Did you know that 86% of clients believe their onboarding experience plays a big role in deciding whether they stick around or bid farewell?
Yep, that’s right. How you kick things off matters—a lot.
In this blog post:
What is client onboarding?
Client onboarding isn't just a fancy term; it's your opportunity to roll out the red carpet for your clients. It's the process where you welcome them into your world, explain how things work, and set the stage for a successful collaboration. It's like introducing a new friend to your favorite game - you want them to enjoy and understand the rules!
Benefits of having an automated onboarding process
Now, let's talk perks. Picture this: an onboarding process that runs smoother than butter on a hot pan. Here’s what happens when you automate things:
Increased revenue: The faster you welcome new clients onboard, the quicker you can start working together. More projects completed = increased revenue for your business.
Effortless handoffs: When you've got your onboarding assets neatly laid out, bringing other team members into the mix becomes a piece of cake. No more confusion or long explanations are needed.
Happy clients: Clear, structured onboarding makes for happier clients. When they understand your process and what to expect, they're more confident in your abilities and are happier with the results.
Referral goldmine: Happy clients? They're like walking billboards! Satisfied customers are more likely to refer their friends, family, or colleagues to your services.
Stopping scope creep: With a well-defined onboarding process, you set expectations early on, reducing the chances of unexpected changes down the road.
Understanding a designer's client onboarding journey
As a designer, your journey with a client kicks off way before the actual design does. Here's a rundown of the typical steps in the designer's client onboarding adventure:
Inquiry - It all starts when a potential client slides into your inbox or fills out that inquiry form on your website.
Discovery Call - Here, it's all about getting to know each other. You understand their vision and ideas while giving them a peek into your design process and setting the project's parameters (deliverables, budget, scope, and timeline).
Proposal, Contract, and Invoice - This paperwork makes it official. You craft a proposal, laying out the design journey's roadmap with all the nitty-gritty details – timelines, costs, and everything in between. The client signs on the dotted line, sealing the deal with a contract and making that first payment.
Welcome Email + Welcome Packet - As soon as the ‘paperwork’ is done, You send a warm, heart-filled welcome email and a packet that sets the tone for what's ahead (your process, introduction to tools, client responsibilities, etc.).
Client Homework - You assign some tasks to your new client, diving deeper into their preferences, inspiration, and specific requirements. It's the foundation step to ensure you're both on the same creative page.
Project Kick-off call - This call marks the official start of the project, where you lay out the roadmap with timelines, gather any remaining info, and answer any last-minute questions.
Project Initiation - With all the prep work done, it's time to notify the client and initiate the project.
Key challenges in traditional client onboarding
Let’s face it: Client onboarding is not all rainbows and unicorns. There are hiccups along the way that can make this process feel like untangling a messy knot. Here are some big challenges that you as a designer might often be bumping into during traditional client onboarding:
Communication chaos - When you're juggling emails, Slack messages, and DMs from different clients, it feels like a game of tag across multiple platforms. Keeping up feels like finding a needle in a haystack, making it easy to miss a crucial message or lose track of an important detail.
Manual paperwork - You spend endless hours creating proposals, only to repeat the saga for contracts and invoices. And waiting anxiously for the first payment, constantly checking, and sending welcome emails—it's nerve-wracking because you know first impressions count.
Info gathering - Files scattered across Drive, Dropbox, and emails. Back-and-forth to retrieve 'forgotten' pieces from clients. And when the client finishes a task, crickets - no acknowledgment. Gathering info often relies on a kick-off call, but it easily turns into a storytime session, making it hard to stay on track.
Time drain and delay dilemma - Clients sometimes take ages to approve a design or hand over crucial information. And you debate between sending reminders or just working with what you have to avoid delays and added stress.
Misaligned expectations - Sometimes, clients have a different project scope, timeline, or idea of deliverables than you do. And that can lead to dissatisfaction, even if the project is delivered successfully.
Human error - yep, they happen. From sending the wrong file, misspelling a name, or missing a crucial detail, they can cause embarrassment and leave a sour taste.
Exhaustion - A new project gives you more stress than peace and excitement. With multiple clients, projects, and deadlines, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Sometimes, staying organized becomes the biggest puzzle.
BOLT framework to prepare for automating your client onboarding
Ready to streamline your client onboarding? Here's my simple BOLT framework to kickstart the process:
Blueprint all steps: Grab a notepad or your favorite digital tool and jot down every single step you take when onboarding a client. From the first "hello" to the project kick-off call, record it all.
Opt for the right tool: Choose automation tool(s) that fit your needs like a glove. Check out options like Dubsado or others that match your budget and style.
Layout templates: Templates are your secret sauce! Whip up templates for emails, forms, contracts, questionnaires, schedulers, invoices, guides - you name it. Make them personalized, professional-looking, and ready to go at a moment's notice.
