agency onboarding

Agency Checklist: How to Create an Actionable Client Onboarding Process

It’s no secret that the onboarding process you establish when you build an agency is crucial to the success of your company. The smoother the onboarding experience, the better for your client relationship.

Luckily, many marketing agencies have already invested into improving the client onboarding experience, so you can learn from their mistakes and successes. In this article, I’ll outline nine steps that you can take to improve your agency’s client onboarding process. Follow these tips, and you’re sure to see positive results.

What is client onboarding?

As an agency owner, you should be aware that one of your main responsibilities and goals is keeping your client happy. After all, you’ve spent a good amount of time and money in winning them over.

Tip: Check out our guide on how to get agency clients.

To ensure that every client is cared for, you should define a process that makes a great first impression. During the new client onboarding phase, you’ll welcome them into your agency and ensuring that you’re both on the same page when it comes to processes, procedures, and expectations.

It’s essentially an extension of your sales process (and should be treated as such). Your goal is to make the transition from lead to client as effortless as possible, so that your new client can hit the ground running—and so that your agency can get started on producing great work!

Why is client onboarding important?

Onboarding is a critical step in building a strong, mutually beneficial client-agency partnership. It helps you set the tone for working relationships, manage client expectations, and even upsell or cross-sell your services.

Also read: what is an agency partner?

Let’s look at the most popular B2C company, Apple, which took onboarding to a whole new level with its stores. Any customer can walk into one of the many stores around the globe, and get onboarded by a so-called Genius. This face-to-face onboarding is very personal, but not easily translatable into the B2B world that is increasingly based online. However, we can still learn from pioneers such as Apple.

Unfortunately, many agencies treat onboarding as an afterthought—something that’s nice to do, but not necessarily essential. As a result, they end up with frustrated clients who are likely to churn. What they could do better is decide what kind of data you need when onboarding new clients, how you can ask it in a frictionless way, and how to optimize the process.

Client onboarding checklist for agencies

To provide a great onboarding experience, I’ve written up a nine-step checklist that should make things easier for your agency:

  1. Add the client to your agency CRM.

  2. Assign an account manager.

  3. Send out an intake questionnaire.

  4. Schedule a kickoff meeting.

  5. Create a project timeline

  6. Develop a project plan

  7. Come up with a communication plan

  8. Create a billing plan

  9. Get sign-off from the client

Let’s take a closer look at each of these items.

1. Add the client to your agency CRM

As soon as a new client signs on with your agency, be sure to add them to your customer relationship management (CRM) system. This will help you keep track of important information about the client, such as contact information, project details, and communication history.

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Most CRM can be connected easily to other software, either directly, via apps such as Zapier, webhooks, or an API. It’s important that there’s a 2-way sync, pushing data from SPP to your CRM and back.

2. Assign an account manager

The manager is the primary point of contact for the client and will be responsible for managing the client accounts and projects from start to finish. Make sure that you hire an experienced person who has a relevant understanding of the client’s needs and objectives.

This ensures that the initial onboarding is smooth, and the customer deems you professional, paving the way for a solid partnership.

SPP assign account manager

If you’re using a project management software such as SPP, it’s easy to assign managers to your customers. Simply open the client profile, and choose the relevant option.

You can also create a team role for your managers, and give them a higher level of access compared to a contractor. This ensures that they have an overview of everything, allowing them to make decisions.

Also read: signs of micromanagement at work, and how to deal with them.

3. Send out a client questionnaire

An onboarding questionnaire is a great way to collect important information about the client and the project. The submitted information will help you determine the best course of action and develop an effective project plan.

Be sure to include questions about the client’s

  • business goals,

  • target audience,

  • budget,

  • desired timeline,

  • special requests, and

  • branding guidelines.

With SPP, you can create and send custom intake forms using a drag-and-drop editor. Plus, when clients complete these forms, the information can be stored in custom CRM fields within your client portal or in external CRMs automatically.

A well-designed intake questionnaire will help you better understand the client’s needs and expectations. As a result, it’ll be easier to set realistic expectations, manage the project effectively, and avoid scope creep.

4. Schedule a kickoff meeting

Marketing agencies love to get use kickoff meetings before they start working on projects due to the sheer scope of them. Their clients are often put on monthly retainers containing multiple different services, so it’s important to be on the same page.

schedule kickoff meeting (Calendly loading inside SPP)

Kickoff meetings also give agency owners (and project managers) an opportunity to connect with the client, review their intake questionnaire, and answer any questions they may have. Think of the kickoff meeting as an informal introduction rather than a nitty-gritty project planning session. There will be plenty of time for those later!

This is just a chance to establish a good working relationship with the client—something that will set the tone for future client communication and helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page from the start.

5. Create a project timeline

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary information from the client, it’s time to start putting together a project timeline. This timeline should include all the major milestones and deliverables for the project, as well as any deadlines that need to be met.

Depending on the scope of the project, you may need to put together a team of freelancers or contractors to help with the work. SPP can help with that, too—you can easily add and remove team members from the client portal as needed.

6. Develop a project plan

With the project timeline in place, it’s time to start developing a more detailed project plan. It should include a complete list of all the tasks that need to be completed, as well as who is responsible for each task.

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The plan can help keep the project on track. It’s also a valuable reference for team members, so they can see what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. Pipe all the data into your project management tool, so that those responsible have an overview, can communicate with each other, and leave notes. Ideally, create client accounts to keep your customers in the loop, make it easy for them to approve your suggestions, and give input.

7. Come up with a communication plan

Communication is key to any successful project. This is especially true when it comes to an agency’s onboarding process. To help ensure that everyone is on the same page, you need to establish a clear and concise communication plan.

Consult your intake form to check what kind of updates the client expect, and set up notifications regarding regular check-ins, project updates, and notifying third parties.

over-communicate in orders

SPP includes a built-in messaging system that makes it easy to keep everyone in the loop. You can also set up automated email notifications to ensure that everyone is notified when important tasks are due or when there are updates to the project. There’s even a handy CC feature for marketing agencies who need to keep everyone in the loop.

8. Create a billing plan

Billing and invoicing can be one of the most challenging aspects of any project. It’s especially important to get right during client onboarding. After all, you don’t want to start off on the wrong foot by overcharging or undercharging for your services.

A signed contract can avoid any surprises when it comes to billing—a feature that is available in SPP’s forms. Simply add the signature field with your contract to a form, and ask your clients to sign it.

For those looking to reduce their billing tasks, SPP includes a built-in billing and invoicing system that makes it easy to send one-time, variable, and recurring invoices to clients. Plus, with automated payments, you can get paid faster and reduce the risk of late payments.

9. Get sign-off from the client

Once you’ve completed all the steps above, it’s time to get sign-off from the client. This step ensures that everyone is on the same page and that there are no surprises down the road.

To get the sign-off, simply send the client a copy of the project timeline, project plan, and communication plan. Once they have reviewed and approved these documents, you’re ready to begin work on the project.

Give your clients self-service options

In addition to the steps above, there’s one more thing you can do to make client onboarding easier—give your clients self-service options.

With SPP, clients can easily access their project details, documents, invoices, and messages from the client portal. This gives them the ability to stay up-to-date on the project without needing to contact you for every little update. 

Plus, you can build FAQs and link them in the sidebar so that your customers can find answers to their questions themselves.

Having a robust set of self-service onboarding options is a great way to streamline the process and make it simpler for both you and your clients.

Optimize your agency client onboarding process

Client’s shouldn’t dread the start of a project. And with the right onboarding process, they won’t have to. By following the steps in this checklist, you can set your clients up for success and make sure that their journey with your agency is as smooth as possible.

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