An Inside Look at My Client Onboarding Process

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” - Benjamin Franklin

When you think about the client process, images of drafts, revisions, and the finished product may come to mind.

And while those are crucial components, there are a lot of steps that need to happen before the client process begins in order for things to run smoothly.

I’ve found that the onboarding process sets the stage for the rest of the client project. How you handle inquiries, meetings, contracts, and invoices can make or break the entire process; it sets a precedent.

So today I’m inviting you inside of my client onboarding process that’s been tweaked over these last three years. 

My hope is that while you may not follow it to a T, you might walk away with a step or two that helps make your client process run smoother.

An Inside Look at My Client Onboarding Process | Elle & Company

1  |  Client Inquiry

The client process always begins with an inquiry.

The majority of my client inquiries come through this website on my contact page. 

Because I include my prices on my website, as well as the details of my design and coaching packages, many of the inquiries I receive are serious inquiries. 

Most of my potential clients are also familiar with my process through my portfolio posts, so when they inquire they’re almost ready to put down the deposit and get to work! 

People have differing opinions on whether to post prices and prefer to discuss pricing during the initial call or meeting, but I choose not to for a couple reasons.

First, I’ve found that potential clients value transparency. It sets the stage for the rest of the project and also shows that I have nothing to hide.

Second, it saves both of us time. If my prices are out of their price range, I would be wasting their time to have them send me an email, set up a call, talk for 30 minutes, and then tell them my prices.

And third, I’m not a good salesperson. I don’t like trying to convince someone to buy something that’s out of their price range to begin with, especially over the phone or in person.

Once a client inquires, I reply to the email and include a link to my calendar through Calendly so they can schedule a time for an initial Skype call to discuss the details of the project before booking me. 

Takeaway: How do you build trust through your website before clients book you? How do you draw attention to your services and your process? Thinking through the answers to these questions will help you set the stage for your potential clients even before the inquiry comes in.

2  |  Initial Skype/phone call

After they book a time, I meet with each potential client for a 30 minute Skype call (or phone call, if that’s more convenient).

In the call, I explain all that’s included in the design or coaching package, walk them through the client process from start to finish, and answer any questions that they might have.

This call sets the stage for communication between me and my client.

Throughout the process, I always try to make sure that I set clear expectations, explain what’s coming up next, and invite them to ask questions.

I want them to know that I’m patient, thorough, and available so they trust me from the start.

At the end of the call, I promise to send them a follow-up email with a brief outline of what we discussed, available dates, and next steps.

Takeaway: What qualities do you want to demonstrate to your clients right from the very start? Consider how you can convey them in your initial client meetings and emails.

3  |  Follow-up email with details

The end of the initial meeting can be a little awkward. 

I don’t feel comfortable forcing them to make a decision before we hop off the call, so I usually give them a day to think it over before sending them a follow-up email.

In that email, I summarize the main highlights of our call. I share the upcoming dates in my client calendar and ask them a few questions:

  • Would they like to move forward?
  • If so, which dates would they like to reserve?
  • Which payment option do they prefer? 
  • And as always, do they have any other questions?

I tell them the next step is the client agreement (contract), followed by an invoice for the deposit. Once those are taken care of, their spot will be reserved in my client calendar and I’ll send over their client homework so we can get started!

Related post: 5 Tips for Improving Client Communication

4  |  Client agreement

Once I get the go-ahead from my client that they would like to move forward, I send over my client agreement through 17Hats. I invite them to look it over and let me know if they have any questions.

I originally tried to use 17Hats for a client management system a year or two ago, but I tend to only use it now for client agreements. I like that it allows you to save a template of your contract and e-sign, but I’ve found the backend to be a little frustrating.

Honeybook is another great option for client management, contracts, and invoices. 

Once my client has signed the contract, I receive an email notification and countersign.

Sidenote: I had an attorney create my client agreement for me, but my attorney friend Christina Scalera has an online shop full of contract templates for creative business owners! 

5  |  Invoice for deposit

Once the contract has been signed and countersigned, I send over an invoice for the first payment of my design or coaching package through Quickbooks.

I use Quickbooks for accounting, and I find it easy to keep all of the payments in one place.

I give my clients two options for payments: They can either pay in increments of 25% (25% due at the outset of the project, 25% before the final files are handed off, and two 25% payments spread out evenly between) or 50% (half due at the outset, half due before the final files are handed off. 

Either way, I outline the payment schedule in the invoice email. And, as always, I invite them to ask questions and outline the next steps.

Related post: My No-Fuss Formula for Pricing My Services

6  |  Client homework

Now that the contract has been signed and the initial invoice has been paid, my client’s dates are officially reserved in my calendar and it’s time to get to work!

I always give my clients “homework;” a series of questionnaires and tasks for my clients to complete before the project begins. 

Because I have a structured client timeline, it’s important to get as much work done ahead of time as possible. By having my clients fill out information about their brand and website at the outset and round up photos and content, I’m able to hit the ground running on the first day their project begins instead of having administrative tasks like emailing my clients for information hold up the process. 

I start by setting up a shared Google Drive folder for each client, and I add another folder specifically for client homework. (I add folders for the drafts, final files, etc. throughout the project.)

Then I create a copy of my client homework from the master copy I created in Google Docs, customize it for each client, and place it in the new folder.

I share all about my client process and my Google Doc system in these posts:
How Client Homework Revolutionized My Workflow
A Helpful Step-By-Step Guide for Creating Client Homework
How To Organize Google Drive for Your Business
12 Google Doc Templates to Make Your Business More Efficient

I always remind my client that their homework is due before the project begins. But because it’s set up through Google Docs, they’re more than welcome to make edits until then. 

7  |  Periodic check-ins and surprise client gift

The other great thing about setting up client homework in Google Drive is that all of the documents are shared, which means that I can check in on my client’s progress.

If their project starts in a week and they haven’t started on their homework, I send them an email to check in and remind them that the project is quickly approaching and that homework needs to be done in order to stick to the timeline. 

But I’ve found that periodic check-ins are helpful regardless of whether my client is behind on their homework or not. 

Because there’s at least a month or two between when a client books me and when the project begins, I like to check in with my client every few weeks via email to see how the client homework is coming along and ask them if they have any questions. Again, I want to be available and approachable.

I also send a Starbucks gift card a couple weeks out from the project start date to surprise them and give them a little more motivation for completing their homework. 

It’s a simple gesture that usually brightens my client’s day, and I can do it all online, which is super convenient.

Takeaway: What gifts or surprises can you add into your process to enhance your client experience? How do you plan on checking in with your clients between booking and starting the project? Setting expectations and reminding your clients about why you’re doing each step of the process helps them take your work seriously and keeps the project on schedule.

There you have it! An overview of my client onboarding process from start to finish.

If you enjoyed this post and would love to learn more about what I include in my client homework, contract, etc., you won’t want to miss the launch of my Freelance Academy course in the next couple weeks!

Join the waiting list below for more details and first access:

What does your client onboarding process look like? Are there any steps included here that you hadn’t considered before?