How to confidently hand over your client portfolio to team members

At some point, you know you will need your team to step up and lead your firm’s client relationships. In an ideal world, we would have a very experienced team of people beneath us, and this process would happen seamlessly and smoothly. But the reality is often:

  • You don’t have time to quickly handover clients to team members
  • Clients don’t want to work with your more junior team members
  • Your team is often not experienced enough or credible enough to take over the client from you fully.
  • The people in your team who you would like to step up have not got the desire to do more than they are doing now.
  • The handover will be a long-term gradual process that takes years rather than months.

This article looks at what steps you need to take to get your team to run and own a client portfolio, starting with how to hand over your client portfolio to team members.


Why clients often resist a handover

a man dismissing the cameraYou’ve probably said it yourself. Life would be much easier if you didn’t have clients. But the fact of the matter remains that your clients - whom you now want someone else in the firm to manage - chose your firm because of the relationship they built with you. Is it any wonder they will likely resist being handed over to a more junior and inexperienced team member?

It’s not just the pre-existing relationship that has been built. Your clients are probably concerned about your team members:

Technical expertise: Do they have the technical knowledge AND the commercial acumen to know how and when to apply it? Will they need to regularly ‘take advice’ from someone more senior in the firm?

Industry expertise: Do they understand the landscape in which the business operates? For example, will they understand the importance the owner’s time plays in a growing service business?

Commercial expertise: Can they give good pragmatic advice on running a business? Or will they seem rather ‘wet behind the ears’ and want to sit on the fence when it comes to helping the client make a decision?

Client management expertise: Do they understand the stresses and strains a business owner is under? Can they adjust their style to help their clients achieve their goals? Or will they just become annoying nags?

Authority and gravitas: Do they have the authority within your firm to do what you need them to do? Or will they need to get their advice rubber-stamped by others who are more experienced? Will I respect their authority and credibility, particularly with technical matters?

Relationship: Will I like them and enjoy working with them going forward?

As you can see, there are a lot of factors which could prevent you from handing over the client to a team member. However, it is possible to change this! (Read: How to get your clients to go to a team member first (not you!)).


How are you handicapping your team from taking over on your clients?

It’s not just the clients who could stop you from handing over members of your client portfolio. It could be your actions too. For example, if you are guilty of any of these, then you are part of the problem:

  • Talking about your team member as the ‘junior’ rather than a client manager or mentioning their relative inexperience.
  • Jumping in to answer the clients’ queries rather than delegating them out to the team.
  • Not showing confidence in your team member’s expertise.
  • Not bringing your team members with you to client meetings so they can strengthen their client management skills.
  • A reluctance to delegate anything to team members apart from the really trivial stuff.
  • Acting as if team members will pick up client management/handling skills by osmosis.
  • Not bringing the likely client manager into the sales meetings with prospects.

If any of these sound familiar, you´re most likely the bottleneck in this handover process. Here´s how to overcome this so you can confidently hand over your client portfolio to team members:


scrabble tiles saying mend the roof before it rains to represent how to hand over your client portfolio to team membersStep 1: Understand your reasons for handing over clients to team members

It can be hard to ‘let go’ of your client portfolio, especially since you have built your accounting firm up from nothing to what it is today. Your clients may feel like your prized possession or a stamp of achievement; a symbol of all the sweat and tears that got you here. Unless you understand why you want your team to manage the client base, it is unlikely to happen. If you don’t understand your why, then at the first hurdle or obstacle in the handover process, you are likely to revert to how you have always done things.


Step 2: Audit what you have got both from a client and a team perspective

The last thing you will do is put a team member in a position where they are likely to fail. So, it is important to analyse your clients’ requirements AND your team members’ expertise.

When it comes to your team members, rate them on these factors:

Technical expertise: What is their current level of technical expertise? At what point will they need to ‘take advice’ from someone more senior in the firm?

Industry expertise: What sectors or types of companies or individuals do they have credibility in? Or where would it make sense for them to gain this credibility?

Commercial expertise: Can they give good pragmatic advice on running a business? Or will they just seem rather ‘wet behind the ears’ and want to sit on the fence when it comes to helping the client make a decision?

Client management expertise: Do they understand the stresses and strains a business owner is under? Can they adjust their style to help their clients achieve their goals? Can they hold a conversation about billing and fees? Are they able to deal with difficult conversations with clients?

Authority and gravitas: Do they come across to clients as confident and have the necessary gravitas to give clients confidence in their ability to handle their affairs?

When you know where your team members are capable and where they need development you can put in place individual and team development plans to help you hand over more of your work to others.

Once you have analysed your team members’ capability, it is now time to look at your clients. For example:

  • Who are the easy and simple clients who are safe enough for a team member to handle?
  • Which clients have complex requirements? Either from a technical or commercial point of view, or they can be a tricky client from an interpersonal perspective?
  • What parts of a client’s work could you start to delegate to team members?

