Advice on ensuring you have a successful first meeting, with some real-life tips from ICB Member, Chloe Adams.

Be friendly and presentable

The most important thing you can do in your meeting is be friendly and passionate about your work.   Remember names and personal details about the people that you meet and show an interest in them.

"Always be yourself; wear something smart but comfortable as smaller businesses usually have their bookkeepers perching on a spare bit of desk!" 


"I would always try to meet a client for the first time at their place of work while the business is open. That way you can get a feel of how the business works and know that it's a real company."

Make sure you know who you are meeting, and what their position is within the company.  Confirm the meeting in writing and send an agenda the day before to remind them.  Encourage their involvement by asking them if there’s anything they’d like to add to the agenda.

"I always email to confirm the meeting, it means that if they change their mind at the last minute, or turn up late, you can still charge them for the second meeting."

Show interest in the business

It’s important to understand the client’s needs and show that you appreciate how important their business is to them. As an ICB Practice Licence holder you’re likely to work with a lot of owner-managed businesses, but this applies no matter how big the business.

"I like to do a half hour free meeting to discuss what the client wants and how the bookkeeping is going to be conducted. It’s a good time to find out if they want you to collect documents and take them away, or if they want you to conduct your work at their place of business."

It’s worth finding out what the business likes about their current provider/accountant and what issues they are looking to solve by outsourcing their bookkeeping. Use the opportunity to find out as much as you can about their internal record-keeping systems – this could be a good moment to explain how you can also work on-site to help them get their systems set up in a way that will save them (and you) time. 

"Every client has best intentions of getting you all the receipts and invoices at first, then they expect you to be their admin assistant and PA all rolled into one!

"Try to keep focused on your work in hand, clients want to ask a million questions when they first meet you about tax laws or new VAT schemes. Be honest, tell them you are a bookkeeper and are happy to help answer their questions but you, or they, should consult an accountant for anything beyond your qualifications and experience!"

Make the sale

Most ICB Practices start out charging an hourly rate and then move to a set fee once they understand the client’s business a little more.  Be clear with the client that you can only estimate how long the work will take you at first and suggest that you review the charges later down the line.

Do not feel pressurised to reduce your fees; this will be easier if you plan ahead and always charge a set hourly rate.  You have the chance to offer discounts based on volume later down the line.  Only make concessions with clients to get what you want (e.g. upfront payment) not the other way around.

"Of course the hardest thing to know when you first start out is how long is something going to take you? But the more work you do, the quicker you will get at it! Estimate either a whole set of accounts for the year or charge the customer an hourly rate." 

Confirm understanding each time you reach a key point, and make detailed notes as you go along.

At the end of your meeting, summarise the key points and make sure you leave the client feeling like they are getting what they want.  If they have to seek approval higher up the chain of command, make sure you arm them with a strong argument so they can convince their boss.

At the end of your meeting shake hands and follow up the meeting s soon as possible with your Letter of Engagement.

A final word

"I think there is a big leap between studying bookkeeping and taking on your first client! However there doesn't have to be! Make sure you are very organised, and once you have a procedure in place for conducting your bookkeeping - stick to it.  You will be well on your way to a profitable bookkeeping business!

"Just remember, it doesn't matter how silly a question seems, the ICB technical support team are always there to help and support you.  HMRC can be your friend and are always happy to direct you to the legislation you need!"


Template engagement letter.