How to Build an Efficient New Client Onboarding Process
Acquiring new clients is hard—and losing them is easy. That’s an axiom of freelance and agency life—one you don’t have to resiliently accept. It’s one you can fight with plenty of tools and processes, though, such as efficient new client onboarding processes.
Do you want to learn more about building client onboarding systems that work? I’m tackling this topic, below—so read our guide to find out more.
What is a client onboarding process?
A client onboarding system (or process) is a set of steps you take to get acquainted with a new client. It starts the moment they get in touch with you and ends when their project is delivered. An onboarding process helps to ensure a smooth operational efficiency, effective communication, and customer satisfaction.
Customer onboarding systems might seem boring, but they a well-crafted onboarding process can be the difference between a long-term client and a one-time gig. Give it your time and attention and you’ll be rewarded with a happy and productive client relationship.
Further reading: agency client onboarding process
The benefits of a client onboarding process
Building a customer onboarding process for your agency can provide you with a long list of benefits. Some of the essential ones include:
It allows you to set expectations
A thorough onboarding process will give you the opportunity to establish expectations early on. This way, both you and your client know what is expected on both ends, and any further questions can be addressed quickly.
It helps you understand your client
To deliver quality services, you need to understand your client: who they are, what their pain points are, and what they need you to do for them. A clear onboarding system enables you to gain a deep understanding of how you can best help your clients.
Also read: ways to build agency client relationship
It increases retention rate
Naturally, a well-structured onboarding process helps to reinforce the client’s decision to work with you. It shows them that they have chosen a reliable and knowledgeable partner, increasing the likelihood of them returning for future projects.
It enables you to grow and scale your agency
The ability to onboard new customers quickly and efficiently can be a great asset if you decide to grow your business.
A streamlined client onboarding process will make it easy for you to not just continue to onboard new clients, but also get them to recommend you to others so you can keep growing your agency.
Related: how to scale an agency
It helps you stay compliant
Verba volat, scripta manent, said Romans (words fly, but what is written remains). This old Roman saying stands true to date, and even more so when it comes to customer onboarding systems. A written set of processes gives you a paper trail that records the contact details and agreement terms between you and the client. It can help protect your business from any potential legal issues in the future.
The steps of a good client onboarding process
Alright, say you’re all set to start building your client onboarding process. What should you include? Although the following step-by-step system isn’t a universal checklist and can be adapted, here’s client onboarding checklist you can easily follow:
At this stage, you should be proactive and reach out to the client. Before they even decide to work with you, they need to trust that you understand their needs and can deliver.
So, at this phase, allow your sales rep/account manager to do a bit of relationship building with your client. It can have a hugely positive impact on your future collaboration.
Identifying pain points and solutions
Before you jump on a thousand calls and onboard a new client, take some time to identify your client’s pain points—and the solutions you could provide. This way, you’ll be able to focus on the most pressing issues and come up with a plan of action even before you get started.
Have a first onboarding meeting
Once your client is comfortable with you and you have done your homework, it’s time to have a first contact with them. This meeting should be focused on getting to know each other, discussing the project details and identifying the expected outcomes. It’s a good opportunity to get more details from your client and make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Defining your goals
No solid plan is ever made without clear goals. Spend some time setting SMART goals (S – Specific, M – Measurable, A – Achievable, R – Realistic, T – Time-bound) for your client. This will help you align with their objectives, and break them into achievable targets.
Agree on deliverables
Once the goals are set, it’s time to agree on deliverables. That’s when you’ll decide who does what and when.
This part is key to make sure that everyone involved in the project is aware of their responsibilities and can complete tasks in a timely manner.
Gather all the details
This is where you should double-down your effort to get into all the nitty-gritty details of the project. Show your client that you have not just done your homework for an A+, but you’re aiming for the extra points too. Ask questions, get everything in writing, and make sure you’re both fully aligned.
Sign the contract
It’s not a deal until everyone signs on the dotted line. Contract signing makes it all official and details the agreement between you and your client.
