Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, I used to run a small content agency. Just me and three other freelancers doing the grunt work. My job was to talk to the clients, find the work, dish it out, and make sure everything was running smoothly.
We didn’t have any official onboarding process for clients. I would draw up a content plan that outlined what we were going to do and included our contract terms, and once they signed it, we’d get started. This system worked fine, so we never thought of changing it.
Until one day … a new client came on board. I sent them their contract, they signed it, and we got to work. A week later, we emailed them their website content, and … they didn’t want it. It wasn’t that they didn’t like it, it was simply that what we’d done and what they thought we were doing were two different things.
I thought my contract / plan would’ve caught this issue, but it didn’t. A proper onboarding process would’ve got us on the same page quickly and prevented this issue. So that’s what I want to talk about today.
Why is client onboarding important?
As I learned the hard way, client onboarding is a vital part of nurturing your agency/client relationship and ensuring you’re both on the same page. The truth is, the client isn’t often certain what’s going on, and they get nervous about hanging their project over and never knowing exactly where it’s at. A kickoff process helps them get an inside glimpse of how you work and leaves them feeling confident they’ve made the right decision.
Onboarding is also about helping you get to grips with the project and the client’s communication style. Together, you can work on a plan of attack that satisfies both parties. You also get another chance to show off how awesome you are - so the client feels secure about their decision to hire you.
So what are the different functions of onboarding?
Onboarding maps a path for you to follow
When you start a new project, everyone is enthusiastic. Ideas are flying everywhere like they’re extras in The Birds. However, it’s in this stage where many of the biggest mistakes are made.
Part of the onboarding process is creating a schedule and a plan for the duration of te project. This sets out exactly what you’ll be doing, who on your team will be doing it, when the client can expect to see it, and what they have to do from their end to make things happen. This helps everyone understand what they have to do next.
Onboarding helps manage client expectations
Clients can be strange creatures. Their concept of what an agency can actually do, and how far their budget can actually stretch, will astound and terrify you.
A huge part of the onboarding process relates to ensuring clients know exactly what they’re getting (and what they’re not getting).
- Clients are able to get an idea of the process they can expect.
- Clients might take a tour of your agency and meet the team. Meeting team members in person makes it harder for clients to get rude to them later.
- Clients are able to ask questions and get answers before the project actually begins.
- Clients are able to express their own (often terrible) ideas, and you can explain what will and will not work.
Onboarding decreases scope creep
Scope creep is the annoying situation many agencies find themselves in when they’ve signed on for a simple four-page website and the client keeps adding additional jobs to the list without any intention of paying an additional fee.
You can tell a project is going to be rife with scope creep if every second sentence from your client’s mouth begins with, “Oh, could you just add this, too?”
If you want to prevent this happening, onboarding can help. In a client kickoff meeting you can:
- outline the exact parameters of the project
- explain what constitutes “edits” and what is actually additional work
- outline a schedule of payments for any additional work.
- ensure the client understands exactly what they’re getting for their fee.
Onboarding enables you to demonstrate value early on
Onboarding isn’t just to prevent problems - it’s a great way to showcase your agency’s expertise and value for the client in the early stages of a project - the stage when they’re most excited.
How do you do this? Simple:
- show them detailed examples from previous campaigns, so they can see the type of work you do and how you arrive at the finished result.
- tour your office so they can experience the creative process in person.
- run through expected results with them so they have initial numbers to measure against.
So now you know why onboarding is vital - you need to know how to create an onboarding process that works for you and your clients. Here’s where we can help: Download our FREE Client Kickoff Playbook - it details a process for managing onboarding and running a successful client kickoff meeting.
How do you onboard clients at your agency?