Client onboarding process guide – 7 steps
As a business owner, there’s a chasm you need to traverse between converting a client and starting their new project: that mysterious phase known as “client onboarding.” The client onboarding process is crucial to ensuring you’ve got everything you need before starting the project, as well as making the client comfortable with how the project will progress.
What is client onboarding?
Client onboarding is the process of gathering all essential information about a client prior to starting the project and making sure your new client is familiar with the services you provide. This involves taking the time to answer their questions and address concerns, review the project’s scope, and make sure everyone is on the same page. Having a firm foundation in place can allow you to kick off a project with confidence and align properly.
As with just about everything in web design, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The process that’s right for you might not work for others, but it’s critical in helping you:
- Create a great first impression that paves the way for a trusted, long-term relationship.
- Build efficiency via clear communication.
- Reduce scope creep by confirming details and setting expectations.
- Make sure you’ve got everything you need before starting the project.
- Anticipate exceptions, misconceptions, and potential obstacles.
- Breed loyalty, fostering better retention and reducing churn.
Related: How to set expectations with your clients
Clients also have additional needs addressing the many aspects they may be unsure of, and their need to just “know” what’s going on. In addition, the process can:
- Assure them you have a plan, which should relieve anxiety.
- Increase their comfort level about how the project will progress.
- Allow them to understand expectations so they can collaborate with you more efficiently.
- Reassure they are being listened to.
- Reinforce they have hired a pro who takes their business seriously.
We’ve put together this checklist of client onboarding tips to help you streamline the process.
Here’s what we’re going to cover in this guide:
- Attributes of a successful client onboarding process.
- 7 steps to execute a strong client onboarding process.
- 1. Collect information with a comprehensive new client intake questionnaire.
- 2. Solidify strategy with a paid discovery workshop.
- 3. Follow your formal administrative process.
- 4. Do the admin pre-work to get the project started.
- 5. Hold a project kick-off meeting.
- 6. Follow up with your welcome package.
- 7. Present plans for further follow-up.
- Common onboarding errors.
- Best practices for onboarding.
- Streamline client onboarding with GoDaddy Pro.
Let’s get started.
Attributes of a successful client onboarding process
A thoughtful and deliberate onboarding process lets clients know that you consider them a partner in defining the success of the project. To ensure successful onboarding:
Know what questions need answering
Essentially, the onboarding process boils down to two critical questions:
- What do you need in order to deliver a successful project that runs smoothly?
- What must the client do to make sure you get what you need?
Of course, nested under these are many more questions. For example, once you know which deliverables you need, there will be additional questions about timeline, format and ownership.
Use GoDaddy Pro
When you’re onboarding clients, keeping track of all the necessary information isn’t always easy. Rather than relying on a system of sticky notes taking up space on your desk or struggling with countless documents on your computer, use a system that’s built to make client onboarding easier.
GoDaddy Pro lets you input client information for multiple clients in a single location with one login. You can review their responses, keep track of project scope, monitor login credentials and run updates once you start working on their websites with the push of a button.
Through <the Hub, you can send requests to manage clients’ websites while also gaining access to their login credentials in the same location. That means less upkeep for you and less downtime once you’re ready to start working on their sites.
You’ll keep your new projects (and client information) more organized from the beginning so you can get to work as soon as the onboarding process is complete.
Craft an effective client onboarding checklist
A client onboarding checklist lets you focus on discipline and structure — and following it with each project brings peace of mind. Referencing your checklist ensures you don’t forget crucial steps or take actions out of order.
At the same time, build in flexibility and scalability.
Both factors are key to every single process you undertake as a web designer — it’s important to know when you can bend or break your own rules, and you’ll want to make sure that it’s efficient to execute the process multiple times, perhaps simultaneously.
You’ll want the ability to skip steps if warranted, and at the same time, anticipate the trade-offs in doing so.
