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Client onboarding - the importance of creating a process for your service-based business

client onboarding
Last Updated August 31, 2022
 - by Sara Bussandri

They said yes - they’re ready to work with you. You’ve successfully turned a lead into a client. So what’s next? Now that your new client is ready to sign on the dotted line and excited to work with you, how do you get them on board? Do you use a process to welcome brand new clients into your business? If you don’t, or if you feel you could improve on what you already do, it’s time to work on your client onboarding process.  

client onboarding

What is a client onboarding process? 

Client onboarding refers to the practice of welcoming a new client into your business. This may not be the first time that this person or company has come across your brand. After all, they’ve just agreed to work with you, so, to an extent, they are already familiar with your voice and with some aspects of your business.

But if they haven’t worked with you before, then there’s more they’ll need to know about how you operate and how your services work. And there’s definitely more that you, as a company, need to find out from them - your client. 

Your onboarding process includes everything that happens or needs to happen after your lead generation process is over and before you start working with your new client.   

During the initial stage when building client relationships, you want to build rapport with them, answer their questions, and explain exactly how you’re going to be working together. 

Depending on what you do, your onboarding process may include: 

  • Accepting your proposal.
  • Signing the contract or T&Cs.
  • Paying the deposit. 

So does your company need a client onboarding process?   

Who needs a client onboarding process?

If your business serves clients (i.e. if you’re a service-based business), then both you and your clients can benefit from having a clear onboarding process. 

If you operate in the following industries and fields, and you don’t yet use a process for client onboarding, it might be an idea to start creating one: 

  • Finance (financial advisor, accountant, etc.)
  • IT, software development, or SaaS. 
  • Medical or dental clinic. 
  • Insurance. 
  • Real estate.
  • Law.  
  • Agencies (marketing, web design, web development, copywriting, etc.) 

No matter what you do or what type of services you offer, if you want to start with the right foot and work as efficiently and as effectively as possible with any new clients, a solid onboarding process is the prerequisite to a straightforward and satisfying working relationship.

client onboarding process

What are the benefits of having a client onboarding process?

A clear onboarding process that you can use with all your new clients can give your business several benefits.  

Setting expectations 

Your clients need to know they’ve made the right choice in deciding to work with you. 

But this is also your chance to let them know what you’re going to do for them, how, and by when. In order to provide the service they’ve signed up for, you may need some information or data from them. So tell them what you’re going to need, why, and by when.

For example: 

  • What type of information do they need to provide to you? 
  • How long will it take them to source the information you need? 
  • Who, in the client’s company, will you be communicating with? 

But also, if this is applicable to your business, what happens in case your client has feedback on what you delivered as part of your service?  

  • Do you offer tweaks or revisions? 
  • How and by when should requests for change be submitted? 
  • What’s the complaint procedure your clients should follow, in case anything goes wrong? 

It may feel counterproductive to cover these grounds before you’ve even started working together. But setting expectations from the start will make things clearer in the long-run and help you create a stronger working relationship based on mutual trust.

Remember that your clients may have never worked with someone providing your services before. And if they have, they probably haven’t worked with you. So help them settle into a professional setting that’s potentially new to them.  

Understanding your clients’ needs  

You may already use set, trialled-and-tested ways of working, and part of your job during the onboarding process is to help your clients understand how you work and what you need in order to do your job at the best of your capacity. 

But this is also your chance to find out, in more detail, what your clients want to achieve. 

So ask:

  • What are their aims? 
  • What do they want from working with you? 
  • Where do they want to be in the future, compared to where they are now?

If you offer tailored services that are specific to your clients’ individual circumstances and requirements, this information is going to be invaluable in helping you shape your offering to what your clients need. And if that’s the case, you may require additional information from the client. An easy way to capture this is by using a client intake form, and if you use one, this could become a key step in your onboarding process. 

Helping you to retain more clients 

The last thing you want is for your brand new clients to leave you at the first available opportunity. In fact, if you offer a repeatable service, you want your clients to stay with you on a long-term basis. 

Research shows that retaining a client is more cost-effective than gaining a new one. So focus on making your clients happy from the word go through your onboarding process, and they’ll stay with you for as long as they need your services.  

Helping you to grow and scale your business 

Happy clients stay (and that’s where customer retention comes in). But satisfied customers who get results also give fantastic testimonials and will refer you and recommend you to their personal and professional network. 

