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Does your Client Onboarding Process Need an Upgrade?

Does your Client Onboarding Process need an Upgrade?

As a business owner, it’s exciting when you land new clients and if you really love what you do, you might just want to get going on the new project, but...

Not so fast!

There are a few key steps you want to consider before diving into the project with both feet!

I'm talking about your client onboarding process. 

Your client onboarding process sets the tone for your client working relationship, so it's important you spend time thinking about what you want to achieve through your initial discussions with clients, and what your client needs to know about working with you. 

Business owners who take the time to implement this process will see higher retention rates, positive feedback, and ultimately, more revenue in their business. 

What is a Client Onboarding Process?

A client onboarding process is a series of steps that integrates your new client into your business and sets the tone for a positive, trusting, and productive working relationship. This process provides your client with information regarding your interactions, systems, boundaries, and instructions for getting set up with certain systems and softwares in your business. 

A client onboarding process also helps them learn more about the support they’ll be getting from you, what that looks like, and what their role in the relationship will be. A solid onboarding process will help your new client get the most value out of the service they purchased and establish a strong foundation and mutual understanding to grow the working relationship from.

Why Is a Good Client Onboarding Process Important?

A good onboarding process will not only help you save time by hopefully weeding out bad clients from the start, but the more you systematize your processes, the more efficient you can be! A good client onboarding process (and contract!) will also answer a lot of the questions about your processes that your client might not have even known to ask. It gets everyone on the same page from the start. In the long run, this process is going to save you time, energy, and money - important resources to your business!

9 Steps to Consider Including in Your Client Onboarding Process

When creating your onboarding clients process, there are a few key steps you may want to consider implementing. While these might not all be applicable (except a great contract, of course!) to your business, they are good to at least consider. 

1. Ask Good Questions on Your Discovery Call

A good client onboarding process begins before you even sign the client. Having a system in place to help you ensure you are landing the right type of clients for your business is key. That starts with asking good questions on your discovery call to help you weed out the bad clients that aren’t a good fit for you. 

On your discovery call, a great questions to ask is, “Have you hired for this project before?” 

If their answer is yes, I’d recommend following up with questions about why that contractor did not complete the project, or why they are otherwise hiring for it again. Their answers will likely give you insight into what they’re like to work with, what their expectations are, and what they’re looking for in the working relationship. If they’ve hired for this project many times and have a laundry list of contractors that they’ve hired (and fired!), this could be a major red flag!

If their answer is yes, and you still feel like would be a great fit, their answer to this question can also give you information and insight as to how you can best serve them and go above and beyond their expectations for the project, while being compensated appropriately for the value you’re providing. 

You should also ask questions on your discovery call about their expectations. If they cannot articulate their goals and expectations clearly, or they are totally unrealistic, this may be a sign that working together could be difficult or frustrating or that you have to educate them about about what realistic results look like by working with you. 

When it comes to your discovery calls, don’t be afraid to ask questions and always listen to your intuition…Most of the clients I work with who deal with client issues often reflect that they should have “listened to their gut” when they had a hunch to avoid a client that has caused them issues. This is something you’ll likely get better with in time.

2. Send the Initial Proposal Followed by the Contract 

If you and your potential client want to move forward the next step in the client onboarding process might be to send the initial proposal based on what you discussed, outlining the scope of work and services. Be very clear on your proposal with what exactly is included in the scope of services for your fee. 

If your initial proposal is well received and you agree to the scope of services, make sure you follow this up with a contract! Most proposals don't include important contract clauses so it’s essential that your client reads and understands those before agreeing to move forward with services.  If they’re ready to get started right away, they can accept the proposal and sign your contract all in the same step. I often see contracts and proposals as one document, and this is great too. 

3. Establish a Proposal Expiration Date

If you send out proposals in your business, it’s important to include an expiration date on them to prevent clients from sleeping on the proposal forever and then wanting to hire you in the future when your prices have increased. This lets them know that you are serious about getting to work together right away. This can also protect your energy, time, and revenue by preventing you from overloading or underloading your client roster.

4. Implement a Client Onboarding CRM 

When onboarding new clients, it’s important to streamline your systems and I think using a CRM (customer relationship management) tool is a smart business move. My personal favourite is Dubsado, but there are lots of other options, like HoneyBook and 17Hats. 

