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Just imagine, you have that beautifully designed website, expertly crafted conversion copy and are working your socks off to attract and bring in your ideal clients that are both a dream to work with and whom you KNOW you can provide epic value for. The dream, yes? When you onboard a new client, you are inviting them behind the curtain into the heart of your business that the public doesn’t see and you bet it better match up (or even better, exceed) their expectations.
It is not just about what you do for your clients, it is how you do it and actually, I’d even go as far to say the “how” can be even more important in some aspects of your client relationship.
Creating a killer client onboarding experience is one of those aspects and is key in starting off your working relationship on the right foot, alleviating their nerves in what is possibly a scary investment for them and building that trust that you are going to be so worth it.
Table of Contents
What is Client Onboarding?
Onboarding a new client is the process of taking someone from warm lead status to beginning the work they contract you to do or delivering your product to them.
It is how you introduce yourself and your company and sets the tone for the rest of your working relationship together (no pressure!).
Technically, onboarding only begins when someone actually decides to hire you, however in this post and in my own business, I talk about client onboarding from the process of them booking a consultation call with me, all the way to our kick-off call. The reason for this is that I do a pretty good job of qualifying my leads before we have a consultation call, which means that very few people drop out of this process after this.
I also see this as an entry point to my company and there is still future potential to work together, just maybe in a different capacity, so it makes sense for me that this is incorporated into my client onboarding procedure.
Benefits of a Creating a Killer Client Onboarding Experience
Done well, a client onboarding process sets you and your client up to have an amazing working relationship together, where you are both happy, confident and unstressed.
Done badly, it can quite honestly lead to some difficult conversations and unhappy clients, which could well damage your reputation and reduce your client pipeline.
A client onboarding process is, in simplistic terms, just a form of communication. It is, however, an absolutely critical one and the area that I believe many service providers fall down on; they can do the job, but communicating with and managing your client effectively is a whole different ball game.
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1. Identifies if you are both the right fit to be working together.
Because, trust me, you are better off walking away if you aren’t. Think about what kind of clients you want to be working with. If your client expects a one-hour response time and it’s not something you offer, don’t go any further. Think broader as well; I have a set of five principles that I issue to my potential clients (as an example, one of them is “honest, open and timely communication”) so they get an insight into how I work and what I need from them to do my job.
2. Establishes boundaries with your clients
If you don’t tell your client when to expect email responses or how to contact you, they’ll do what works for them and you’ll look like the one falling behind if you don’t fit in with it.
3. Tells your client exactly what to expect and when
Managing expectations is so critical. Similar to the point above, DON’T let them fill in the gaps or make assumptions, you won’t know what bar you’re trying to hit and as such, are unlikely to meet it. You can read more on how to effectively manage your client communication here.
4. Gets your client excited to be working with you
Ever felt buyer’s remorse after a big purchase? Times that by ten when you’re talking about the business you have built from the ground up. You need to be ready to reassure your client, make them feel important and valued and remind them that you and your services are an investment and what that investment will do for their business.
5. Tells your client what you need from them in order to do what you are hired to do to a high standard
You will need things from your client, be it systems access or their brand hex colours. It is not your client’s job to think about this; make it easy for them by spelling it out. If you need work reviewed or feedback delivered at certain milestones in your project, spell that out too so they know what is required of them for your work to be delivered on time.
How to Create a Killer Onboarding Process Step-by-Step
Ok, so you’re sold, but need some actionable steps? Don’t worry, I’m here for you! These are the steps I follow in my own business that I have tweaked along with way.
1. Lead Intake Form & Client Consultation Call
The first step in my onboarding procedure is for the client to complete a form and book a consultation call in my diary (via a scheduler). There is some debate on whether you should have a lengthy intake form that asks (literally) the full 20 questions, or just something short and sweet.
I personally believe that unless you are super booked out and have more leads being thrown at you than you could ever deal with, short and sweet is the way to go.
My logic for this is that I would personally find it off-putting having to provide that amount of information to someone just to have a conversation with them and that as an OBM, I should be helping my client become more efficient, not spend yet more time doing admin.
There is another related reason I am very comfortable with asking fewer questions that I hinted at earlier; my entire website is designed to effectively qualify leads, from the copy and language used on my “about” and “services” pages to my pricing and that payment plans are available.
After booking, the potential client gets an email that tells them what to expect from the call so they know exactly how it works and what is expected from them.
