Congratulations! Your client has signed a contract, made that first purchase, or has otherwise agreed to work with you. It’s only natural to want to breathe a sigh of relief, yet it’s important to remember that you have a second first impression to make.
Your onboarding process is your client’s first glimpse into what it’s like to actually do business with you. And that first impression can have important consequences: not only does a great on
boarding process reduce churn (the rate that customers leave), it also sets the stage for a positive relationship going forward.
Here’s how to get the onboarding process right.
What is onboarding?
Onboarding happens after the client signs up for your services, but before the actual work begins. It’s when you stop selling and start doing the necessary admin work to take the client on.
What that process will look like will depend on your industry. For example, an architecture firm might have an extensive onboarding process with a kickoff meeting, a team consultation, a finance meeting, and so on. On the other hand, client onboarding for a personal trainer is usually just a waiver and an initial meeting to discuss goals.
Why is it important to have an onboarding process?
If you’ve already worked with your first client, then chances are you’ve also already done some form of onboarding. So why take the time to make it a formal process?
Here are two reasons:
1. It can be easy to overlook small things when you don’t have them written down.
2. Having a process means you can improve it over time.
Imagine you’ve just signed on with a client, but you didn’t ask them where to send your invoices. Since your primary contact at the firm is the lead on the project, you send the invoices to them—when really they should go to accounting.
When you realize your mistake, you take a look at your onboarding checklist and realize that it would be simple enough to add a “send invoices to” field in your onboarding form. You’ve just saved your next client the hassle of a bunch of unnecessary emails!
What should the onboarding process involve?
Below are a few of the general things that onboarding usually involves—and a checklist for each one. Add or delete things to each checklist to make it your own!
1. Prepare a welcome package
Welcome packages serve two functions: they’re a nice way to officially welcome your client onboard, and they remind your client of important details like contract terms. You may associate welcome packages with a glossy folio, but they can be digital too! If you have software that includes a client portal, you can load it with your welcome package.
These can include things like:
- Welcome document – a branded letter with a brief welcome message
- Contact information – all your contact information, including your preferred communication method and frequency
- Project or service overview – a high-level look at the scope of work you’ll be doing for your client, and any milestones
- Important policies – refund, cancellation, revision policies and the like should all be spelled out in plain language
- FAQs and/or resources – this can be useful for therapy or fitness clients that need to do some of the work themselves
2. Get intake forms ready
Intake forms can be included with the welcome package, or they can be their own thing. They should have fields for any information you need from your client to get started. Your intake form package might include:
- Client survey – business consultants or therapists might use this to help quantify what success looks like for their clients
- Contact form – get clients to fill out their basic contact information; this can sometimes also include emergency contacts
- Background information – this might be anything from a client’s health history for therapists to their team size and performance metrics for business consultants
3. Attach contracts
Although your client may have already signed your main contract, there may be other types of contracts you may need to get your client to sign. It’s pretty common for these documents to be attached to intake forms so your client can get through all the necessary paperwork in one sitting.
- Waiver – especially if you provide any services that might pose a physical risk to your client, like sports training
- Service Terms and Conditions – this can be important for legal services, financial consulting, or any other industry that’s heavily regulated
- Confidentiality Agreement – in some industries like counselling and law, it’s important that the client understands and agrees to confidentiality terms
- Service Level Agreement – SLAs lay out the precise services the contractor will provide and the metrics they should be measured by (they’re mostly used in IT and consulting)
- Copies of prior signed contracts – attach a copy the contract your client signed so they can refer to it if they need to
4. Client meeting
Once you have all the documents you need, it’s a good idea to have an onboarding meeting with your client to review them. This is also a good time to negotiate with your client if you need to. For example, maybe your contact form states that you prefer to communicate via email, but your client tells you they’d prefer a phone call instead.
- Review intake forms and contracts – either have your client sign them during the meeting, or send them online and review them with your client afterward
- Set a meeting schedule – for follow up reviews, appointments, or regular services
- Address any questions or concerns – address questions and concerns up front, particularly if there’s something you haven’t covered in the other documents
- Collect payment and insurance information – go through payment options with your client and collect any necessary information you’ll need to follow through
- Walk through software – if you have a client portal that you’d like them to use, walk them through it in the onboarding meeting
5. Follow up
The last step in onboarding is making sure all the loose ends are tied up. This usually involves some data entry work on your end. It could also involve reaching back out to the client, their team, or other project stakeholders to finalize your client’s file.
- Enter client information into your software – use the information from your intake forms in your accounting, CRM, and project management software
- Follow up on any missing information – if there’s anything your client hasn’t provided you with yet, follow up with them
- Contact insurance provider – in cases where clients are paying via insurance, contact their provider to get set up
Of course, you might not need to do every item on the above checklist, depending on your business type. Here are three examples of onboarding processes from different industries:
Realtors helping clients sell their house might start with a welcome package that features their track record of success, such as the sales timeline and price of past listings. They might also include their contact details and a FAQ document that covers any common questions.
Realtors will often then schedule a viewing of the property, at which time they can request extra information about the property from clients. They may also get clients to sign a broker’s agreement. At that time, the realtor might discuss a client’s questions and concerns, and follow up with a property appraisal and suggested price.
Since therapy is such a personal process, many therapy clients are hesitant to give out all their information up front. Instead, many therapists opt to have clients fill out intake forms with emergency contacts and basic information in their first session.
This is also the session when clients would typically sign a confidentiality agreement and give the therapist details on their background, payment and insurance information, past diagnoses.
After this first meeting, the therapist would follow up with the client’s insurance provider or former mental health practitioners, and create a template for their client’s progress notes.
Like realtors, business consultants commonly have welcome packages that give clients an overview of what they offer, contact details, and important things for clients to consider in their work together.
Client intake might continue with an online survey about business issues and a follow up meeting to discuss the results with the team. Consultants are also more likely to have a service level agreement with a client, with specific KPIs that they aim to improve.
A few tips
According to consultant Esteban Kolsky, 85% of customer churn from poor service is preventable. Prevent churn with these tips for onboarding:
- Keep updating the process: one good way to make your onboarding process successful is to make sure it aligns with your current practice, industry standards, and client expectations. Review it annually to see if there is anything you should change.
- Deal with problems early: dealing with any issues your client brings up during onboarding will save you a lot of hassle down the road. It will also help you identify and manage any unrealistic expectations your client may have.
- Personalize it: different clients have different needs. While it’s great to have a general template for onboarding, don’t forget that a personal touch can make all the difference. It can even be as simple as including their name on onboarding documents.
- Automate: onboarding is a lot easier if you automate as much of it as you can. With software like vcita, client portals are connected to your internal CRM so both you and your client will have all your documents right when you need them, 24/7.
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Create an onboarding process that keeps clients on board
A great start is much more likely to lead to a strong finish. Streamlined onboarding will help you get off on the right foot with your clients, keeping you both on the path to a successful project now and more successful projects in the future!