A CRM allows you to significantly streamline and automate the entire onboarding process, from booking the discovery call to reminders about the discovery call, follow-up emails, sending proposals and contracts, invoicing, and more. Taking the time to set up these systems allows these aspects of your business to run on autopilot so you don’t have to manually handle all of them. I’m all about working smarter, not harder! 

There are so many CRMs out there, but it’s really important that you find one that feels like a good fit for you. It should not be so overwhelming that you don’t actually use it. 

5. Send a Client Welcome/Onboarding Email

Once the contract has been signed and payment is made, the next step in the client onboarding process is to send a client welcome email that also outlines the next steps in the onboarding process. This email should reinforce for the client that they made the right choice in choosing to work with you. Express your excitement for supporting them in their business and establish your expectations, communication lines and boundaries, and provide a checklist of steps in the onboarding process so they can see what’s next. 

6. Send a Client Onboarding Form

While your discovery call provides a lot of insight as to what the client is needing and expecting from your services, there is only so much you can learn in a short 30-minute consultation call. That’s why it’s important to send a client onboarding form to learn more specifics and get the information that you need to support the client, such as branding information, messaging, logins, etc. You can include this onboarding form in the welcome email in step 5. 

A few ideas (note that some of these might even be best asked on your discovery call, depending on what services you provide!)

  • What is the overall goal you want to achieve in our work together?
  • What metrics are you working towards in the next 3, 6, and 12 months?
  • What services are you looking to promote in the next 6 months?
  • Are there any new services or big projects coming up?
  • What is the best way to communicate with you? 
  • What are your working hours?
  • Do you have branding and messaging information you can share?
  • What softwares and systems do you use? Please provide login information for these. 
  • Do you have other teammates that will be working with us?
  • What is your ideal customer avatar?
  • What is the first project you’d like us to start on?

You can tailor the questions on your onboarding form to your unique business and services, but this is a good starting place. These questions will help you get the information you need to get started and provide high-quality services right away and help streamline the client experience. 

7. Book a Client Kick-off Call

After sending the onboarding form and getting a better feel of the client’s business, goals, and brand, you may wish to have a client kick-off call. This helps you and your client get to know each other, chat through their answers to the questions and their goals, and establish the working relationship face-to-face. On the kick-off call, reinforce your expectations, answer any questions they may have, and confirm that everyone is on the same page with the strategy, services, and first projects. 

8. Establish Routine Check-Ins

Once you get started working with your client, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open by establishing routine check-ins. These allow you to keep the relationship positive and productive and ensure you are on track with your projects and goals. 

You can schedule regular check-in meetings during your client onboarding process to update clients on strategy, metrics, next projects, and reinforce the value that your services provide. You might also establish check-ins through other platforms (like Asana) to track project statuses and deliverables. Not only does this keep the relationship running smoothly, but it keeps you top of mind when your client is referring service-providers to others or looking for additional services. 

Be sure to send a follow-up email after every check-in to summarize what was discussed and list out any action steps required. When in doubt, put it in writing!

9. Create a Client Off-boarding Process and Collect Testimonials

I know it might sound odd to create a client off-boarding process when you’re just getting started with a client, but it’s important that you have a streamlined system in place for the end of the working relationship, especially if you provide project-based services. A strong off-boarding system helps you end the working relationship on a high note, which increases the likelihood of getting referrals, repeat clients, and great testimonials. 

Speaking of testimonials, I recommend integrating a client testimonial form into your off-boarding process. Again, this can be automated through CRMs like Dubsado. Just make sure you include a Testimonial Release Form for them to fill out so you can legally share their feedback on your website and other platforms. You can get my FREE Client Testimonial Release Form HERE.

Wrapping Up

Overall, taking the time to properly onboard (and off-board) new clients is totally worthwhile and leads to a better return on your time investment and definitely pays off. By setting expectations, automating your systems, and establishing a strong working relationship, you can ensure you and your client are set up for success. 

If you think it’s time that you updated your client services agreement to match your upgraded client onboarding process - check out our industry specific services agreements here. Whether you’re a copywriter, graphic designer, life or business coach, virtual assistant or have a different kind of service-based business, I always recommend having a great contract in place with every single client.

*Disclaimer. This blog contains affiliate links, and I may receive a commission if you purchase after clicking through my link. 

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