Agency Checklist: How to Create an Actionable Client Onboarding Process

Key points

  1. Agency onboarding should be a structured and streamlined process to ensure that clients are happy with the services they receive.
  2. Effective onboarding involves setting clear goals and expectations, assigning tasks to specific team members, and establishing regular communication with clients.
  3. Self-service options are an important part of the onboarding process because they can teach clients how to deal with an agency and their processes.

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 your client retention will be.

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?

The process of onboarding clients as an agency evolves around taking necessary steps to welcome new customers. Effective client onboarding is the process that builds partnerships that last for a long time.

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To ensure a long-lasting client relationship, start off by making a great first impression. During the new client onboarding process, you’ll welcome them into your agency and ensure that you’re both on the same page when it comes to processes, procedures, and expectations.

Think of it as the next step after the sales process. Once you’ve realed them in, all you need to do is to keep them happy. Your goal is to make the transition from lead to client as effortless as possible.

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.

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 sets the tone for the entire engagement and client relationship. If you have a beautiful sales process but fail to meet expectations with onboarding, then you’re starting the relationship off on the wrong foot and client lifetimes will inevitably drop as a result. Your goal with client onboarding should be to use it as an extension of the sales process, impressing your new client and setting the tone for a long engagement. Think of client onboarding as an investment, which will yield a client with a much longer life cycle.

Stewart Dunlop from LinkBuilder.io
Stewart Dunlop , LinkBuilder.io

One way to achieve a better process is by using a new client onboarding checklist.

Why is a client onboarding checklist useful?

A client onboarding checklist is a valuable template that standarises how every new client is being welcomed. It outlines every step of the process, avoids conflicts, and saves agencies time.

Here is an overview of the benefits of a client onboarding checklist.

  1. Standardization: It helps ensure that the onboarding process is standardized across all clients. This consistency can improve service quality and reduce errors.

  2. Efficiency: Streamlining the tasks involved in onboarding new clients saves time and resources, allowing team members to work more efficiently and focus on providing a better service.

  3. Improved client experience: A well-organized and structured onboarding process can leave a positive first impression, setting the tone for a positive long-term relationship.

  4. Clear communication: Clients know what to expect during the onboarding process, and the agency has a clear roadmap to follow.

  5. Documentation: It ensures that all necessary information is gathered, which is crucial for agencies to begin their work and meet project deadlines.

  6. Tracking progress: It helps track the progress of the onboarding process, making it easier to manage timelines and ensuring that everything moves forward as planned.

  7. Accountability: By assigning specific tasks to team members, everyone knows their responsibilities, which minimizes the risk of tasks falling through the cracks.

  8. Scalability: A well-constructed checklist makes it easier to onboard larger numbers of clients or to scale up the agency without compromising on quality or efficiency.

Overall, a client onboarding checklist helps ensure a smooth, efficient, and comprehensive onboarding process that both parties benefit from.

Client onboarding checklist for agencies

To provide a great onboarding experience, I’ve written up a 10-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. set up easy recurring billing

  9. get sign-off from the client

  10. give your clients self-service options

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 agency CRMs 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.

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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 software targeted at agency project management (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.

3. Send out a client onboarding 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 onboarding portal or in external CRMs automatically.

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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!

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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 build an agency team that can tackle the work. If not, get external help from freelancers and contractors. 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.

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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.

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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.

10. 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.

Use client onboarding software

One thing that will make it easier to put the checklist into practise is a software that allows you to build a template for every client. There are dedicated client onboarding tools you can use, or you can use Service Provider Pro’s onboarding page builder.

SPP Client Onboarding Page

Thanks to easy-to-use page builder, you can edit the default template, and build a client onboarding workflow that makes it easy for everyone to follow along. Embed an introduction video, add tasks for your clients, and link to external resources.

Agency onboarding FAQ

How do I onboard a new client in an agency?

Onboard new clients by clearly setting expectations, establishing communication channels, and providing a detailed project plan. Schedule kick-off meetings, gather key information, and use client onboarding software to make the process easy.

How long does the client onboarding process usually take?

The client onboarding process can vary in duration depending on the nature and complexity of the project and the agency’s specific process. However, typically it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Can the onboarding process be customized based on the client’s specific needs?

The onboarding process can be tailored based on a client’s specific needs. While it’s essential to have a standard process to ensure consistency, flexibility is important to accommodate unique client requirements and build a strong relationship.

What is the role of the client in the onboarding process?

They are required to provide information about their business, target audience, goals, timeline, budget, etc. They also need to actively participate in meetings, review and approve the project plan, timeline, and communication plan, and provide regular feedback.

How does an agency measure the effectiveness or success of its onboarding process?

Client feedback is a crucial factor. A satisfied client who understands the project and their role is a strong indicator of successful onboarding. Other measurable factors may include the completion of onboarding steps in the planned time, the amount of client input and interaction during the onboarding process, and client retention rates post-onboarding.

Optimize your agency client onboarding process

Client’s shouldn’t dread the start of a project. And with the right customer onboarding process, they won’t have to. By following the 10 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.

Avatar of Deian Isac
Head of Agency Success
Having worked as a content writer for 8+ years, Deian has partnered up with a lot of different agencies for content production. He understands their processes and now helps agencies scale up their operations with SPP. Besides his success activities, he also manages the content strategy of Service Provider Pro, writes captivating blog posts himself, and produces case studies.

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