While this step takes time, don´t rush it. This analysis will be key to your success when you´re ready to hand over your client portfolio to team members.


sand timer to represent diary managementStep 3: Analyse what you are spending time on

We often think handing over a client portfolio to a team member is a binary affair. I.e. they take over all of the client or none of the client. Whereas, in practice, it doesn’t need to be all or nothing. There may still be responsibilities, such as signing off year-end accounts, that you will never be comfortable handing over to someone else. And as it’s your firm, you choose what you will and won’t do.

Take a look at your diary for about 3-6 months.

  • What are you spending your time on?
  • What client work can only you do as owner of the firm?
  • With some team development, what client work could be handed over?
  • What clients could your team members start to play a more prominent role?


Step 4: Decide on what you will do

After you´ve looked at your clients’ requirements, where you are spending your time, and the capability of your team, you either have to one, some or all of these actions:

  1. Invest in development and training for your team.
  2. Hire a more experienced team member.
  3. Decide what client stuff you can delegate to a team member.
  4. Ditch or sell on clients who are not a good fit for the firm going forward.
  5. Start the process of handing over your client portfolio to your team.

If you´re going to hand over your client portfolio to team members successfully, don´t miss this article: The ultimate 3-step guide to handing over your client portfolio.


a woman with a megaphone to represent your voice on linkedin for accountantsStep 5: Promote the expertise of your team

Potentially, up until now, it has all been about your expertise and your personal brand. After all, you probably started your firm from scratch. Whilst promoting your expertise may make your ego feel good, this is, once you get to a certain size, going to stifle your growth.

Here are simple ways you can promote the expertise of your team:

  • Talk to clients about how your team member is ‘an expert in…’ or ‘really good with…’
  • Ask your clients to ‘trust your team member’.
  • Write bios for team members that are put on the firm’s websites, brochures, and proposals and highlight their relevant credibility and expertise.
  • In meetings with clients, ask for your team members' opinions or advice rather than stating your own.
  • Get your team members to present at your firm’s webinars and events.
  • Showcase your team members on social media, e.g., by sharing testimonials about them or posts that demonstrate their credibility and expertise. For example, one of our members regularly talks about how his farming expert also runs a small farm.
  • Be present for the start of a client meeting and then hand over the running of the meeting to your team member. After you have handed over the running of the meeting, physically leave the meeting room.


Step 6: Make it hard to work with you personally

Until now, it has been assumed that your firm’s clients will work directly with you. After all, it was you whom they corresponded with and met with during the sales process, and it is you who leads their client meetings. Stating the obvious, that needs to change. Here are some tips to help change this:

  • Give new leads to a team member to handle.
  • Have team members in the sales meetings with you.
  • Explain to new clients that a team member will be their main point of contact going forward.
  • Charge a premium for clients who will only work with you.
  • When clients want a meeting, explain how much quicker that meeting will be if they are happy to work with a member of your team.
  • Explain how your availability is low and they will get a more responsive service if they choose to work with a team member.
  • Delegate client queries or emails that come to you immediately to the team member leading (or who you plan will be leading) the client account.


Necessary housekeeping

a wall full of sticky notes to represent improving your workflow with accounting practice management softwareSo far, this article has only considered the dynamics of when you hand over your client portfolio to team members. For this to happen smoothly and the client experience to remain strong, these also need to be happening in the background:

  1. All processes are documented, ideally within a workflow system, so it’s easy to see the state of the clients’ jobs.
  2. Clients’ notes are held in a CRM or client file that the client team can access.
  3. Clarity about who is doing what for the client pre-, during and post-handover.
  4. When you want to be updated on the client’s affairs or included in the conversation with a client.

When you are handing over a client, it is good to let the person taking over know these things:

  • The clients’ short-, medium-, and long-term goals and objectives.
  • What the firm is contracted to do for the client, and the current state of the client’s workload.
  • Opportunities to increase the amount of services the client takes from the firm.
  • How the client likes to be contacted.
  • Key facts about the clients’ business, e.g. details of shareholders, directors, and key employees.
  • Names and contact details of people within the client´s team that the person will be dealing with.
  • What the client likes doing outside of work. For example, do they have children or important hobbies?
  • Any particular quirks of the client which, if not known, could annoy the client, e.g. “Don’t start an email with I hope you are well.”


Ensure a smooth hand over

While client resistance can be a pain, it shouldn´t stop you from handing over your client portfolio to team members. In fact, it´s most likely you being your own bottleneck that´s making this process more difficult when it needs to be. If you follow the steps above and the other pieces of advice that we have in related articles, you can ensure a smooth hand over process. One that drives growth instead of limiting it.

Ready to kick-start the growth of your firm?