How to Perfect Your Client Onboarding Process
Scaling a business is a tricky thing. Not only do you have to focus on the ‘big picture’ of what you’re trying to achieve, but you need to stay on top of internal activities and team responsibilities. So it’s no surprise that business owners understand the analogy of trying to keep lots of plates spinning.
The biggest challenges associated with scaling are keeping those plates spinning whilst also adding new ones. Even if you’re doing everything correctly as of now, the minute you start expanding and adding new ‘plates’, the more likely it is to all come crashing down.
All businesses need a system for dealing with the consequences of scaling. One of the biggest and most important areas here is clients – as you grow and scale, you’ll build your client network and start working with new people.
You need a plan in place before you start signing more new clients, because otherwise, another part of the business is going to suffer. You can’t do the important work associated with getting to grips with a new client if you’re also doing lots of other tasks. So, with that in mind, how are you going to deal with onboarding new clients?
What is client onboarding?
Client onboarding is the process of bringing in a new client to your business. In my opinion this process starts as soon as you receive a verbal or written “yes” from the client.
Your onboarding process, however, it might look, helps lay the groundwork for a number of outcomes once they’ve signed contracts and you’re ready to work. Onboarding should establish:
- Expectations for the contact between the client and your team. Who is responsible, what timeline should each party expect, and what channels will you use?
- An understanding of the tools and platforms relevant to both parties
- A clear timeline of required meetings, calls and communications to commence the project
- The client’s goals and objectives
- Agreement on a feedback process
I know some of you are probably frowning at the screen, thinking ‘Michelle, why can’t I just start working with new clients and sort this as I go?’. The benefits of establishing the above via a precise onboarding journey are pretty clear:
- Mutual understanding: onboarding ensures both you and the client understand each other’s businesses, including your USPs and ways of working.
- Improved efficiency: by front-loading much of the work associated with determining client goals, you can ensure you ‘hit the ground running’ once the project gets underway.
- Clear accountability: both you and the client know who is responsible for specific actions and which points of contact are suited to which activities.
- Amazing customer service: by having an excellent onboarding process, you are setting the tone, from the outset, for how the client can expect a great service from your business.
How to design a client onboarding process
With all of the ideas, above, in mind, how would I suggest you design your client onboarding process? For me, onboarding is all about following a set process – it’s not about using fancy tools or graphic design to ‘wow’ a client; it’s just about getting the right information nailed down before a project starts and making sure the client is super happy from Day 1. To do that, I’d suggest following this checklist:
- Once you receive the verbal or written “yes” what is the mechanism or system to kick off the onboarding process?
- Sign legal contracts/NDAs etc
- Share relevant financial information and raise invoice/take initial payment: invoice information, banking details, etc.
- Send welcome pack
- Handover to the delivery team
- Agree on communication channels
- Enable file sharing
- Establish project management process
Confused about any of these steps? I’ve explained them below to help show how valuable they can be.
- Kick off the onboarding process: Once you’ve received the verbal or written “yes”, you need to relay all important information from the sales call / process to the team and inform them to start the onboarding process. This is important as it may be you that makes the sale but it will likely be your team that carries out the administrative side of the onboarding process. Be clear on who and how you will notify of a new client (which is especially important if this step can not be automated).
- Take care of the legal and financial formalities: make sure you and the client sign all relevant legal documentation where required at this early stage. Send your banking details to the client, or request theirs. Don’t progress to the next part until you’re confident you both have a way to send/receive payment. I often recommend setting up a direct debit using a system like GoCardless especially if you do not require any form of payment before work commences.
- Send a welcome pack: it might sound like something a holiday company does, but creating a welcome pack for new clients to learn more about your company is a good idea. Include contact names and email addresses, processes and other relevant information. In certain cases, sending a little gift or something unexpected to the new client goes a long way in delighting them (especially when they may have just parted with a big chunk of money to work with you).
- Set up communication channels and handover to the delivery team: most client relationships don’t live solely via email or phone. Agree on the best communication platform whether that be Slack or inviting them to a private space in your project management system like Asana, ClickUp, etc. The most important part of this step is that both the client and your team are clear on who the main points of contact are and how they can and should be communicated with.
As part of this step, you need to make sure that the relevant members of your team that will be responsible for the delivery of the service / product, are clear on the goals and objectives of the project and any other relevant information that was gleaned during the sales process.
- Enable file sharing: sending documents directly can get messy, so I’d recommend setting up a file-sharing system for you and your client. Google Drive/Docs offers the most efficient and simple option, but there are lots of paid tools you might already use. The key is to clearly establish how information and files will be shared so everyone is on the same page and knows how to access them.
- Establish the project management process: this is the last but probably biggest step in onboarding. You need to take every previous step into account and build a framework for client delivery - setting out the actions your team will take, scheduling deadlines and creating KPIs. Once this is done, have the client review your plan and use their feedback to iron things out.
The process above is just one approach to client onboarding. Some businesses are using new tools to jumpstart their relationships, utilising things like AI-driven questionnaires and CRM software to make the start of any new client journey simpler. I don’t think you need anything fancy for an effective onboarding process – just make sure you’ve got one and you follow it so that you can start every client project off on the right foot.
If you’d like help managing business operations and scaling your growth, I can help. Contact me today to discuss your existing client approach and see how I can add value in my role as a Fractional Director of Operations.
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