Make supporting materials available to clients pre-sale
The onboarding process starts well before a proposal is accepted, with 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 paragraph, a dedicated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section, or even well-written case studies describing how you deliver a project.
7 steps to execute a strong client onboarding process
A significant challenge we experience with any client is their lack of knowledge about what they need or why they need it. But if we are being fair to our future clients, should we expect them to?
As a website professional, you must be the facilitator, drawing out goals that even they might not realize.
Step 1: Collect information with a comprehensive client onboarding questionnaire
Start with a finely tuned and comprehensive client questionnaire that asks the right questions, so you have information even before there’s a project in place. It’s your first true opportunity to gather what you need, and asking the right questions will save both time and money.
Step 2: Solidify strategy with a paid discovery workshop
The paid discovery workshop nails down the information you need to create the proposal and contract for the full project.
Sell this workshop as a true strategy session to work through the client’s needs, goals, and how they anticipate achieving those goals.
Through this engagement, you can walk your client through the steps to create a clear, defined vision for their website and what it’s supposed to achieve.
It also serves as a great way to be first in line for the job, before even offering a proposal. In the end, discovery will be helpful for the organization that needs the project built, not just for the ones doing the building. Still not quite sure what a discovery workshop is?
Digging into the discovery session
A discovery strategy session is a standalone paid service that clarifies what the project is all about before you even write a proposal. It covers information grouped into three sections:
Why, what, and who?
- What is the Why behind what the client is trying to achieve, in terms of goals and impact they hope to make online?
- What products and services do they bring to the market?
- Who is the group of people that will most benefit from their What?
With answers to these questions, it’s time to define three to five SMART goals, where SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.
Most importantly, each goal should focus on something they are trying to achieve online, and something the website can make happen.
In guiding clients to articulate SMART goals, use these guidelines:
- Specific — Does it target a specific area for improvement?
- Measurable — How are you measuring your success?
- Achievable — Is it reachable?
- Relevant — Is it realistic to achieve?
- Time-bound — When would you achieve it by?
The buyer’s journey
What steps will website visitors employ to eventually take advantage of what is being offered? This can be broken down into five areas:
- Attract: How will your client attract leads? Will you need to replicate the experience provided by current tools?
- Capture: How does your client capture leads? What can be given away in exchange for their email address?
- Nurture: Is your client set up to currently nurture these leads via email marketing?
- Convert: Most importantly, does your client know what steps they want people to take to convert and make a purchase?
- Measure: Lastly, how do we measure all this? This is where your client determines the metric that matters the most, based on their SMART goals. It might be site visitors, email signups or something as simple as phone call requests.
In addition, you may have the opportunity for additional discovery work such as:
- Competitor research: Working with the client to evaluate their competition and what they do well. If clients are having trouble articulating what they want their website to achieve, or which market they are trying to reach, this could be key.
- Design research: Working with the client to further clarify what they want the site to look and feel like. Style and design can be part of the discovery workshop if this helps determine how to attract the “who” identified earlier in the strategy session.
After the discovery session, follow up by delivering a consolidated document summarizing the findings.
Yes, from here any other web designer could take the project away from you — but you’ll have been paid for the strategy work.
Step 3: Follow your formal administrative process
Once you have that clear vision, you can proceed to a formal proposal for the project.
Invest effort in further research on your client, their history, and their competitors. Spend time reviewing the questionnaire responses, drafting the timeline, and identifying deliverables needed.
Make sure the proposal, contract and first invoice are addressed promptly, before proceeding to any additional tasks.
Related: How to close a deal successfully with a better proposal process
Step 4: Do the admin pre-work to get the project started
Whether you use a project management tool or rely on a shared folder via Dropbox or Google Docs, set up everything you’ll need for this client, and invite them to collaborate as appropriate.
Add them to your mailing list.
Invite them to follow your social media accounts.
Relax knowing you can efficiently and effectively manage your client’s new website with the free tools and resources available through GoDaddy Pro.