Plus, a good onboarding process is also repeatable. Once you know that the steps you follow to welcome new clients into your business work and help you deliver a great customer experience, you can automate your process, reproduce it, and use it with every new client you start working with. And this, in turn, allows you to grow and scale your business in a quicker and more efficient way. 

Complying with legal regulation

Depending on the industry you operate in, your onboarding process may contain elements of legal compliance. You may need your client to sign a contract, for example.  

So what is the process around that?  

  • When can the client expect you to send any documentation to them and how?
  • When would you like them to return the signed documentation to you? What happens if they don’t sign? 
  • And if they need any support in understanding the contract or the advice contained in it, will you provide further assistance? Or will they need to seek independent advice (legal or financial) before they can start working with you? 
customer experience

What makes a good client onboarding process?  

A good client onboarding process is one that works for your business and that allows your clients to settle into the business relationship with you. It’s also a process that you are happy to use and repeat with every single new client you take on.  

So once you’ve come up with an initial draft for your process, test it out, ask for honest feedback (both from your staff - if applicable - and from your clients) and tweak it accordingly. Do this a few times, and you’ll be able to come up with a set of steps that you can replicate for every client you’ll ever have.  

It goes without saying that if you offer different types of services that are targeted to individual types of audiences and clients, you may need to create more than one onboarding processes.  

So what should you include in your client onboarding process?  

Key steps to include in your client onboarding process

The client onboarding process you use in your business may vary completely from whatever procedures your competitors or similar service providers follow in their industry.  

Broadly speaking, when onboarding new clients, you’ll want include some key steps that will help you with the following:  

  • Assessing your client’s current situation or status quo. This allows you to understand where your client is at the moment, so you can accurately estimate the scope of your work. 
  • Understanding your client’s aims, goals, and objectives. What does the client want to achieve through working with you? What’s the end deliverable? What results are they expecting?
  • Stating the scope of your work. With clear information on where your clients are now and where they want to get, you can produce a scope document or proposal that sets out details about the work you’re going to carry out. This is helpful to avoid scope creep or unpleasant misunderstandings with your client down the line, so don’t forget to include timelines and deadlines with each step of the process.  

Do you need a written customer onboarding document?  

There’s no hard and fast rule that states that your client onboarding process should be written. But having a signed-off customer onboarding document will help, especially if you want to scale your business.  

Having clear documentation that explains exactly how you onboard new clients into your organisation means that you can create a consistent customer experience. No matter who in your business handles the onboarding process when taking on new customers, you can be sure they will follow a standard process. This will guarantee that your onboarding activities are successful and on brand and are representative of the type of service you want to provide and be known for. 

Should you automate your client onboarding process?

Depending on the nature and size of your business, having an automated onboarding process could benefit you in multiple ways: 

  • It saves you time. The more steps you automate, the less time it takes for you or your staff to carry out the required tasks.  
  • It helps you create consistency in your customer experience. An automated process is the same for every client. So once you have a set of steps you’re happy with, you can offer the same experience to all your future clients.  
  • It reduces the margin for error. An automated process is standardised, and individual steps take place without manual intervention. This allows you to reduce the chance of making mistakes along the way (for example, missing out on key steps, not meeting deadlines, etc.). Fewer errors lead to better customer experience but may also lead to a better outcome for your business if making a mistake may end up costing you a client! 

Are you looking for help to optimise your client onboarding process? 

Start your optimisation by checking out the 20 questions to ask in your agency client onboarding questionnaire. Optionally, you can expedite this process using client onboarding software.

If you’re an agency or a service provider who relies on receiving information from your clients before you can start the work they’ve commissioned from you, take a look at Content Snare. Our software helps you get content back on time, in the right format, and without email. It’s a central place that automatically saves any content your client shares with you and that anyone in your organisation can access. Content Snare makes the process easier and quicker for you and for your clients. If you’re interested in checking it out, we offer a FREE 14-day trial.

You'll find a client onboarding form as one of our built-in templates.

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Sara Bussandri

Sara Bussandri is a Digital Content Writer who helps small business owners and successful podcasters with blogging and re-purposing audio/video content into SEO-friendly blog posts. At home, she’s a mum of three boys who works around school runs, laundry loads, and football matches.