In Part I of Bulletproofing your client onboarding process, we walked through what client onboarding is and how it can generate new revenue for your business, increase word-of-mouth referrals, and help you retain high-quality, repay clients. You can read Part I here.
Great news — your proposal and has been approved and your new lead has made the decision to hire you. It’s time to create and send a contract for your new client to sign and officially kick off the onboarding process.
Navigating any new client relationship can be both exciting and stressful. In order to facilitate the process on both sides, take time to document every step you take and use this information to build a strong process you can refer to each time you bring on a new client. Being proactive in your approach will allow you to be more efficient with your time, make fewer mistakes, and set both you and your client up for a successful project.
Add the job number for this project to the contract using your contract template (if you don’t already have a standard contract template, you can download a free example here) and set up a new client folder using a folder template with your preferred folder structure. Use DocuSign or HelloSign to make signing the contract easier for the client and increase the likelihood of receiving a signed copy early. Save a copy of the signed contract in your new client folder with the corresponding job number so you have it on file.
Next, send an invoice reflecting what was agreed to in the proposal. Quickbooks, Wave, or Freshbooks are all great options to consider if you have not already selected accounting software for your business. If there have been any changes to the contract, such as an adjustment in scope, be sure to reflect this in the invoice. Once the client has made their initial payment (typically 50%), check to make sure they have received a confirmation of payment.
After payment has been made, send a friendly email to your client thanking them for payment. This is a great opportunity to share what’s next in the process, including scheduling a project kickoff. (You can use Calendly to easily find a meeting time that works for both of you.) I typically schedule 30-60 minutes for a project kickoff, depending on the size of the project and team, and if the meeting will be held in person or over a video conference.
Once your kickoff meeting is confirmed, send a physical welcome package as a friendly introduction to your company. You can ship a few items such as a pack of stickers, a hat, t-shirt or mug along with a friendly note. The point here is not to spend excessive amounts of money, but to continue establishing a relationship with your client and let them know they are appreciated. You can use a service like Printfection to send custom gifts without worrying about shipping them yourself.
Next, add the client and project to your project management system (I use Asana) and start laying out a rough timeline for the project, including a tentative date for project kickoff and important milestones. Assign a team to the project and share the notes you have gathered up to this point, including an overview of the project, the client’s definition of success, any research you have completed around the competition and audience, the deliverables to be completed for the project, and any other communications you have had with the client. Brief your team prior to kickoff so you are able to answer questions related to the project and come prepared for your first team meeting with the client. If you or your team have any questions come up that you are unable to answer, record them so they can be addressed during the kickoff meeting.
There is no replacement for face-to-face interaction and this initial meeting is no exception.
Once everyone is situated for the meeting, begin the meeting with short introductions. Invite each person on the team to share their name, title, and role for the project, whether it be your main point of contact, a key stakeholder, or a person who will be involved in the final approval process. Have each person on your team share their roles as well, whether it be primary point of contact, web development lead, copywriter, art director, and so on.
Once everyone has been able to meet each other and understand the role each person will be playing for the project, gather any additional information pertinent to the project. Have one person on your team take notes, and if possible, record audio for the meeting so it can be referenced later on.
Review your understanding of the client’s goals by restating their objectives and goals in your own words, following up with any clarifying questions. Walk through your typical process, the timeline you have developed for the project, and discuss how revisions and approval will be handled. Review and confirm the scope of work and explain how scope creep will be handled. Confirming the scope of work and answering any questions before you begin will help set client expectations and give them a framework for how to proceed if any deliverables need to be added or the number of revisions needed increases.
Finally, request any assets you may still need from the client to begin your work. Share a “Client Drop” folder using Google Drive or Dropbox so they can easily add current brand assets, login information, copy, or any other materials required for the project. Take a few minutes to address any questions that may not have been answered during the meeting.
Following the kickoff meeting, consolidate meeting notes and recordings into a shared folder that can be easily accessed by your team. It can also be helpful to add a copy of your meeting notes to the shared client folder so they have them on hand for future reference.
Send another quick email following up from the meeting with the next few steps for the project. These will generally include a completed creative brief if your team filled it out during the meeting, or a way for your client to fill out a brief on their own. You can use something as simple as a shared Google Doc or utilize a more comprehensive tool like HolaBrief to gather information. Include any additional “homework” for the client in this email, such as requesting any remaining assets you need to get started. As a bonus, you can also include a few links to relevant case studies, illustrating how your team has solved problems for clients like them. If you have one, include a business “cheat sheet” that includes your contact info, hours of business, location, response times, links to resources, and FAQs. You can also include a short welcome video as a way to continue fostering a relationship with your new client.
Once this email has been sent, schedule to have a handwritten note delivered to your client to thank them for their time and let them know you are looking forward to establishing a lasting partnership. A service like Handwrytten makes this step easy and gives you an option to further automate your process.
Update tasks in your project management system, indicating that you have completed the project kickoff meeting and sent the post-kickoff email. Once the creative brief is complete, mark that as complete as well.
Now that you have successfully kicked a new project project with your client, set up a short call about a week later to follow up and make sure they don’t have any remaining questions. This can include any pending items, such as approval of the final project timeline, or any other information you may still need to ensure successful execution of the project. During this call, schedule future status calls and presentations.
The more you interact with your client, the more likely you will be able to address concerns before they become an issue.
Refining your process
Now that you have started executing your project, the client onboarding process is now complete. At this point, it’s a good time to review. What went well? What didn’t? How can your system be modified to make the steps easier for your clients or for your team? Tools like Survey Monkey makes it easy to gather feedback and suggestions from your client. Use this feedback from your client and your team to hone your process for the next project. The more you focus on optimizing your process, the more efficient it will become, reducing the number of mistakes you will make, and the happier your clients will be. This, in turn, leads to an increased likelihood of referrals from your happy clients, and more business for you.
What steps have you taken to optimize your client onboarding process? What did we miss? Share your thoughts in the comments below.