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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 that you KNOW you can provide epic value to. 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.
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, is 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 to 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 to 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” sections, to my “FAQ” page that answers the logistical questions that could be deal-breakers for some potential clients (preventing both of us from wasting time on a call with each other).
After booking, the potential client gets an email that tells them what to expect from the call and a PDF overview of what the onboarding process looks like so they know exactly how it works and in what timeframe.
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 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. I personally already state all of this information on my website (most of it on the FAQ page), but I want to ensure my potential clients know exactly what they are getting and how I work so they can be confident that I am 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 am!
After I complete my proposals, I sit on them for 24 hours (I always tell my potential clients they will have it within two working days, again, managing those expectations!) because every now and again I have a BRAINWAVE to add in.
I have a rule whereby I follow-up once and once only, three working days after I send the initial proposal. If I don’t hear anything back, 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 in this scenario I find I get no response, versus a polite “no thank you”.
For those that aren’t sure, I’m sure sales people all over the world will be screaming about missed opportunities, how I should downsell them etc etc, but very simply, I don’t want to!
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, DPR & Invoice
Ok, this is the bit where they are most likely to waiver and where you need to make sure your communication is absolutely on point. The combination of reading a load of legal and GDPR jargon and paying a four-figure invoice by itself isn’t anyone’s idea of a great day, so it is critical you package this in the right way to get your client leaping over that line with both feet.
I do this by sending it all in one email, but breaking it down into sections to make it super clear for them to walk through and action.
I lead with my excitement of working together and an overview of their welcome pack attached to the email and why they should open it!
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), highlight the critical points of the contract (payments and cancellations etc, because people rarely thoroughly read a contract) and create 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 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, DPR and Invoice
Then in your email, direct them to your contract and DPR (data processing agreement for GDPR compliance) and then finally your invoice. These are the boring but very critical bits and I always hope that the excitement and motivation from the welcome packets will carry them through this bit!
6. Send Client Gift
This is a nice touch and keeps your client energised, confident and motivated. Some people send pre-selected gifts which is 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 its 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 that 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 and for this reason I ensure I add a personal touch to (almost) every email that is sent from my CRM.
- 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 gut feel, 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 on. Ideally, this would be someone who fits your ideal client profile, but if that’s not an option, try 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 me 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. Plus, much as I hate to admit it, tech does sometimes go wrong, so it’s an effective form of quality control to have some manual intervention in there.
I systemise my client onboarding processes by creating my proposal and welcome packets in Canva, which I then takes me 15 – 20 minutes to complete and personalise for each (potential) client. 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.
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 fits your business here.
Dubsado does probably more than 80% of the work for me; I have a scheduler, canned emails (that like my Canva documents, I add a little personalisation to before sending), client portals, contracts, lead intake forms and although I don’t use this element of it, the capability to create and auto send invoices.
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 my service offering, so if you’re looking for some help with yours, click here to apply and find where I can help!