How and when do I set up a waiting list for new clients?

There are only so many hours in the day and as much as you might want to, you don’t have to say yes to everyone, right away. The thought of starting a waiting list can be really daunting but one of the best things you could do for your accounting firm.

Considering a waiting list is exciting and a little scary. You might be feeling a little overwhelmed, struggling to keep up with the workload you currently have. Fed up of working long hours trying to keep everyone happy. Trying to get some time away after a really tough year. Or you might just be getting too many great leads (a great problem to have, but still a problem!)

When is the right time to start a waiting list?

It’s very common, especially in the early stages of an accounting firm, to take on (or feel you must take on) every lead that comes to you. Keeping the business going and making payroll is the priority. But over time the firm grows and changes, and if you’re now working all the hours trying to be all things to all the people it could be time to reassess.

A big part of creating a waiting list comes down to confidence in who you are as a firm, and who you serve. These two questions will help you decide whether you need a waiting list, or if you simply need to say “no” more often….which leads you to the question of your branding, marketing, and prequalifying. Is your marketing bringing you lots of random leads you have to sift through, or are they all SO good you need to take them one at a time?

Even if you’re already getting great leads it might be time to redefine or narrow things down even further. Our blog What do you do to prequalify a lead? is a great read for more help on figuring out who you want to work with and how to qualify leads. But ultimately your goal is to make sure you only get the best leads for your firm.

Breaking the hamster wheel routine is hard. You may need to admit you could be doing a better job of serving the clients you already have. You may need to rethink some existing client relationships or improve internal systems and processes to increase capacity or make changes to your team.

While you work through figuring these things out and how to best serve your clients, a waitlist is a great way to break the cycle you are currently in.

A waiting list can give you the opportunity to pause, take a beat, and reassess a few things like:

  • The kind of clients you’re working with
    • Do you know what clients you want to work with? How could you tighten up the qualifying process so that only these people come to you?
    • Do you have some clients that you need to disengage in order to spend the time and energy on your great clients? How will you decide this?
    • Could it be some of your existing clients are difficult because they actually need more services from you, not less?
  • Do you have the team you need to serve your clients and future clients?
    • Does your team have what they need to do the job efficiently? Do you have a clear training process?
    • Do you need to hire to help manage the existing workload?
    • Are you realistic about the time it will take for a new team member to settle in and be effective?
  • Systems and processes
    • What do you need to put in place to be able to serve your clients better?
    • Do you need to tighten up your onboarding process, so new clients are aware of expectations and know their part?
    • Do you need to explore any new tech or apps to make the management of your firm more efficient? (Remember there is no tech in the world which will solve your efficiency problems: you need to identify the issues first and build simple systems, even manually, before you turn to an app to help. Adding yet another app for the sake of it may just enhance the problems you have.)

Waiting lists help you and the client to decide if you both really want this

Part of building a waiting list is the process of helping your future client to be sure this is what they want, too. It’s okay for them to enquire and be excited and then decide to go elsewhere.

Think about the last thing you signed up for which required you to wait. If you really, really wanted it, you were willing to wait for it, because you knew it would be good. You didn’t want to pick something else or another company which takes anybody at anytime, because we know it’s only amateurs or poorly organised people or companies who can deliver great services instantly, to everyone.

Say you’re getting a kitchen or living room in your house completely renovated. Perhaps even broken down and rebuilt. You’ve finally found a great joiner who is going to collaborate with the electricians, the plumbers, the interior decorators, and anyone else involved in the whole project. If this joiner is so good, and so skilled, why would they be ready and available to start next week? You’d actually expect to have to wait, because anyone who is good is in high demand. And the longer you have to wait, the more serious it becomes. You’ll pay the deposits, set aside the time, do your part to make sure you get this joiner so you get the room you wanted.

If you just needed a few things fixed and it’s no big deal, you’ll take anyone. And if you’re not willing to spend serious money on it, and you just want the cheapest option, you’ll take anyone who’s free. That’s not the sort of clients you want in your accounting firm: so making people wait helps you and your client to decide if this relationship is for real.