2. Consultation Call
Having an effective client consultation call is worthy of a whole blog post in itself, so I’ll keep this high level. I recommend focussing on the big picture here and not going into too much detail. The aim of this call is to make sure you are both a good fit, for you to get an insight into their business and ensure that you can add value where you’re needed and give them the opportunity to ask any and all questions.
Active listening is key here, you should lead, but let the client do the talking. When drawing the call to a close and provided you feel they are a good potential fit, don’t assume they want to move onto the next step, ask them if they would like you to send them a proposal. I don’t think I have ever had a “no” to this question, but I like my onboarding process to feel as organic and un-pressured as possible and as part of that I put it into my potential client’s hands as to whether they would like to hear from me further or not.
3. Client Proposal
I recommend doing your client proposals straight after the consultation call when the information is fresh in your mind and you’re all motivated and fired up. This document not only outlines different packages or ways to work together but should include some more “lead qualification” activity.
By this, I mean including some information on how and when you work and the logistics of doing business with you. You want to ensure your potential clients know exactly what they are getting and how you work so you can be confident that you are a good fit for them and their business.
It is also a good idea to include some testimonials to remind them how worth it you are!
Always follow up! People are busy and sometimes that email gets buried. While in an ideal world, we would love to have our potential client eagerly refreshing their inbox to sign on the dotted line of your proposal, this unfortunately isn’t a reality.
Personally, I follow up twice, 3 days after and then a further 4 days after that (so a week in total). The reason I use this time frame is how long I am willing to hold a spot open without a signed contract and deposit – and I state that the proposal has a validity of 7 days on sending.
If I don’t hear anything back after two follow-ups, I do not chase any further. Either they aren’t sure they want to hire you or they know they don’t want to hire you. In an ideal world, they would just let you know, however more often than not, if I’ve had to send that second reminder, I find I get no response, versus a polite “no thank you”.
You need to feel comfortable that you’ve given them space to consider and respond, but not hounded them either. Personally, I won’t try and “persuade” someone who just isn’t sure, there is a reason they aren’t sure and it just isn’t my style. Plus, if I do manage to cajole them, it is more likely that the working relationship won’t be ideal because something was holding them back. It could be that it is too much of a financial stretch, which could lead them to put excessive pressure on me to “get more out of their investment,” to me not being the right fit for their business.
I 100% believe in listening to your gut so I just don’t think it is worth my time to chase these people down, I value having the “right” clients too much!
5. Welcome Packet, Contract & Invoice
Ok, so they want to move ahead – congratulations! To make it official, you need to get a signed contract and that invoice/deposit paid, not the most exciting part and so it is critical you package this in the right way to get your client leaping over that line with both feet.
There are a couple of ways of doing this, you can send the contract, invoice and welcome packet all in one email and walk them through the three steps to complete, or you can send it one at a time so it is less overwhelming. The latter option can take longer, but if you’re using a CRM, you can set up a workflow so that when they complete each step, they are automatically sent to the next step via email.
Sometimes if someone opens an email and there is loads of text to read through and lots of actions for them to take, they park it to come back later. But if it’s broken up into bitesize chunks, it can appear more manageable and so they do it straight away.
5.1 The Welcome Packet
Your welcome pack should remind them of why they are working with you, detail what exactly they are getting and the transformation they will experience.
It is also where you should be setting your boundaries (your working hours, how to contact you, your response times etc), highlighting the critical points of the contract (payments and cancellations etc, because people rarely thoroughly read a contract) and creating a clear checklist or roadmap of what you will need from them.
The beady-eyed among you may have noticed that this sounds very similar to the information provided in the client proposal…. well…. it is! I recommend expanding and going into a bit more detail, but yes, some of the information is broadly repeated. That is because it is important, you don’t want to have a client getting frustrated that they can’t get hold of you at 10:00 pm, for example, so reiterate the very key information to creating a successful working relationship again.
5.2 Contract and Invoice
The contract and invoice are the boring but VERY critical bits. The aim is that the excitement and motivation from the welcome packet or knowing that as soon as they complete these steps they will receive their welcome packet encourages them to get their contract signed and that invoice paid ASAP!
6. Send Your Client a Gift
This is a nice touch and keeps your client energised, confident and motivated. Some people send pre-selected gifts which are great for ease, however, I love selecting gifts for people and it adds to the personal touch, so I actually handpick every gift I send my clients.
