Client onboarding Cliff Notes to save your bacon

Prepare for smooth sailing

As a quality web professional, there’s a chasm you need to traverse between converting a client and starting their new project. It’s a little thing called “client onboarding.” This is a process that helps you make sure you’ve got everything you need before you start a project. It also ensures the client is comfortable with how the project will progress, so it’s crucial to get right.

This post will look at the context for client onboarding, then discuss how to do it. We’ll cover some key elements to consider, along with how to create a process that can be reused for each client. Let’s get started!

Related: Finding your first client as a freelance web professional

Client onboarding has nothing to do with ships or pirates

Client Onboarding Pirates

To begin, we’re going to give you a very simple equation to follow. Client onboarding equals asking every question you need to the client, plus gathering all of your resources in order to deliver the project smoothly.

For example, you might want to get contracts signed and sealed and answer any client questions about the process. You’ll also want to plan out a roadmap for the project.

Related: The ultimate web design client questionnaire

Each onboarding process is different, although they all help the client adapt to your way of working. For some examples of onboarding procedures, look no further than signing up for Slack, Dropbox or Zapier. You might want to run through their onboarding procedures to get a feel for how they work and how they’re structured.

It sounds simple, and it can be, but you might have trouble getting used to the process. This is especially true when you’re looking to maintain professionalism, while panicking that you haven’t collected everything you need. However, repetition is key here, and the process will eventually become so easy you’ll wonder how you lived without it.

Yes, this requires discipline and structure, as well as thinking about how it’s implemented. However, setting up a client onboarding procedure ultimately provides you with a much smoother process.

Don’t think about creating an onboarding procedure, just do it (after you’ve thought about it)

Before you create an onboarding procedure that’s flexible and scalable, there are some things you need to consider. Firstly, it’s worth understanding that the onboarding process starts well before a proposal is accepted.

In fact, its nucleus is in your very first contact with a potential client.


For example, your website could offer details on how you work on projects. This could be a simple paragraph or two, a dedicated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section, or even well-written case studies describing how you deliver a project.

Creating a solid client intake form is going to help you immensely here, as you can essentially onboard a client before there’s even a project in place. It’s an invisible way of getting the answers you need, and also gives you a head start when it comes to delivering what the client wants and needs.

Once you have the pre-planning out of the way, you can dive head first into the exciting world of client onboarding.

Related: How to create a welcome package for your web design clients

Before you make them walk the plank, you have to build It

Client Onboarding Plank

If you love procedures, contracts and overthinking how to not get caught out with a tricky client question, you’ll love this part. Joking aside, it does pay to almost overthink this, as you’ll need to take a lot of factors into consideration. Essentially, you’ll need to:

  • Consider what you need to deliver a successful project that runs smoothly.
  • Ascertain what the client requires for a successful project.
  • Plan the actual onboarding.

For the first point, you’re essentially asking yourself what you need to provide good work. These questions should be simple initially, and answers should be based around the time you can dedicate, the skills you can offer, and the budget you can work with. You’ll then take these answers and list out a number of questions to ask your client.

Speaking of which, you’ll also want to consider what your client needs to help make the project a success. This may be answered once you’ve asked your own questions. Some general considerations, such as prompt communication and regular check-ins, will be a given.

At this point, you’ll have enough to begin mapping out the onboarding process. This will be a linear overview of each step, broken down into sub-sections if necessary. There are plenty of ways to do this, although Smartsheet is a good service that provides free template maps to help you along the way.

Related: Choosing an onboarding process for website (re)design

This is a very simplistic overview, and that’s because each onboarding procedure will be unique to you — although you’ll often find real-world examples if you look hard enough. Erin Flynn offers a good breakdown on the different elements of a client onboarding procedure, which is well worth a look.

Finally, it’s worth thinking of an onboarding procedure as a container, within which you plug in “modules,” such as contract creation, delivering a welcome packet, and all of the other elements. That way, it can become adaptable to both yours and your client’s needs.


We know what you’re thinking. Once the client has given a project the green light, you’re already looking at a new car upgrade and lighting cigars with $20 bills. However, before the payment is made, you’ll need to make sure both you and your clients are up to speed on what to expect.

Client onboarding is simply a fancy term for making sure you remember to ask everything you need to before starting a project. As such, this post has shown you how to set up a dedicated procedure. All that’s left to do is implement it (if you remember to use it, that is)!

Related: How to manage client expectations and set clear boundaries