Onboarding clients as a freelancer is essential to having a successful business. A client is more likely to give you a glowing testimonial and refer you to other potential clients if you offer them a luxury onboarding process.
I’ve been freelancing full-time for almost a year now and have been onboarding new clients almost every month.
Over time, my process has become a lot more refined — I like to ask clients at the end of our time working together what could be improved.
When onboarding a new client, you need to pay lots of attention to detail and have a process that suits your business and your offerings.
By the end of this article, you’ll be able to finally have the streamlined process for onboarding clients that you’ve dreamed about.
Here’s everything you’ll want to know about onboarding clients as a freelancer.
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What Does Onboarding Mean?
Essentially, onboarding clients refers to the process that you have in place once a potential client reaches out to you. Do they book a consultation call? What happens after that? These are all part of the onboarding process.
Everyone’s onboarding process is going to look different, and that’s a good thing.
You don’t want your onboarding process to look like everyone else’s, but it probably will be relatively similar to those businesses that offer the same services as you.
While many people think that the onboarding process starts after you’ve signed a client, it actually begins the second a potential client reaches out to you. Contacting you is the first step to working with you, right?
Just like all corporate jobs have onboarding processes for new employees, it’s important for freelancers and agency owners to have a new client onboarding process. It helps both you and the client in more ways than you could imagine.
10 Reasons To Have An Onboarding Process
Whether you’re a new freelancer or you’ve run your business for a while now, you need to be onboarding clients in a streamlined way.
Below, learn more about the importance of onboarding and why you should make sure it’s implemented in your business.
1. It will allow you to see if a client is a good fit
One of the most complex parts of being a freelancer is screening potential clients and seeing if they will be a good fit for your business. Luckily, the onboarding allows you to see if a client is someone you will be able to work with.
For instance, if a client refuses to tell you their budget before a discovery call or they are slow at answering your emails from the very beginning, then it could be a red flag. That’s what is so great about onboarding clients.
Throughout onboarding, you’ll be able to tell how easy a client is to work with. You want a client who will answer your emails in a timely manner (for you to follow a timeline) and someone willing to provide you with all the info you need during the onboarding process.
Onboarding a new client begins with you having a discovery call, or if you have a business model like mine, filling out an application form. Often, you can quickly tell whether you want to work with someone or not from one of these two things.
Make sure to always ask a client for their website information or social media handles so you can get a feel for their brand before you even meet them.
If you have a brand that’s all about helping remote workers and focusing on the digital nomad lifestyle, it might not be best for you to help a brand that is all about the corporate workforce.
One thing to keep in mind, too, is that you should not feel bad about letting a client know you’re not a good fit. I’ve had to do it a few times. Sometimes a client is aggravated by my choice, which only makes me feel like I made the right decision.
2. Your clients will know exactly what to expect working with you
When onboarding new clients, you’ll be able to let your clients know the expectations of working with you. This can save you significant headaches because you’ll be able to see if the client is up for the hard work.
Often, clients don’t realize that collaboration is needed for a successful project.
One of the top expectations that you’ll want to let clients know about is feedback. If you’re providing services like social media management or something design-based, feedback is critical to help your client have the best success possible.
So, be sure to let your client know the expectations for getting feedback to you. Do they have a week, or do you need feedback in 48 hours? These are things your client needs to know so that they can also plan ahead.
Another vital expectation is payment. You need to be upfront during the new client onboarding process about when payments are due and how much each payment is.
Is payment due upfront? Is there a payment plan? Figure all of this out to let your client know.
If you charge a late payment fee, you’ll also want to let clients know about that. Of course, all of this should also be outlined in your contract or agreement that you both sign.
My favourite way to share expectations when onboarding clients is to create a welcome packet.
I have one pre-made that I use as a template, and I just fill out the information depending on the client I’m working with. This way, the client has everything they need to know all in one place.
3. Clients will become engaged more with the project process
Through onboarding a new client, you’ll be able to get a client more involved in the process. Like mentioned earlier, most clients don’t realize that projects are collaborative and require just as much insight from them as it does work from you.
By letting clients know about your expectations, processes, and more, your client will feel like they are part of your business.
One of my favourite ways to get a client involved during the new client onboarding process is to assign client homework for my design projects.
This isn’t something that takes tons of their time; in fact, it’s mostly to help me get a feel for what they like design-wise and understand their aesthetic.
As an example, for my website design and branding projects, I have my clients create a Pinterest board of elements they love from other websites and brands. This way, I know what they like and can incorporate it with their own brand’s spin.
I also like to ask lots of questions through a Trello board that they have to fill out by the time our design week starts. I ask them questions about their business goals are, what words they would use to describe their business, and who their target clients are.
4. You will be able to gather important information from your clients
The most crucial part of onboarding new clients is gathering all of the information you need from them to have a successful project. Of course, this is going to vary depending on the services that you offer.