Step 5: Hold a project kick-off meeting
If you’ve already conducted the discovery workshop, you’ve begun the process of building trust and setting the tone. Now the project work begins in earnest so it’s time to reinforce the seeds already planted.
Conduct the kick-off meeting face-to-face if possible (or via video chat if not). Plan to cover the following topics:
- Schedule, with a focus on next steps
- Additional homework needed to proceed with the project
- Major deliverables
- How you’ll handle future scope changes
- Details about your work hours and availability via email or phone during specific office hours, including typical response times
- How meetings are scheduled and take place — be sure they understand the platforms you use, such as Zoom or Skype, and how you schedule appointments, such as via Appointlet or Calendly
- Preferences around how you want to receive deliverables
If you have any swag you like to share with clients, be prepared to distribute at the meeting, or mail to arrive in time for the meeting.
Step 6: Follow up with your welcome package
A welcome package is a set of files that welcomes your new client and includes key information that is necessary for the project to finish successfully.
Think of it as a roadmap that will guide your client through the process of working with you, helping them to stay on track with their tasks and commitments, and answering questions.
Your welcome package should:
- reiterate your policies
- prepare them to do their part
- position you as a professional
- eliminate confusion on what happens when
- set the foundation to ask for referrals and testimonials
Related: How to create a welcome package for your web design clients
Step 7: Present plans for further follow-up
While the kick-off meeting included an explanation of your follow-up methods — especially on initial tasks to gather information — you’ll also want to follow up with specific next steps in terms of schedule and deliverables.
Related: How to follow up with clients — 8 tips for success
Common client onboarding process errors
Looking for ways to blow it? The following lapses may be the sure-fire path to failure — or at the very least, time and/or money lost to re-work.
- Not doing your pre-work from the start, in terms of really understanding your client, their current situation, their needs and their competitors.
- Skipping steps without considering the trade-offs or consequences.
- Making assumptions instead of asking questions.
- Not making the client pay for the client onboarding process itself.
Client Onboarding Process Best practices and Tips
Now that you’ve got a strong client onboarding process in place, stick to some general guidelines to ensure a smooth experience for all involved.
Educate clients around expectations early and often
Explicitly set expectations around how you run your business — whether it’s payments, communication methods, or delivery of information. By including this information in your kick-off meeting, proposal, welcome package, and on your website, you optimize collaboration with clients to get your work done most efficiently.
Stay accessible and responsive
Be ready to address questions or confusion quickly and thoroughly. Reassure clients that you know what’s up, and that you’re there to guide them along the way. Encourage them to ask questions if they don’t understand — it’s preferable to answer early on, and nip potential issues in the bud.
Related: Communicating with clients — 5 tactics for success
Keep information flowing
Do your best to keep everyone in the loop regarding status, deliverables, timeline, budget and potential issues — and do all in your power to avoid surprises. It’s almost impossible to over-communicate about these topics.
Improve the process
Every new (or departing) client provides input to improve your onboarding process, which translates to improved client satisfaction, and more opportunity to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Streamline client onboarding with GoDaddy Pro
Of course, it’s up to you to determine the detailed onboarding process that will work best for your projects — based on understanding the success factors of your own established working environment, and your goals and expectations for the project.
With GoDaddy Pro, onboarding new clients is simple. The Hub allows you to store responses and keep track of each client’s information with a single login. You’ll also be able to manage their websites once you start work on the project whether they’re hosted with GoDaddy or not.
That means less downtime, less confusion and a faster onboarding process for each client you bring on.
Your ultimate objective is to have the right tools and processes in place, keep the workflow moving in the right direction, and deliver a final outcome that aligns with your client’s vision of success.
Use these suggestions and best practices to get a head start on defining the client onboarding process that works best for you.
This article includes content originally published on the GoDaddy blog by the following authors: Aaron Reimann, Cody Landefeld, Kristina Romero and Tom Rankin.
Image by: You X Ventures on Unsplash
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