You have no idea how many times I've talked to a prospective client where we start off the conversation on a high note, only to drop to a sour note minutes later when they start badgering about all the mistakes their previous freelance designers / developers have made.
"[Freelancer's name] never told me what to do after I signed our agreement, so I didn't know what to do next. He was awful."
"I found it really difficult to schedule a meeting with [Freelancer's Name] because she never gives me straight answers on what she wanted from me for my website."
And my favourite, which I actually heard just three months ago:
"[Freelancer's Name] took a month before responding back to my requests to update my website - that was absolutely unacceptable. I don't want to work with someone like that, and I hope you're not like that either. This is why I am so hesitant in moving forward with our contract and continuing working with freelancers."
I've not afraid to say that I'm sure I have been in similar situations like that myself. There has probably been more than one time where I was the target of some of those frustrations as well. #truth
But over the years, I have developed some successful onboarding strategies that has worked in my career in keeping my clients happy and engaged. Onboarding is necessary because as my client, it allows you to receive the understanding and tools you need. And it helps me understand how I can best serve you and how we can work together - you know, setting expectations and all. All in all, it will help both of us have more confidence, be more productive, and feel a whole lot less stressed! It also saves you as the freelancer a LOT more time in the future not having to ask your clients for more information because you already got it all from the start.
For a lot of designers, the process of onboarding new clients is tough because there is no universal definition for what onboarding should look like. However, over the past 8 years I have figured out along with the way what works and what doesn’t. Here are 5 things that I use in my own freelancing life that I have found have helped me in optimizing my client onboarding process:
1) Fill Out an Online Success Profile Form
Filling out a success profile is the best way to kick off after the contract has been signed. It gives your clients a chance to let you know exactly what is unique about their services and how you can best define that message for them. It also saves you a lot of time going over the boring stuff that you'd typically have to ask your client, ie. Address, Billing, Phone Number, Emails, Web Hosting Details, etc. I could go on forever!
Asking for the same set of information with every client not only saves you a lot of onboarding time, but it also gives your client a chance to think deeply about their business as well. I have had many clients tell me that filling out my success profile has been a valuable exercise for them. Plus it helps add to your credibility!
Want to see what mine looks like? Take a look.
If you happen to get any value out of it, can you please let me know by commenting below? I would love to hear how you onboard your clients yourself!
2) Plan a Great Client Kickoff Call
Got more questions after the client fills out the Success Profile? Great, that's what a client kickoff call is for! There will always be things that your client simply cannot enter into your Success Profile, whether it is because it's confidential (I will be writing a blog about using an NDA soon), or they just couldn't think of it at the time, and having a further conversation will allow them to communicate that to you.
Your client kickoff call is a chance for you to create an agenda and agree to a list of priorities going forward. During this call, you can develop a better understanding of the strengths and opportunities present, as well as any challenges that we need to overcome.
This call will be a time for you to set measurable goals, establish benchmarks, and create a project deadline. Remember, that the goals should be tangible - because an intangible one is one that could lead to problems in the future!
3) Set Clear Expectations for the Project
Just remember, setting measurable goals will not only assure the client that you know what you're doing, it will protect you from the client coming to you and telling you that "this is not what they wanted!"
It's all about supercharging your client communication, and by following these steps, you'll never miss a beat with your clients!
Drill down to the basic details with your expectations - it's important. In a perfect world, your initial conversation with your client would look like this:
Client: "I want my website done by the end of the month."
You: "What's your expectation for the website? In terms of pages / content / etc."
Client: "I would like the pages completed, including Home / About / Services / Team / Contact"
You: "No problem, as long as you provide me with the content by end of next week, I will have the website completed for you by the end of the month."
Client: "Great! Thank you for clarifying. I will have the content over to you by then."
But let's be honest: It probably won't. There's nothing wrong with trying though! Try to get as close to this as possible - The majority of the expectation will most likely be set by you, but trust me, the more tangible your expectations are, the better it will be for you at the end of the day.
4) Establish Regular Check-Ins
I make it a priority to check in with my clients a minimum of once a week. This could be a phone call or a quick email, as long as we are on the same page and feel good about the direction the project is headed.
This can be especially useful if your client is not meeting the expectations both of you set together (which many times unfortunately it is the case), so this would also be a great time to remind them of what you are waiting on from them.
5) Take It Even Further with a CRM!
Another tool I use to keep in touch with my clients is through Basecamp. I use Basecamp for project management because it allows us to set up to-do lists and other checklists necessary for the project. I create an account for them so that have easy access to view what I am working on and they will always know what stage we are at with the project.
I view onboarding new clients as an opportunity to build trust and set expectations. Onboarding a new client is the beginning of a working relationship so it is important to me that I do a great job! By giving my client the best possible onboarding experience, it improves the experience for both of us. And it increases our ability to continue to work together in the future because I will be better able to anticipate their needs and provide quality work.
Have you ever had a client onboarding experience you weren’t happy with? Or did you ever have a truly outstanding experience you want to brag on? Leave me your thoughts below!