Usually, the type of information you might be gathering would include more about their business, clients, their goals, and more. It’s best to sit and think about all of the information you will need to gather and create a checklist of sorts — this will save a lot of back and forth.
Other information you might consider getting from your client includes usernames and passwords for accounts (especially if you’re a website designer or social media manager) or brand guidelines if you need them for a graphic design project.
Ensure you grab every possible login possible, even if you are not 100% sure you will need it.
If you’re a web designer, you might want to consider getting access to your client’s email marketing platform, too, in case you have to re-integrate it into the website during your design process.
Creating a checklist for this part of the onboarding process is very helpful. You’ll learn more about checklists for onboarding later on in this post!
5. Onboarding allows you to stand out from your competition
Even though you might not realize it, your onboarding process is the perfect time to show your clients that you have your stuff together. You want everything to be as streamlined and painless as possible.
This is the perfect time to give your clients a luxury experience, even if you aren’t charging high prices.
The experience that your client has from you right from the beginning is going to dictate how the rest of your time working together goes, so you want to start on the right foot.
The best way to do this is to streamline your processes as much as possible. You want to think about every step of the onboarding process and whether it’s necessary to include it for your services.
Another thing to consider is that if you offer multiple services as I do, your onboarding process will not look the same for each one.
For instance, you aren’t going to need the login information for your client’s social media accounts if you’re just creating their branding, but you will if you are a social media manager.
If you treat your client well and stand out from the competition, it’s likely that they will leave you a glowing testimonial. This could also lead to referrals and even more excellent clients down the line.
6. You’ll save yourself time
If you don’t have an onboarding process, you’re going to spend so much time going back and forth with your client while you’re working together.
You’ll probably be messaging them all the time, asking them for more information, and they might even be confused about your processes which can make it harder to work with them.
Sometimes, you might have issues with a client because of your lack of processes in the onboarding phases, which is why having one that’s solid is so essential.
By getting all of the information from your clients the second you start working together, you’ll be able to have everything stored in one place too.
Forms are a great way to do a lot of onboarding because you can quickly put answers into an Excel sheet of some sort for organization.
So, save yourself (and your client) major headaches and time by asking the questions now. Be sure to also account for onboarding in your timeline with your client.
7. It allows you to figure out the perfect project timeline
Figuring out a project timeline is best done while onboarding clients. During the process, you’ll want to provide an in-depth timeline to the best of your ability and let your client know that extreme cases might slightly change the timeline.
I often like to send the project timeline directly inside my project proposals so that the client knows what to expect before they even sign the contract.
If they need the project even sooner, then you know to charge an extra rush fee of your choosing because you’ll most likely have to work nights and weekends to get it done on time.
The best way to supply a timeline to a client is to be as informative as possible.
I like to break it down by the week and the day and send it in a calendar format because I’m visual. This also allows the client to see how the project is going to fit into their own schedules.
During this time, you can also collaborate a bit with your client to find out when their hard deadline is for the project.
8. Your clients will feel welcomed if you have an onboarding process
By having a complete process for onboarding a new client, you’ll make your client feel welcomed by you and your business.
While having an onboarding process shows that you have your stuff together, it also shows your client that you are eager and ready to start working with them.
Often, onboarding processes can start immediately after a client signs the contract and makes their first payment.
If you’ve ever worked an in-person job in an office, then you surely had an onboarding day.
During that day, you felt welcomed by everyone in the company and started to learn the ropes. Even though you were working for that company and your client is paying for your services, it’s the same sort of idea.
Consider creating a PDF with all of the information and maybe even put together a short video to send to your client as they get acclimated with your company. This could help them feel even more welcomed.
Another possibility when welcoming a client is to consider purchasing a welcome gift.
I wouldn’t do this for small-ticket clients, but if you have a client that’s paying for a project over $1,500, then consider sending them a Starbucks gift card or another small gift to show your appreciation for their business.
9. You will better be able to understand your client’s needs
The new client onboarding process allows you to quickly understand the project’s scope and what exactly it is that the client needs. This is true from the initial application or consultation call to making a Pinterest board.
The onboarding process is great because it allows you and the client to understand each other better.
It’s almost like a first date of sorts because you begin to ask each other questions and figure out what is needed to do a successful project.
Meeting with your client via video call or having them complete client homework mentioned earlier in this list is the best way for you to learn more about what the client needs.
Sometimes, what they need might not fully fit into what your packages are, and that’s okay. You’ll have to decide if you still want to work with them or refer them to someone else.
After you figure out more about what the clients’ needs are, think about the deliverables. Be sure to include everything fully listed out in the initial proposal and the contract to avoid confusion later down the line.
10. Clients will learn more about your company
Last but not least, onboarding clients allows them to learn more about your business. This is the time for you to let them know all about your brand and values and make sure that they align with them during your screening process.