So you’ve established you need a waitlist BUT how do you actually set it up?

  1. Make sure you have clear communication throughout the entire waiting list process

Being open and honest with prospects will earn you trust and respect – as long as they’re the kind of clients you want to work with. As we mentioned above, the great leads – the clients you really want – will be more than happy to wait to work with as long as you communicate with them clearly. And those who aren’t happy to wait, would have become those difficult clients who would have left anyway, or who want what they want when they want it.

Within the process, be realistic with timeframes. Underpromise and overdeliver. As soon as you give a date or even a date range, prospects will cling to that. So if you think you’ll be ready in September, tell them October. Then if you’re ready in September, great. If not you’ve given yourself that extra wiggle room to make sure that you’re all set to start in October.

2. Create a waitlist page on your website

You need a webpage to direct future clients to. A place for them to land and enter their contact information. It’s important to keep it simple. We go into more detail in this blog but limit text by including a video. In the video thank them for their interest and outlining the types of clients/niches (if you have them) you work with and manage their expectations. You could also invite them to follow you on social or check out your blog.

A simple contact form will suffice to start the fact finding mission but you may want to consider adding a few more pointed questions to help you figure out if the lead is a good one or not. For example: Why are you looking for an accountant? Might give you some indicators as to what the relationship was like with their previous accountant. Do you use Xero, Quickbooks or Other? Will give you a feel for how they work with tech AND if you specialise in Xero and they use Quickbooks or Sage it also gives you an opportunity to ask follow up questions and see if they’d be willing to switch to Xero. (Remember to educate them on benefits of switching so that they know that this isn’t just a convenience thing for you).

Hopefully your website messaging and video (not only on the waiting list page, but throughout all your marketing) helps the prospect to qualify themselves in or out. But it’s important to catch those who might not be a good fit, even at the waiting list stage.

Put yourself in their shoes. If they’re excited to work with you and are happy to wait BUT they are a hospitality business or are a sole trader and you only work with construction businesses or limited companies….their excitement and willingness will quickly turn to frustration if they’ve waited patiently for a few months to THEN be told you don’t work with their kind of business.

When you receive a notification of a new sign up to the waitlist take a little time to review and make sure they’re a good fit. If they’re not, tell them. They’ll respect you for your honesty and not wasting their time.

Again, review all your marketing to be very clear what kind of businesses and people you do (and don’t) work with. Ideally some people will qualify themselves right out before they even get to the waiting list.

3. Continue to market to your waitlist

Although they have signed on to your waitlist, they’re not a client yet! It’s important those on your waitlist feel like you haven’t forgotten about them. Maintain that level of excitement and prevent them from getting fed up and looking elsewhere.

You need to continue to market to your waitlist so that they are reassured your accounting firm is the one best suited to help: and to educate them as they wait – about who your firm is, about how things will go once they start, and to get the most out of the relationship.

If you don’t already use an email marketing tool, get signed up to make the management of your waitlist as easy as possible. At PF we use Keap (formally Infusion Soft) for our email marketing campaigns. It doesn’t really matter what system you use – just pick one you’ll actually use and which does the basics, to start. (Remember, tech itself is not going to solve the problem or send great emails for you and win you clients. It’s just a tool.) A simpler, lower cost option many of our clients use is Mailchimp.

Integrating Mailchimp to your waiting list page not only helps capture contact information, but also makes it easy to stay in contact with your waitlist until you’re ready to start taking on new clients. When they submit their information they would automatically be added to your wait list in Mailchimp, triggering a sequence of emails from when they sign up.

While there’s a little work to get it set up, having an automated email sequence is a great way to make sure that your waitlist is taken care of without too much attention being taken away from what you need to do to actually start onboarding clients again.

Mailchimp is great for tagging or segmenting your contacts or email subscribers into lists. You might have a list for existing clients, a list for tax return clients or limited companies and of course a waitlist list. This helps to make sure that relevant emails only go to the people that the content would be useful to. When you take on new client’s from the waiting list make sure you remember to change their contact tag in mailchimp so that they then start to get your client related emails.

