A simple framework for executing successful client onboarding

Client onboarding

“It’s not a mistake. They don’t make mistakes. They don’t do random. There’s always an objective. Always a target.”

Nicky Parsons, Bourne Supremacy


Do you have an objective when it comes to onboarding clients? Are you like Jason Bourne as Nicky Parsons describes him?

The scary part could be that your client is handling your onboarding. Don’t let that happen.

Have an agenda for your onboarding.

Onboarding is a term that comes from human resources. The initial idea was to onboard a new employee to the company’s processes and procedures.

You have had those meetings, haven’t you? Sitting in orientation, filling out paperwork, learning, officially, what to do and not to do.

In the world of software development, especially software as a service, the term onboarding was adopted to get customers up to speed on how to use their software.

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Every time you sign up to try a new SaaS, you get the follow-up emails, you see the tutorials inside your user dashboard, you have a plethora of help options to get started.

These software companies know, the easier it is for you to get started, the more likely you will stay with the company for a long time.

The same is true for you and your product or service. Onboarding puts everyone on the same page.

“Basically, onboarding ensures that both you, and your client, fully understand everything about the project and how things will work.”

How does a WordPress agency or entrepreneur initiate an onboarding process?

The purpose of onboarding is to bridge the gap between a new customer to the product family and teach how your processes work.

The crux of onboarding is communication and setting expectations. 

Onboarding benefits WordPress agencies, Software-as-a-Service companies, as well as freelance website designers. Additionally, you can use the idea of onboarding when welcoming a new email subscriber to your list.

In this post, we are going to discuss four areas of the onboarding process for a WordPress service agency.

Introduction Phase

Most people don’t think about the initial introduction as a part of the onboarding, but it can be a crucial part of the process. During the introduction phase, you will determine if the customer is the right fit. Essentially, it is a screening process.

The introduction starts with your web form. While it is true that the more a person has to fill out the less likely they submit the form, in this case, you want that kind of screening.

You want to be able to ask a couple of questions to get a sense for their project. If they have arrived at your form, and they are serious about working with you, they will fill in the details.

If they are unwilling to offer those details, they aren’t ready to contact you.

This will also eliminate those who are only fishing for pricing. Additionally, you can use copy that says something like “Projects start at $XXX (minimum amount)” to eliminate those looking for lower prices.

If they fill in your form and the details you ask for, you can then proceed with the rest of your introduction process.

Welcome onboard
Welcome your client with onboarding

The Welcome Phase

The welcome phase is where most people focus, and for a good reason.

As a company, you do want to roll out the welcome mat for your new customer. You want to make them feel a part of the team as quickly as possible.

There are a few ways to do this.

You want to give your new client a welcome package. The welcome package will give them a note of appreciation and some relevant documentation about how you will work with their team.

As Lauren Bonk explains,

“This thoughtful document should include a warm introduction, insight into your values and business model, and any other process info or guidelines that you would like your potential client to be aware of. This is the perfect time to set expectations about timelines, payment, and communication.”

Your welcome package can also include something unique like a surprise gift. A welcome package can really produce a wow factor and create more goodwill. The effect shows that you were the right choice for the project.

Consider this example from Duct Tape Marketing’s John  Jantsch:

“I once had a client that would bake a pie and send it to the office of every new client prior to their first working meeting. This little surprise was talked about every time they met after that. (It helped that the pies were really good too.)”

The welcome phase usually includes a kick-off meeting. One agency I know does a kick-off meeting with the client as well as an internal kick-off meeting for a new project.

Along with the meeting, you will want to discuss the scope of the project, terms for payment, contact information, and your initial invoice.

Internally, you will want to input the client’s information your team’s Client Relationship Manager, assign an account manager, and set up the project in your project management software.

The Training Phase

The training phase is important because if your client is going to work with your team, they will need to be on the same page.

You will want to train them on how to interact with you and set boundaries. For example, do you expect them to send you email or texts after business hours?

Boundaries are necessary to keep the project on track and avoid any negative communications. You have systems and process for a reason. As Jennifer Bourn (no relation to Jason Bourne) says,

“Systems and processes allow you to create consistent experiences for you, your team, your vendors, and your clients — and when you have consistency, you are able to track effectiveness, efficiency, profitability, and quality.”

If your client is going to be using your project management software, you may have to train him or her on how to use the software to interact.

Will there be ongoing tickets for service? If so, you will need to train your new client how to use the ticket system.

What if the client has something he wants to add that isn’t in the scope of the project? Train the client how it is best to add this to the project and the inform of the appropriate costs.

“Providing training tools and educational resources up front, helps your clients get the most out of their relationship with you, improves communication, reduces confusion, and adds extra value.”

Will you run weekly reports on the process of the project? Train your client on how you handle reporting. Reporting may be sending a document they can view, but it is worth letting them know at the beginning.

The Closing Phase

If this is a project based client, you will want to close out the project when it is finished.

It is best to have a strategy to do so. In a sense, this is offboarding.

You will want to close the project in your project management system, send the client any information they need going forward, explain how they can create a ticket for additional work, and provide training for their new product.

Training can be done many different ways including online, over the phone or in person. Additionally, having documentation for using their website, tutorials will help facilitate this process.

Finally, when closing your project, you can give the client information on more products and services you offer.

Internally, you may consider a system of follow-up, even if the client isn’t on retainer. Following up will help your client feel at ease and help them know you are still available to help.

Onboarding Framework
Onboarding Framework

Wrapping it Up

Taking the time to build out your onboarding process before you take on clients can be very helpful for you and your company in the long run.

Building out a documented process, creating checklists and using automation can help streamline your client onboarding.

Each phase of the process comes with its own set of challenges, so, thinking ahead is a good idea.

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