Client onboarding is the process involved in taking someone from initial interest through to a registered client. While some argue that true onboarding only begins after a contract is signed and an invoice is paid, we find that – for smaller businesses – it can be beneficial to include those steps and any prior ones in one complete process.
Essentially, client onboarding is about giving both you and your new client the information and tools you need to work well together.
The benefits of a smooth client onboarding process
As much as it can save you time, money, and stress, an effective client onboarding process will improve your clients’ experience of working with you. In those early stages when it’s important to give a first-rate impression, a well-tested and easy-to-follow system will give your business a professional edge.
A smooth client onboarding process can help you:
- Familiarise new clients with your products and services
- Demonstrate the effectiveness of your work
- Set expectations and outline processes and guidelines
- Collect the information you need to get started with a project
- Empower your clients to get the most out of their investment with you
Add all of this together and you’ll get the kind of client satisfaction that leads to long-term relationships, increased spending, and enthusiastic referrals.
A well-planned client onboarding process can also help you stay on top of your game when it comes to things like data protection, contracts, and invoicing.
How to streamline your client onboarding process
Like anything that carries with it such a broad range of benefits, setting up a client onboarding process isn’t easy. It can be a lot of work up front, and it’ll require refining and enhancing as your business develops.
If you’re serious about taking your onboarding process up a level or two, follow these five steps to make it happen.
1. Review your current process
First, look at your current process and ask yourself the following questions:
What do I have already that’s working?
Maybe you already have things like a contract, a data protection form, and an invoicing system in place. Even if they’ll need tweaking to fit your new system, count these as assets that you can use to kickstart this project.
Where can I make improvements?
Perhaps you think you could do a better job of answering the common questions you receive from new clients? Or maybe you’re concerned that you’re not presenting your services and packages clearly? Jot these things down with a note to say why they’re important.
2. Design your ideal client onboarding process
Now that you know what you like and what you don’t like, it’s time to plan the new process.
Get clear on the detail
Remember to look at this from both your clients’ perspective and your own. You want to provide them with a helpful, informative, and supportive onboarding experience, but this is also about laying the foundations for how you want to run your business.
Think about how you want your working week to look. Understand your capacity and break down what that means for each client. Know your limits when it comes to your working hours and availability. Get clear on what you can and can’t help with. Outline all of this to new clients upfront and you’ll save yourself problems later on.
Map out the process
Once you’re clear on the detail, look at the process. How will you get from initial enquiry to job done and beyond? Write down each step involved in the process. What happens first? Where does it go from there? What needs to be completed before things can move on?
Get creative with this. Grab a big sheet of paper and some coloured pens. Use sticky notes and highlighters. Or try an online diagram creator like Lucidchart. There’ll be multiple steps involved in your client onboarding process, and possibly even different outcomes depending on the situation. The better your plan, the easier you’ll find it to implement.
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3. Choose tools for each step in the process
Next, it’s time to choose the tools that will help you execute your new client onboarding process.
Consider the systems you’re already using and investigate whether there are additional features you can utilise. Where you need something new, look at how you might be able to merge existing systems with new ones.
To get you started, here are some of our favourites that you can go away and research. (Or, if you have questions about any of these tools, drop our founder Claire a message on Twitter or LinkedIn. She’d be happy to offer you some free advice).
- Book meetings/consultations without the hassle – Calendly or Acuity Scheduling
- Send contracts digitally and get them signed – HelloSign or Adobe Sign
- Send invoices and keep financial records – Wave or Xero
- Collect client payments – GoCardless or Stripe
- Send forms and questionnaires – Typeform or Google Forms
- Share and collaborate on documents – Google Drive or Dropbox
- Manage projects and communicate with others – Asana or Trello
- Integrate and automate – Zapier or IFTTT
4. Create an action plan
This is where things get exciting. (Or scary, depending on how you feel about big projects).
Now that you know what you want to achieve, how it’ll work, and which tools you’ll use, it’s time to put together an action plan to make it happen.
First, think realistically about whether you can manage it all on your own, or whether you need to bring in some support. Which tasks could you delegate, and which need to be done by you? Do you need help creating some of the content or setting up some of the systems and processes? Where might you need support from a specialist who has skills and knowledge that you don’t have the time to learn?
Once you know how you’re going to get everything done, set SMART goals, create a timeline, and then make it happen. Don’t let all of your research and planning go to waste.
5. Test it and refine it
Before you start using your new onboarding process with clients, test it with someone who can help you spot errors, difficulties, or inefficiencies.
Once it’s ready to go, continue to test and refine it as you go along. Ask your clients for feedback and look out for updates and new features for the tools and software you’re using.
Planning and setting up an entire client onboarding process is a big job. But, once it’s done, we’re confident the benefits will make it worth the effort.
For support or guidance on anything we’ve covered in this post, email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a FREE 30 minute consultation.