When building an email sequence for our clients, we recommend a weekly – fortnightly email, depending on how long you expect them to have to wait. In your email sequence you might want to include things like:

  • Thank you, we’re excited to work with you
  • How we work – direct them to a webpage or blog
  • Meet the team – introduce the team (include pictures so they know who they’ll be dealing with)
  • Follow us on social media
  • Free webinar or events schedule
  • Join our Facebook group
  • Check out our blog
  • Check out YouTube

For technical help with this check out Mailchimp’s resources on their website. They have some great guides and tutorials to help with set up and automation.

4. Give them things to do while they wait

A great way to keep your waitlist engaged is to give them things right now. Things to make them feel like progress is being made and that they are preparing to work with you. You can read more detail in this blog.

Giving your waitlist “homework” can be another great qualifier – if they are engaged and follow what you ask them to do and are asking questions, they are clearly invested in the relationship and are happy to follow your processes and the way you work. It also gives them an idea of what it will be like to work with you and what to expect from the relationship.

So what to give them? Look at your onboarding process. Is there some pre-work for onboarding your waitlist could be doing? Walk them through the onboarding process so they know what to expect. Are there blogs you need them to read to outline expectations?

Are they using desktop software and you need them to watch some training videos to prepare them for cloud accounting? Do you need them to sign up for Xero or Dext? Have some content ready that explains how it’s going to make life much easier.

Within this automated waitlist email sequence, make sure you keep a few human touches in there. You want this to be a well oiled machine with a human on top. Sending occasional personalised emails and videos after a few weeks or month is a great way to show that you care and are invested in the future relationship. One of our clients sends a personal, 3-5 minute welcome video to every single new client as soon as they join. You could do this for those on the waiting list, too.

By keeping several touch points with your waitlist, by the time you are ready they won’t even remember how long they’ve been waiting.

5. Have a referral list at the ready

You hope that every great lead that reaches out will be happy to wait. However, some might want to get started or need help right away. And that’s ok. Not everyone will be for you.

One of the things you can create is a list of other great accountants for the people who don’t want to wait.

This might be a difficult thing to come to terms with. Sending people away seems counter intuitive. BUT remember your reasons for starting your waitlist. You want to make sure you can take people on and serve them well. In your current form, if you had taken them on, would you have been able to serve them to the best of your ability? If they really want to work with you and your firm they will wait and if not that’s ok too. Just means that when the next great lead comes along, you’re ready.

This is also a great thing to have in place for those clients you’d never be placed to serve – the too-small or too-big or not-the-right-industry clients. Far better to say “we don’t help businesses of your kind for these reasons, but here are some accountants who do, and we know they’re good people and do good work”. It builds trust, and they’ll be far more likely to think well of you, come back to you when they are a fit, and even send other businesses your way. If someone comes to you and isn’t a fit, you still want to help them, even if it’s sending them to a simple list of a few accountants you trust.

6. Decide how many new clients you’re comfortable taking on each month

When you’re ready to start taking on clients again don’t rush and take everyone on at once. After a break in taking on any new clients it can be very tempting but take it slow.

It may be you take on one new client for the first few months then build up to two a month to test the new processes or systems or team members you’ve taken on. Continue to give yourself that room and flexibility to adapt things that might have seemed great in theory but really don’t work practically.

You may find after you start a waiting list that you are in such high demand that you always have a waiting list. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? A list of ideal prospects all desperate to work with you. But remember: you don’t have to say yes to everyone.

Implementing a waiting list is work but remember it is a good thing and if done properly, can transform your business. Following these steps will make the process simpler and give you the space and time to redefine who you want to work with, get the right systems and processes, get the right people on your team and equip them with the tools to serve your clients in the best way possible.

You can also use a waitlist to build anticipation and raise awareness of an upcoming product or service you might be offering. For example our MD Karen is in the midst of writing a book to support an Accountant Marketer “Do It Yourself” training course. You can experience our waiting list process for that by signing up here.


Listen to Elaine sharing some of the key points from this article, including HOW to build that waiting list!