimp to make sure that you stay abreast of all their issues and identify areas where you can help which may be different to what was originally agreed. Not only do they see you developing your tech stack on an ongoing basis, but also that you see client onboarding as an ongoing process too.

Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. The idea of each of these steps is to prompt communication with our clients. We do daily bookkeeping so we feel like we speak to a lot of our clients all the time anyway, but it might not necessarily be to the business owner, it might be someone else. So, we want these messages to make sure that we’re remaining engaged whatever happens.

Alice: Have you been able to achieve an integration between Karbon and Xero?”.

Jonathan: No we haven’t, and we did look at it at the start. And from our point of view, we decided that actually the value wasn't significant. We didn't feel that there was a need and if there was anything, we found other ways, I guess. For us, Karbon and the integration with PI is so valuable that the Xero one isn’t so important.

Alice: Which apps are more useful for small practices?

Jonathan: When we started, we had Xero, Practice Ignition and Receipt Bank, and GoCardless followed very shortly after. That was our core and has remained our core alongside Google and Gmail and GDocs.

Everything else for us is seeing how we can bring things in, one at a time, to integrate, to make things better, to improve. We don’t try to set out and achieve perfection on day one. I don't think we're at perfection, I think we've got a long way to go still. You need to put a few things in, break it, fix it, break it, fix it, and keep going. So, whatever you're using now, just try and add one or two things at a time. Practice Ignition was massive, Receipt Bank and GoCardless - those first three - in terms of time saving and efficiency, improving our at that time very small practice, made the biggest difference for us.

Alice: I just want to say a massive, massive thank you to Jonathan. We really appreciate you spending time to talk to all of us today about your onboarding process.

Jonathan: No problem. Thanks for having me along.

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