They will also get a feel for the type of business you are based on how streamlined your processes are and how well they are designed.
If you are a design business, then you’ll want everything to be 100% branded to your business, or else they might question your ability to help them.
Clients will also learn about your business hours, the types of businesses you like helping, and the outcomes that you desire to get for your clients. Plus, they’ll begin to feel even more of your personality, making them want to work with you even more.
At the end of the day, your brands should mesh well together and fit with your overarching brand mission, which the client onboarding process can help with.
New Client Onboarding Checklist
While every business will have a different onboarding process, here’s a checklist of some important steps to get you started.
1. Have a discovery call
The perfect first step for onboarding clients is to have a discovery call.
Some business owners will refer to this as a consultation call or even a needs analysis. It’s just for you and the client to get to know each other to see if you’d be a good fit.
A great way to do this is to use a site like Calendly that a client can use to immediately book a time to meet with you that works in their schedule.
If you’d prefer to not immediately hop on a call, another option is to create an application form you embed on your website. Within it, you ask some basic questions before you even get on a call with someone so that it won’t be a waste of time.
2. Send a proposal
After meeting with a client, send a proposal to them within 24 hours.
The proposal can be set up in a few ways. I personally send proposals via HoneyBook, but you can also use Dubsado, which is popular among some people in the online business space.
Another option is to create a PDF proposal using Canva or even Microsoft Powerpoint that’s only a few pages long, just going over the service you think would best help your client.
Within the proposal, I specifically like to include the following:
- Scope of work (Will it be a website design with 6 pages? 4 pages? List it out!)
- Pricing and payment plan options
- Contact information in case they have questions
- Proposed timeline
3. Sign the contract and collect payment for the first invoice
If you’re lucky, the client will have looked over your proposal and decided that they want to work with you. This is exciting, so do a little happy dance!
As soon as the client says yes to you, send the contract and first invoice over immediately.
Doing this ASAP is incredibly important because it doesn’t give the client time to change their mind and allows you to start thinking about timelines and other information that will be pertinent to the project.
4. Send a welcome packet to the client
Once that contract is signed, send over the welcome packet. There’s a way to automate your systems to automatically send once a client signs a contract, which can save you a lot of time.
Within the welcome packet, try to include basic information about your business like the following:
- Your business’s office hours
- Feedback and revision timelines
- Late fee information
- Contact information
- How you will communicate with the client
- Anything else that’s pertinent to the project
If you have the resources and it’s a larger project, you could also consider sending a fun little gift to your client during this stage.
5. Collect all assets you need from the client
Next, sit down and think about everything you’re going to need from the client and create a form of some sort to collect the details from your client.
If you need passwords, consider using LastPass, which is a lot more secure than submitting login information via an online form.
Don’t forget about things like branding guidelines either, which are essential with most service offerings. You might consider even having a questionnaire at this point in the onboarding process.
After these five steps, you’re ready to start executing the project.
My Client Onboarding Process (Example)
Onboarding clients and coming up with the perfect process for your business can be difficult.
This is my business’s onboarding process for my social media management services so you can get a feel of how the checklist above could be put into action.
1. Book a discovery/consultation call
The first step in my onboarding process is booking a discovery call. The client uses the “book now” call to action on my website to book through Calendly, and we both automatically get sent a link for the call ahead of time via integrations.
2. Send project proposal
Within an hour after the call, I send a project proposal outlining timelines, project scope, and pricing for the project.
I’m available for questions for the rest of the day and tell the client to let me know as soon as possible if they’d like to work with me because I tend to get booked fast.
3. Create and send a contract and first invoice along with the payment schedule
Next, I send over a client contract along with an invoice. Luckily, I use HoneyBook for my payments and invoicing, which automatically shows the clients when payments are due each month, and the client can set up auto-pay.
4. Send welcome kit
The welcome kit is sent over, which is just a 2-page PDF introducing the client to my business information. I like to be very clear about when I’m available for work because many clients tend to contact me super late at night.
5. Put together a client onboarding questionnaire and send it to the client
My final onboarding step is sending over an elaborate client questionnaire. I won’t lie, it’s about 30 questions, but it helps me create the perfect social media strategy for them.
Because I’ve onboarded quite a few social media management clients, I already have a templated form that I just duplicate and add to my client’s project. Streamlined processes are everything.
Here is a sample of some of the questions I ask:
- What are the goals for your business?
- What CTA would you like most posts to include?
- Who is your ideal customer?
- How do you like to be contacted?
The questionnaire also instructs the client to use LastPass to send me the information for their social media accounts and prompts them to answer a required “Yes, I’ve sent you the information” before submitting. It also goes over how to add me as an admin to Facebook.
Now you know the importance of onboarding clients and also how to do it successfully.
Keep in mind that your onboarding process can be fluid; it’s going to change over time as your business grows and you become more experienced.
Do you have any questions about onboarding? Leave them in the comments below!
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