Send a welcome packet
Once all the legal technicalities are out of your hair, send your client a welcome packet. It can be a welcome email with all the resources, file management systems, and tools they need to have access to, or it can even be a physical welcome packet.
Sending stickers and mugs might seem old-school, but it can sometimes make a huge difference in your onboarding experience (particularly with smaller, local businesses).
Learn about your client’s internal processes
At this point, you have already discussed the project details and know what you have to do. Your client is likely quite comfortable with you, so now is the time to learn about your client’s internal processes, such as their communication processes, their ways of working, and their internal policies. If you can get a better understanding of how the client works internally, it will make your collaboration a lot easier—and it will help you align your agencies ways of doing things to those of your client.
Mind you, this is not to say you should change your internal processes to accommodate every new client that comes your way. But sometimes, by adjusting a few small things in how you work with a specific client, you can make your client’s day-to-day operations much smoother. Consequently, you can make it more likely for them to eventually recommend you to someone else.
Define success and re-iterate deliverables
To ensure a successful collaboration, you should constantly (re)emphasize what success looks like, for example through reports.
Before you proceed to the actual work, remember to re-iterate the deliverables and make sure that everyone knows what is expected from them, and when it should be delivered. This will help you and your client stay on the same page regarding what should be delivered and when, and it will make it easier for you to measure success.
Agree on communication cadence
If you don’t want to wake up to desperate calls from your clients, but you still want to make sure they’re always in the loop, you should agree on a communication cadence. Depending on the type of services you offer, you can decide to communicate daily, weekly, or a couple of times per month.
Outline action items
Every time you have a meeting with your client, be sure to outline all the specific action items that need to be taken. If there’s an issue that needs to be resolved, define what should happen and when it should happen by.
Create a Service Level Agreement (SLA)
A Service Level Agreement and a contract are very similar—but not the same. In essence, an SLA is a subset of your contract that outlines what service level you’ll be providing, and what will happen if the service provided falls short. It’s also a good way to draw the line between what you are supposed to do and what falls on your client’s side.
Agree on milestones and make a plan for your next 30-60-90 days
As a final step of your new customer onboarding system, make sure to agree on the milestones for the upcoming months and make a plan for your next 30-60-90 days. This will give you and your client an overview of what will happen in the near future and it will help you keep track of your progress.
Building the perfect customer onboarding process: best practices
Finally, let’s take a quick look at some of the best practices you should keep in mind for a successful client onboarding process:
Focus on the human side
Onboarding new clients can be nerve-wrecking and intimidating, so make sure you don’t forget that, in the end, you’re all humans. People smile, they have real pain points outside of work, and they need to be reassured. Pay attention and make sure you act with empathy at all times.
Don’t wait for your clients to come to you—be proactive in finding solutions, communicating with them, and always do your best to ensure their satisfaction.
Transparency is key for successful client onboarding and long-term relationships. There’s no point in hiding things (or worse, lying about them.) At the end of the day, it will only hurt your reputation.
Showcase value early in the process
Want to make sure your clients love you from the get-go? Showcase the value you can bring early in the process and prove that their trust was well-placed.
Automate what can be automated
You cannot automate human relationships. You can, however, automate processes that don’t require human interaction.
Examples include automating client information, document signing, access to different tools and resources, and so on. Automation will save you precious time and resources while keeping your clients satisfied. Good client onboarding software can help you here.
Use the same onbording template for everyone
You can make fine adjustments to your onboarding workflow, sure.
But don’t treat any of your clients differently—believe it or not, even in a global market, word spreads quickly and you might end up alienating some of your best customers.
Onboarding systems: a summary
They say first impressions matter—and I couldn’t agree more. With a well-crafted onboarding system, you can make sure your clients are in the best hands from day one. From setting clear expectations and communication schedules to delivering excellent results, onboarding workflows can set you (and your clients) up for success from day one.