When clients come to you needing help to manage their finances, there are a few steps you can follow to streamline the set-up process and make sure you record all relevant data about their business.

This guide will discuss how to set up accounting books for a small business to make the process quick and painless for you and your clients, including:

  • Doing your research
  • Setting expectations
  • Establishing key concepts and principles
  • Identifying responsibilities
  • Setting up a functional and user-friendly system
  • Creating a plan

Doing your research

The first step to onboarding a new client is to do your research and take the time to get to know your client’s business. Delve into their history so you can tailor your set-up process to them specifically. 

Once you’ve gathered some general information about your client, it’s time to share information about you. Explain what services you offer that will help your potential client, including what programs and systems you tend to use. 

If you plan on involving other members of your team, let the client know. Setting expectations beforehand helps make sure that everyone is on the same page and tells your team what they need to deliver and when. 

Setting expectations

Before you can set up your client’s accounting books, you need to know precisely what they expect from your services. A small business owner might not know what distinguishes accounting from bookkeeping and may ask for one service while thinking about another.

To clarify what type of service your client expects, ask them questions like:

  • What system do you use now? 
  • Do you only need help to record your financial activities, or do you need advice about managing your finances, too?
  • What do you like about your current system? What don’t you like?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • How do you accept payments from customers or clients?

Once you have the answers, reassure your clients that you understand their specific problems and provide a roadmap for how your services can help overcome them.

Establishing key concepts and principles

There’s a range of language and terms you use everyday that your client may find confusing and even intimidating. As you know, the finance world is filled with complex jargon that most people may not understand.

To make the accounting process as smooth as possible, take the time to establish common terminology and define key concepts using logic your client will understand.

Listen carefully to gauge your client’s knowledge level so you can judge how technical you can be with them. You don’t want to patronise them by overexplaining, or overwhelm them by moving too fast or getting overly technical. 

Identifying responsibilities

A successful partnership happens when both sides do their part efficiently, so identify your and your client’s responsibilities at the start. You should have already covered what you’ll do for them when setting expectations and outlining your principles. 

However, you also need to make it clear what you’ll need from your client. Mainly what records you need them to keep and how to share them with you. You need to show your client how to use the accounting system you’ve chosen, so they share the financial information in the correct place. 

Setting up a functional and user-friendly system

Providing a top-standard bookkeeping and accounting service requires an efficient accounting system. We’ve listed three key steps that will help you create a functional, practical and user-friendly system:

Choose their accounting method

Decide with your client what type of accounting method they would prefer: cash, accrual, or hybrid. Explain the difference between the methods and outline the pros and cons of each. If your client is new to the business world, they may not know what these accounting methods mean for their company. 

As their accountant, you need to make sure they understand what records you need to keep for each approach. It’s also important that your client understands what information you’ll need from them for each method.

Have them open a business current account

Even if your client is a sole trader, opening a separate business account will make it easier for you and them to keep track of their business finances.

Countingup the unique business current account with built-in accounting software made for freelancers and limited company owners. With instant invoicing, prompts to capture receipts, automatic expense categorisation and a live P&L flow, the two-in-one app makes it simple for business owners to keep organised records everyday. As their accountant, you will have direct access to their financial data via Countingup’s free accounting software

When your client signs up for a Countingup business account, you can connect to the built-in accounting software to manage their finances from your side.

It’s free for accountants and bookkeepers to use Countingup, meaning your clients receive a great value business current account, and you’ll save on accounting software costs. Countingup is full of features allowing you to review and manage client accounts efficiently.

Find out more about how you can sign up in minutes, invite your clients and start working smarter and faster together

Creating a plan

Now that you’ve done everything you need to set up your client’s accounting books, it’s crucial to create a plan for the next 1-3 months. Give your client a checklist of all the tasks you need them to complete, including records to keep and deadlines they need to meet. 

Help your client put together a business plan to help them meet their short-term goals and build towards their long-term ones. Use financial modelling to create worst-case scenarios so you can determine how to minimise the damage and avoid losing important data if they happen.

Make sure to check in with your client regularly to demonstrate your dedication to them. Checking in also allows you to give them a nudge on any documents they may be slow to provide you with. 

Save time on small business clients

Save your practice time on manual admin and help your clients keep organised records with Countingup’s free accounting software, built specifically to help you manage your self-employed and sole trader clients. Our software is MTD-compatible and full of features for accountants to review and manage client accounts efficiently, prepare journals and client taxes accurately with direct access to their real-time organised data. Find out more here.

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