I always aim for these to arrive before our kick-off call as it ensures the client is in a great frame of mind for all of our strategising (plus it’s an extra bit of motivation to get them through that intake form).
7. Client Intake Form & Kick-Off Call
As soon as the contracts are signed and the invoice is paid, my CRM (more on this below) kicks out an email to my new client with a link to my scheduler and an invitation to book their kick-off call. There is a catch though, to complete the booking, they must complete their intake form (a.k.a their client homework).
This is because client homework is, for the most part, boring and administrative (log-on details, branding information etc) and it is the kind of thing that gets pushed to be bottom of the to-do list quite easily.
However, after the kick-off call, I want to get to work (and so does the client!) and I personally find nothing more frustrating than being unable to do so because I don’t have the information or access I need. I also run the risk of disappointing my client as they are looking at the big picture of what I’m doing and often don’t realise that I can’t get stuff done as I haven’t got the tools to allow me to do it.
I also know it will take more of my client’s (and my) time, in the long run, to get the information drip-fed, so I ask for it all just to be done once and properly
Additional Tips for Onboarding Clients
- Be personable, positive and confident in your email interaction. Infuse your personality and read it back to yourself, are you conveying the right tone? It can be easy to sound a bit monotonous here, particularly if you are using a systemised and automated process. For this reason, I recommend making sure you have some personal touch points to your onboarding process.
- Make sure your client always knows the next steps and then the timeframes in which those next steps will happen. There is a lot going on here so managing their expectations and making it as simple as possible for them will go a long way in making them feel confident and reassured.
- Ensure your proposal and welcome packet reflect your brand and values. I know this might be telling you to suck eggs, but this isn’t the time or the place to have spelling errors or lazy formatting. Everything about these documents needs to scream professionalism and attention to detail.
- Tell them the right information at the right time. This is a bit of a gut feeling, but there can be a lot to get through and it is a fine line between getting the information you need from your client and making them feel stressed and overwhelmed.
- In EVERY EMAIL, invite them to reach out and ask questions if they have any. Questions are good.
- Get a guinea pig to test out your onboarding workflow. Ideally, this would be someone who fits your ideal client profile, but if that’s not an option, try a team member, coach or even a friend or partner. Third-party feedback from a different perspective is SO valuable for identifying holes in your process.
How to Systemise and Automate Your Client Onboarding Process
Hey, I’m an OBM, so you can bet my client onboarding process is (mostly) automated! I am a big fan of automating just about anything as I have this vision of myself sipping wine on a beach while money falls around me…unfortunately it doesn’t quite work like that!
Practical issues of money-raining beaches aside, let’s face it, as a business owner there are always other things to do and also, automating everything means you lose an element of the personal touch. I, therefore, tend to operate an 80/20 split approach across my business operations to ensure I factor in some personalisation.
I systemise my client onboarding processes by creating workflows in my CRM, Dubsado. I also have a standard operating procedure (SOP) and workflow so that I can ensure a consistent and professional process. You can find out about the benefits of SOPs here and how to create standard operating procedures for your business here.
It’s up to you where you add the personal touches, but I generally customise the email that sends the proposal and my client gifting is always personal.
Using CRM Software
The heavy lifter here though is my CRM software, Dubsado. There are several on the market (Honeybook and 17hats are popular alternatives), but while there is an initial learning curve with Dubsado, I chose it because I think it has the most flexibility and can grow with me as my company does. You can read my recommendations for how to go about choosing systems and automation that fit your business here.
Dubsado does probably more than 80% of the work for me; I have canned emails, forms, contracts, invoicing, client portals, contracts etc. The best thing? They can all work together in automated workflows and I can focus on other things that require my attention, rather than admin.
That’s A Wrap! Creating a Stand-out Client Onboarding Experience
A well-thought-out client onboarding process has the potential to set you head and shoulders above your competitors. Technically, most people’s contracts say nothing about the quality of client experience, so you’re not really failing to deliver if you have a less-than-stellar one. This means that for business owners that are snowed under, this is one of the things that gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list and is therefore your opportunity to shine!
Creating a top-notch client experience isn’t just about onboarding though, find out all my tips for doing the same for your offboarding process here!
Creating amazing client management processes and systems is part of our service offering, so if you’re looking for some help with yours, click here to check out our services!