Tailor and upgrade: Remember, your onboarding process won't be perfected in one go. Got a new idea? Update your process. Ask for feedback from your clients, and don't be afraid to switch things up to make it smoother.
Here's a blog post on how to best use a client portal as a designer + my recommendation, Dubsado.
4 steps to automating your client onboarding
STEP 1: INQUIRY
Set up auto-response for new inquiries: When potential clients reach out, ensure they receive an instant acknowledgment. Use automated responses to let them know you’ve received their message and will be in touch shortly.
Automate discovery call scheduling: Use tools to schedule discovery calls seamlessly. Set up automated reminders and confirmations to keep everyone on the same page without the hassle of manual coordination.
STEP 2: BOOKING
Design custom proposals in a snap: Tools like Dubsado help craft branded proposals in a snap, integrating contracts and invoices effortlessly through smart fields.
Seal the deal digitally: Let clients sign contracts digitally. No printing, scanning, or waiting for mail. Let the system send a copy once it's signed and sealed.
Digitally sign contracts and send auto-confirmations upon payment completion: Make it easy for clients to sign contracts digitally. Once the first payment is done, automate the confirmation, ensuring a smooth start to your collaboration.
STEP 3: CLIENT WELCOME PACKET
Instant welcome email & packet: The moment payment clears, your clients get a warm welcome email and a packet tailored just for them, including a link to their client portal, platforms they’ll use, client responsibilities, etc.
All-in-one client portal creation: Automate creating a personalized client portal that adds necessary files and questionnaires, sets up a project management board, and sends out questionnaires for them to start working on their tasks.
Send reminders and kick-off call invitation based on completion: Keep things on track by automating reminders before deadlines. Once the homework is submitted, acknowledge it promptly and extend an invitation for the kick-off call.
STEP 4: PROJECT KICK-OFF AND FEEDBACK
Automate meeting reminders and share the agenda: Ahead of your scheduled meetings, send out reminders and outline what will be discussed. Keep clients informed and prepared.
Collect feedback promptly: Automate feedback collection to understand your clients’ experience. This helps tweak things if needed, showing you care about their experience. Quick adjustments ensure they're happy and heard.
Tips for a seamless onboarding experience
Designing a smooth onboarding journey isn’t rocket science. Here are some straightforward tips to make your client onboarding process a breeze:
Set clear expectations: Draw a clear path for your clients by explaining what they can expect during the onboarding process. Use simple language to describe the steps, timelines, and what you need from them. Clear expectations = smoother sailing.
Provide resources and support: Equip your clients with resources like guides, FAQs, or tutorials. Create a ‘toolbox’ of resources that they can access easily. This support helps them navigate any bumps and hurdles they might face.
Communicate regularly: Send regular updates and reminders using automated emails. Listen keenly to what your clients have to say. Use their feedback to refine your onboarding process.
Anticipate and address concerns: Think like a mind reader—anticipate your clients' needs and worries. Be available to answer questions. Address concerns before they arise. This builds trust faster than a rocket ship zooming into space!
Create and celebrate milestones: Divide projects into phases, recognize progress, and celebrate achievements together. It keeps the momentum going and makes the journey enjoyable.
Metrics to measure client onboarding process success
Wondering if all these changes are really making a difference? Here's how to know for sure if your streamlined onboarding process is hitting the bullseye!
Time spent on onboarding: Calculate the time it takes from the initial contact to when the client is fully onboarded. Tools like Clockify, Toggl, MyHours and Dubsado help you time your activities. Lower time means a smoother process = more clients = more revenue.
Completion rates of onboarding steps: Check how many clients finish each step of your onboarding process. If some steps have low completion rates, it might need tweaking.
Client satisfaction surveys: Send out quick surveys after onboarding to see how happy clients are. Ask about their experience, what they liked, and areas for improvement. Look out for recurring comments or suggestions. These hints are gold nuggets for improvements.
Conversion rate: Keep an eye on how many potential clients turn into actual ones after experiencing your onboarding process and how many bring in new business.. This "conversion rate" tells you if your process attracts and retains clients.
Error reduction: Note down any errors or hiccups encountered during onboarding. As you streamline, watch those issues vanish.
Remember, success isn't just about big numbers. It's also about making your clients feel like they’re floating on cloud nine from the get-go. Keep checking in, keep tweaking, and keep those smiles coming!
In a world where first impressions matter, your client onboarding process is your superhero cape. Embrace it, refine it, and watch as your design business reaches new heights! Remember, you're not just preparing designs, logos, or websites; you're crafting experiences. Make sure the journey begins with a bang!
Cheers to smoother sailings and creating design magic!