6 questions to ask clients before offering payroll

Payroll services 2020 chart

While most accountants might be interested in offering payroll services, many may not be sure where to begin and are even hesitant to approach their clients about the topic. The good news is that you don’t need to be. A recent survey shows that small businesses are not just open to their accountants handling payroll for them, but 38 percent expect it. In fact, small businesses cite their accountant as the advisor they trust the most, so they’re looking for your advice and recommendations.

Now you just need to start the conversation. Here are some initial questions to ask your small business clients if you want to open the door to offering payroll services.

How are you handling payroll right now?
A great way to start the payroll services conversation is simply to get a sense of what your clients are currently doing and what they might want to change. It puts no pressure on your clients and opens the door for them to tell you what pain points they might be experiencing in how they’re currently running payroll. You’ll get a sense of what solutions (if any) they’re currently using and where there might be room for better processes — or fewer mistakes.

Some may want a little help, while others may be eager to have you entirely take over the role. This opening question might be the only one you need to ask to land a new payroll client.
How much time do you spend on payroll each month?
Chances are, most of your clients are spending far more time on payroll than they should. On average, OnPay found that small businesses spend 18 hours a month on payroll, which is also the same amount of time they spend on HR tasks. That means that your clients are spending nearly a workweek every month on these back-office tasks — taking away from the time they could be using for things like marketing and customer service. If you ask them if they think this is a good use of their time, they’ll likely say no.

This question also opens up a conversation about efficiency and management. Owners and high-level employees should be focusing their time on the things that build their business, and you handling their payroll will allow them to do just that. They get that 18 hours back and, with a payroll service provider, your time investment to manage payroll could only be roughly three hours per month.
Have there been HR or payroll errors, and has your business been fined because of these errors?
A lot of factors go into properly handling payroll and it can be confusing for small-business owners trying to handle it on their own. Nothing is scarier for business owners than receiving an IRS letter in the mail (and 28 percent of them have been audited or received a notice from the IRS). Common mistakes with payroll include improperly classifying employees, missing payroll deposits or tax filings, or not keeping with changes in the laws.

While each individual fine for a given error may seem small in isolation, when you multiply them across the number of employees in a company and the number of paychecks issued, they can quickly add up. The answers to this question also create a perfect opportunity to demonstrate your payroll expertise and any benefits that your other clients have experienced.
Is it difficult to get payroll data into your general ledger or accounting software?
General bookkeeping and end-of-month reconciliation can be time-consuming tasks for any business owner. Accurate financial records are crucial to allowing your clients to fully understand their businesses and make the best, most informed decisions. By handling payroll, you’re offering your clients an essential service that will ensure that their books are in order — and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they’re meeting all their IRS requirements. This question also opens the door to providing advice on choosing user-friendly accounting technologies that will make their lives easier.
How much are you spending on payroll services?
Many of your clients may think they know how much they’re spending on payroll each month, but do they really know? Some payroll service providers tack on a bunch of hidden fees or surprises in their billing:
  • Charges for inactive employees
  • Fees for integrating with HR, time-tracking, or other software
  • Monthly vs. per-payroll billing
  • Fees for filing W-2s and 1099s
  • Fees for employees in multiple states
  • Add-ons for HR features
  • Teaser rates that skyrocket after the first year

Your clients may be spending far more on payroll services than they realize, and you’re in a prime position to help them understand those costs and how to contain them.


Are you confident you’re doing payroll correctly?
Even if your clients are managing to avoid most of the pain points outlined above, they may still welcome your assistance for other reasons. According to a recent survey, when small business owners handle their own payroll, only 43 percent are confident they’re doing a good job of paying their employees on time, while just 25 percent are confident they’re accurately deducting and submitting payroll taxes. If payroll is keeping your client up at night, expert help can go a long way in easing their mind and making sure they feel confident their payroll is right.

Payroll isn’t your clients’ primary focus — nor should it be. They could be better using their time to grow their business. They’re likely to appreciate the value of using an expert to perform tasks that require expertise, and payroll is one of those tasks. Simply starting the conversation is the best way to open the door to offering your clients this critical service and becoming their most trusted advisor.