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How to do client onboarding right

“Your proposal works for us. When can you start?”

These are the golden words every freelancer wants to hear. It marks the beginning of a new project and a new client relationship.

Celebrations aside, it also calls for an important first step — client onboarding.

Just the way new hires undergo an onboarding process, you need to establish a similar process every time you win a new client. This is your opportunity to introduce your freelance business, set expectations, and get to know your client better.

A streamlined client onboarding process sets the foundation for a collaborative working relationship and is likely to improve retention.

Here are five steps freelancers must include in their client onboarding process to kickstart the project on the right note.

Finalize the documentation

First up: get the legalities and documentation out of the way.

Nobody enjoys this, but let’s not forget that this is a crucial step. Before you begin any work, make sure the contract is finalized and signed by both parties.

Author Charles Stross has a tip for those developing contracts. He says, “Contract law is essentially a defensive scorched-earth battleground where the constant question is: if my business partner (client) was possessed by a brain-eating monster from beyond spacetime tomorrow, what is the worst thing they could do to me?”

Your freelance contract should include the following essential elements:

  • Scope of work
  • Services provided
  • Compensation
  • Mode and schedule of payment
  • Invoicing details
  • Ownership and rights agreement
  • Termination clauses
  • Contact details

You can use tools such as PandaDoc, HelloSign, and DocuSign to get contracts signed electronically within minutes.

Send a welcome packet

Nothing says "welcome" better than sending new clients a welcome packet. It demonstrates your professionalism, shows that you value the relationship, and makes a great first impression.

Think of all the information your client needs to know about your business and add it to the welcome packet.

Nobody has the time to read text-heavy emails and presentations. So, make sure you deliver this information in a visually appealing manner that’s easy to read and understand.

Here’s what you can include in your client welcome packet:

  • Welcome message
  • A brief business overview
  • Quick introduction of your team, if any
  • Brands you’ve worked with
  • Contact information and collaboration tools you use

You can summarize all this information on a one-page company infographic to communicate it in an engaging and easily digestible way.

For instance, here’s a template you can use. It’s a simple yet creative way to educate your new client about your freelance business.

Source: Venngage

Alternatively, you can also use a brochure maker and create an engaging digital brochure that can be sent with the welcome email.

Create a client onboarding questionnaire

Imagine starting a project and midway through, realizing you don’t have answers to a few critical questions. What follows is a series of back-and-forth emails or conversations, wasting everyone's time.

How do you avoid such a scenario? Create a client onboarding questionnaire and send it to them before you get started on the project.

The idea is to understand your client’s business and project goals better so that you’re aligned from the get-go.

Agency Analytics suggests breaking the questionnaire into four categories:

  • Client information (point of contact, preferred mode of communication, etc.)
  • Marketing information (target audience, competitors, etc.)
  • Project information (project goals, success metrics, deadline, etc.)
  • General information (client expectations, why did they choose to work with you, etc.)

Make sure you ask specific questions that help you work on the project and meet the goals. This is also the time to ask for any supporting documents you might need during the course of the project.

You can use tools such as Typeform, Google Forms, or SurveyMonkey to create this questionnaire.

Schedule a kickoff meeting

After you’ve received the answers to the questionnaire, it’s a good idea to do an initial project kickoff meeting.

If you’re not able to meet in-person, make sure you do it over a video conference call — it adds a personal touch. Use this meeting to clarify doubts, set expectations, and answer questions.

In case you have another team member assisting you in the project, be sure to include them too. The goal of this meeting is to get everyone on the same page and be aligned.

Create a strategic project plan

Now that you have everything you need to begin the project, start with creating a project plan. Look at this document as a roadmap for the project that will help you keep the project on track.

These are the important elements you can include in your project plan:

  • Purpose of the project
  • Main deliverables
  • Timelines
  • Resources required to complete the project
  • People working on the project

For instance, here’s a project plan timeline template you can use. It breaks the project into achievable tasks and assigns specific timelines, making it easier to track.

Source: Venngage

Communication is an important aspect of relationship marketing — clients like to be kept informed, and sharing a project plan or status report will help you maintain constant communication.

Simki Dutta Simki Dutta is a content marketer at Venngage, a free infographic maker and design platform. When she's not working, she can be found refreshing her Twitter feed and binge-watching Netflix shows.

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