I used to think I didn’t need a client onboarding process in my agency. Now I know why I was so stressed a lot of the time.
There are many things that can disappoint a client during a project, but one that scores high on my list is when a project falls flat as soon as they have my signature on the dotted line.
You know, they obviously excel at the sales pitch.
You, as the client, get excited to work with them. They are responsive; they are prompt; they seem to get what you have in mind; you get along like a house on fire.
And then… POOF!
Things fall flat.
Whatever it was they promised they would deliver, it’s not there.
Am I disappointed? Heck yes!
Am I likely to recommend them to somebody else? … Nope.
So where did they go wrong?
My opinion? It could be a lot of things, but I’m pretty certain one of them is the lack of an Onboarding Process.
Why Onboarding Is Important
See, an onboarding process is not a frivolity.
I used to be one of those people who didn’t have one for quite some time. Looking back now… it’s no surprise I was constantly stressed, trying to chase my tail.
My point is that there are several reasons why an onboarding process is a good idea.
- It starts the client relationship on the right foot. All the excellent communication and responsiveness your client experienced during the sales process…. It continues.
- It sets out the right expectations. No assumptions. No ‘he said, she said’.
- It creates boundaries and avoids awkward situations where you need to put a client in their place. (“No, I don’t work 24/7, so don’t expect a reply to your weekend email until the next business day.”)
- It creates trust with the client. They will see you as the established service provider that you are.
But there are also several reasons an onboarding process is beneficial for you and your team too.
- You and your team are very clear on what the client signed up for. Again, no assumptions.
- It creates a repeatable, consistent and predictable process.
- In the long term, it will save time.
How To Onboard New Clients… AND The Team
Interestingly, when people discuss an onboarding, they mean a client onboarding process. Me? I not only onboard the client (External onboarding process). I also onboard the team (I call this the internal onboarding process).
The reason? Read the benefits above again.
I also should point out that your onboarding process should look very different from mine, even if we would be in a similar industry. (Not only are our businesses different, we also have different values, processes, services, personalities, relationships with our clients, etc.)
As a result, downloading a template from some website makes little sense. BUT I can share my process, just to show you what I do. It may inspire you or give you ideas.
External Onboarding Processes a.k.a . Client Onboarding Process
So, what is my external onboarding process?
Within 24 to 36 hours of a client signing up, a welcome email goes out.
What’s in it, you ask?
Quite a few things, but I keep it condensed and easy to read with headers and bullet points.
I start off by thanking my new client. I tell them I am very excited to work with them.
Next, I promise them they will get my best work in order for me to help them reach the outcome they are looking for.
How I Will Help You
In the context of putting my best foot forward, there are a few things they can expect from me.
Some things I mention in the welcome email are:
- I tell the client they can expect 5 meetings with us that will take an hour. (The amount of meetings changes according to the project we’re working on.)
- In case it’s needed, they can get support from us via email. I promise we will get back to them within 24 hours, except during weekends (in which case it will be the next working day).
How You Can Help Me
Then I continue by saying that for us to do our best work, they can help us with a few things too. Some examples of what I include are:
- I expect my clients to show up on time for our meetings and I expect to have their undivided attention. This may seem superfluous, but I don’t like to leave this open to interpretation.
- I let them know we need 24 hours’ notice if they need to reschedule a meeting. (Of course, that is within reason. We all know that sometimes, unexpected things happen that require us to drop everything there and then.
- I ask them to complete any tasks on their end by the agreed deadline. (This goes back to episode 57 where we discussed ‘Clients missing deadlines…again!’)
- I also tell them I expect prompt payment of invoices as per the contract.
Communication is an important one, because this is often where things go wrong.
So under the communication section of the client onboarding guide, I have four headings:
My availability: where and when they can contact me in between the scheduled meetings and when they can expect a reply.
How we schedule our meetings: For the first meeting, I give them a link to my calendar with instructions to schedule. The other meetings we plan during this first meeting.
The duration of our meetings: I explain I respect everyone's time, and that I aim to stick to the agreed duration of our meetings. I also point out that considering the time we have, we will have to stick to the agenda.
The meeting location: these days that is likely to be Zoom, but in case the meeting will be in person, this is where it is mentioned.
What To Expect From The Kickstart Meeting
This brings us to the kickstart meeting.
This is our first meeting that will help us start the project successfully.
In the welcome email, I describe what to expect from this first meeting. Many of these things have already been discussed, but this is where we set them in stone.
- Although there may already be some familiar faces, we start with introductions, including the new faces, like the project manager.
- We also confirm project objectives and desired outcomes. (Remember the assumption we wanted to avoid?)
- We also identify milestones, plus we set key-milestones.
- We schedule any further meetings.
External Aspect Of Onboarding a.k.a. Team Onboarding
I mentioned earlier that onboarding the team is just as s important as the client onboarding process. It won’t be a surprise I have a process for that in place too.
This is how it works: We create a client onboarding task list (separate from the project task list) and we check off all the steps to ensure we have completed the entire client onboarding.
As for making sure the team is up to speed with the project ahead….
- We set up Monday.com, our project management tool of choice. We enter key milestones, people responsible for each task, …. The usual.
- We also set up any other tech tools we may use.
- We create a new folder where we will store all the files.
- We set up Xero, our accounting program, where we also track our time against the project.
- We have a team (internal) kickstart meeting, where we make sure all noses point in the same direction.
As For The Client Onboarding Templates
Which leaves me with the onboarding templates I mentioned earlier.
While downloading somebody else’s templates is bound to get it wrong, I highly recommend creating your own. You know… investing a little bit of time to save lots of time in the long run.
Half a day will get you under way. The benefits will be a-plenty. (This also ties in nicely with Episode 61 about why you should embrace simplicity in your business to be able to scale.)
Take the time to create processes and templates so the onboarding becomes predictable and consistent without eating away at your time. Allocate half a day to do this.
If there is anything in today’s podcast about client and team onboarding (or something in one of the previous episodes) you want to discuss or you've got some more questions, just reach out. Here is the link. You can leave a video message or a simple old voice message or even a text. I would love to hear from you.