How to Create a Project Intake Process That Works Best for You
If you’re working day-in and day-out on projects, there’s a good chance you need information from your clients before you can get started. But you don’t want to overwhelm them during checkout—that would crash your conversion rate. Instead, they could fill out a project intake form after payment.
What if the project’s scope is large, and there are multiple people involved? And if the project is split up in different parts, each with its own project manager involved? As you can see, without a project intake process that deals with every possible scenario, you’ll soon come across a variety of management issues.
In order to not encounter them, I’ve written this guide to create an effective intake process that sets you up for success.
What is a project intake process?
Poor briefing results in one third of marketing budgets being wasted, according to this video. The focus of the study has been how agencies struggle with marketers who don’t give them proper briefs or instructions. But the same can be said about clients: they often don’t know what an agency needs to get started with work, how to express their thoughts, what to prioritize.
The project intake process eliminates the client’s uncertainty and struggle by guiding them towards forms that ask the right questions. While there’s no ideal or standard intake process that every company can use, they can create one that fits their business needs. This often involves the good old trial-and-error procedure, getting feedback from clients, and applying it to the process.
The project intake process is an ongoing activity that can be continuously refined. To do that, I recommend setting up a project intake process template that your team can use and easily tweak.
I’ve used funnelytics.io in the past to visualize the flow of certain SPP features. You can do the same by creating a project intake process flow chart like the one below:
The flow chart is a very simple example of what your project intake process could look like. In most cases, it will be much more detailed with different stakeholders involved in the decision making process. Depending on their choices, there will be next steps to take into account until you finally either make a proposal or decline the request.
Next, let’s take a closer look how an intake process can help you manage your business more efficiently.
Why a project intake process is important
Imagine this: your client pays for an order, and the project is ready to start. You email them asking for more details, but it ends up in their spam folder, and they never reply. This is a scenario many agencies have to deal with on a daily basis, one that causes delays, frustration, and management issues.
Luckily, by setting up a project intake process, you can create a streamlined workflow your entire team benefits from. It’ll also improve your project management, allow you to automate certain tasks, and ultimately seem more professional.
Let’s take a closer look at why you should create an intake process.
When a new project comes in, it’s not always clear who’s in charge, who needs to work with a project manager, and what the next steps are.
By defining an intake process, every new request that comes in follows a pre-defined procedure that results in everyone knowing that they have to do. The consistency also has a nice side-benefit of allow for automation.
If you know that a client bought your SEO management package and wants you to work on a specific website, and what the goals are, you can now benefit from certain automations. For instance, let’s assume the client has filled out an intake form in SPP and given you all the information you need. Based on the drop-down selections in the intake form, you can now assign the right team members to the order, create an automated team note and ask a colleague to start a specific task, update the order due date, and more.
These tasks are traditionally handled by project managers, but why do them manually if they can be done automatically for every project?
Speaking of managers, they should be kept in the loop once the project team starts work. If you use an order in SPP to handle the project, all relevant data will be kept safely inside it:
client & team messages
internal project notes
tasks and due dates
tags and payment information
With this information, they can keep an eye on the project work, make sure that the deadlines are met, and ask for project updates.
Sometimes it’s necessary to find out why a deadline was missed. While nobody likes to point fingers at their teammates, being able to locate at which point the error happened allows you to improve your work flow, and assure that it won’t happen again.
Some errors might simply be human—and those are hard to avoid. But what if the task list wasn’t clear? In such a case, you need to make sure that the intake process includes clear instructions.
Project intake: before or after payment?
In a world of more and more productized services, this question becomes harder to answer. Productized companies are striving to get away from proposals, so they’ve built services that are packaged and scoped. After purchase, the client is redirected (or notified) that an intake form is waiting to be filled out.
But what if the lead doesn’t think that any of the existing services work for their needs? In such cases, it makes sense to have a secondary project intake process flow that asks them a different set of questions. This type of form can be easily created with SPP’s helpdesk module form builder.
Most of our clients use it for lead generation purposes, but it also works well for project requests that come in via leads that are not ready to hit the buy button just yet.
The great thing about the contact forms is that they are very flexible: you can design them just like an after-purchase form with drop-downs, rules based on different selections, file attachment functionality, and more.
Also read: how to create an intake form
All the data will be saved on the client profile and the newly created ticket, so your team can use it later if the process itself begins.
The 5 phases of the intake process
At this point, you should be convinced that having a solid work intake process flow is a great way of scaling up your operations. Let’s look at the steps in the intake process so you can create your own flow.
The discovery phase heavily depends on your business operations. Are you a traditional agency relying on custom projects, or a productized one?
The former will spend a lot more time in the discovery phase because the intake process takes more time. Your leads might not know every detail about the services you offer, so need to educate them. Your intake process often revolves around filling out forms, asking them what kind of service they’re interested in, what they’re struggling with, and what their goals are. Based on that information, you can create a proposal.
A productized service, however, enters the discovery phase after payment. They simply need to capture essential information to get started. For instance, if you’re running a content writing agency, you’ll want to know what type of content it will be, who the audience is, what keywords to use.
This step doesn’t exist for productized agencies because the project has been paid for. Everyone else needs to decide if the scope is in line with what they offer, if they have the resources to finish the project in time, and how much it will cost.
Often times, multiple team members will be involved who have to review and accept new projects. When designing this phase, ensure that certain people are responsible for the overall assessment, who needs to green-light individual requirements, and who can estimate the budget. Also keep in mind that, depending on the scope, you might have to involve your legal team, especially when potential clients ask about signing NDAs.
With the assessment completed, the project owner needs to put the project ideas including timelines, costs, etc. into a proposal. In order to create a proposal, they need to know the team members that will be allocated, how many hours the project will take, the expected costs, how to handle unforeseeable delays, NDAs, and more.
All the information conclude in a proposal that is legally binding if signed, but should be easy to understand for the potential client. And it shouldn’t raise any concerns, questions, or leave room for interpretation.
Once a potential client has received the proposal, there’s a good chance it will go through a few revisions before it’s finalized. Some points might not be clear enough, with others they might not agree with. It’s the project manager’s role to assure that changes made are still inline with the team’s vision, capabilities, and available resources.
Grow your industry knowledge
The final phase is the acceptance or refusal one. Either both parties come to an agreement, concluding the project intake process, or they don’t and the project will never begin. If a project proposal is rejected, the manager should analyze:
the reason for the rejection,
if the estimates were correct, and
if a scaled down project could be offered.
The last option is basically a way to salvage the invested time by narrowing the project’s scope down to something both parties can work on. For instance, if the client was looking to get 30 blog posts written in three months, offer to write half of them in the same time period.
A software that streamlines the project intake process
There are countless products that allow you to create a successful intake process. Service Provider Pro has been specifically designed with agencies in mind who want to automate their intake system. This allows them to focus on the project delivery instead of wasting time making sure that clients deliver the information they need.
SPP also integrates with tools such as Zapier, so you can automate what happens when the intake process begins. For very sophisticated automations, we offer webhooks as well as an API—everything you need to get the right information about the project, and deliver it on time.