A flawless client onboarding process is the first step to wowing your web design clients. Learn what needs to be done before even thinking about designing the website.
Updated: April 15
You’ve landed a web design client! Woo hoo! Give me your address because I have a bottle of tequila with your name on it!
When I get there, be prepared to answer the following question: “what do you do now?”
- Dive right into content collection
- Start brainstorming design ideas
- Both A and B
- Neither A or B
That was the biggest question I had when I landed my first web design client. It was the first project where I was in control and felt like a partner instead of being delegated to like an assistant. Along with that new level of responsibility came a new wave of questions.
Should I hold off on doing anything until she’s paid the first invoice?
Should I dive right into the web design process?
Should I ask for whatever content she has prepared for me?
I wanted to make sure the project ran smoothly so she would A) want to work with me in the future and B) recommend her friends and fellow business owners to use my services.
Basically, the real question I was asking myself was, “what the hell do I do now that I’ve landed the client to make those two things happen?”
If you reverted back to taking multiple choice tests in your grade school days where ‘when in doubt, choose C” was the best guess… you selected the wrong answer to the question above, my friend. The correct answer is D.
When you land a new web design client, you shouldn’t dive head first into content collection or begin brainstorming design ideas. The very first step is always client onboarding.
Why client onboarding is important
Real life story time:
At the beginning of the year we moved into an apartment complex. We signed some paperwork, handed over a check for move-in costs, got the keys and were super excited to see that the previous residents left a washer and dryer in the unit.
Fast forward by like 4 days, I log into our resident portal and notice we owe around $250. Totally confused, I pull out the signed paperwork that includes a list of move-in costs and a total due amount. According to that list, we paid for everything related to deposits, pet fees, prorated rent for that month and the following month’s rent.
On the paperwork there was an email address so we sent a message asking what the $250 was for. A couple days went by without a response before learning that the email address on the paperwork wasn’t a valid email address. So after some research, we send the same message to a different email address.
A few days later I got an email telling me that we owed a late fee and the only way we could pay was by getting a bank check. Within 8 days of moving into this apartment we sent multiple emails asking about the amount we supposedly owed but didn’t receive any responses. We did however, get an email telling us we now owed late fees? Huh, interesting.
After physically showing up in the office and forcing someone to look into the emails we never received responses to as well as the amount we owed, we learned that the paperwork given to us was incorrect and we in fact did not pay for the next month’s rent in its entirety.
Fast forward again by about a week, we get a knock on the door and a man is standing there saying we scheduled a pickup for a washer and dryer. That washer and dryer we thought were left behind were actually scheduled for a pickup by the apartment complex but they didn’t let us know. Was I in the middle of doing laundry? You betcha!
The only thing that should suck about moving into an apartment complex is the actual process of moving your things in and unpacking them. (Unless you have a bunch of money to pay someone to do both those things for you then, go you!)
What went wrong here? How could our move-in process (client onboarding) been better?
- To start with, the total costs to move in and when they were due were not made clear to us. The move-in paperwork (which is basically the equivalent of an invoice) was incorrect and led us to believe we were paying the only fees we needed to to move in. It also surprised us knowing that we actually owed an additional $250.
- The forms of accepted communication weren’t made clear. The move-in paperwork had an expired email address which meant any communication sent there would not ever be received or responded to.
- We thought something was included in our rent that actually wasn’t (washer and dryer). And then we weren’t told about how our workday would be interrupted in order to pick up said washer and dryer.What went wrong here? How could our move-in process (client onboarding) been better?
If you’ve heard the story about how our apartment flooded (yes, that was this place) then you know we only lived there for a short 2 ½ months before breaking our lease. Might we have asked to move into a different unit post-flood if our move-in experience was better? Possibly. Those first 2 weeks, that first step of officially being a resident at this apartment complex, formed our opinion of the staff, management company, and property as a whole.
THAT is why it’s so important that you have a flawless onboarding process for each and every single one of your clients. Those first couple days are crucial for setting expectations and impressions.
Being uninformed as a resident, customer or client can lead to some pretty shitty situations and pretty shitty reviews!
Client onboarding checklist
Here are 4 things that should be included in your client onboarding process, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Prepare and send a contract
You’ve got a verbal or written confirmation from a lead that they in fact want to hire you to design their website. But is it binding?
If you’ve watched shows like Suits then you’ll probably have heard something along the lines of, “a verbal agreement is binding.” In reality though, if a lead tells you they want to work with you and then happen to ghost you, you can’t do anything about it as a small business owner unless you want to put what little money you have into bringing them to a small claims court.
One of the biggest mistakes a lot of new business owners make is not creating an official contract. Is it because it seems too “official” for their small business? Is it because they don’t know how to actually make a contract and what to include? Or is it because they don’t even realize contracts are a thing? Could be for any of these reasons.
You’re a business owner now and if you want to be taken seriously (and not get taken advantage of), then you need to have a contract in place that states what is included in the project, what isn’t included, the total amount due and on what payment schedule, late fees, the start and end dates for the project, and any other terms and conditions that you want to hold yourself and your client to.
Starting off with a contract gives the lead (your new client!) the impression that you’re in control and should be taken seriously. That’s why the contract needs to be sent and signed BEFORE you begin doing any work. If the contract isn’t signed for any reason, don’t begin working on the website!
You can use tools like Proposify or Dubsado to send contracts to your clients or you can create one yourself using Adobe programs or simply a Word Document saved as a PDF.
Schedule and send invoices
Designing a website takes a lot of skill and can sometimes be a balancing act all on its own. With everything you have to do to design the website, you don’t want to have to think about sending invoices or sending reminder emails to your client that their payment is due.
While you’re waiting for your client to read over and sign the contract, start preparing the invoices. You can always use a tool like Freshbooks (this is what I used when I got started) to schedule and send invoices. But if you’re looking for something that is free forever, you can also send invoices directly through tools like Stripe (this is my recommendation), PayPal, or Wave.
If your client is paying you 100% up front (woo hoo, way to go you!) then send that invoice immediately. If they’re paying in installments, create each invoice at the beginning (and schedule them if your tool lets you) so you don’t have to think about sending those off at a later date.
Scheduling invoices in advance also shows your client that you’re professional and deserve to be paid on time. If you’re sending invoices late then what motivation does the lead have to not pay them late?
In your email draft, set up “payment is due” and “payment is overdue” email templates so you can easily copy and paste those to send to clients who need gentle reminders to pay their invoices on time. When you’re scheduling the invoices, also set up reminders in your calendar to send those emails to your client if they forget to pay when the invoice is sent.
Dubsado is a tool that will take all this manual work off your shoulders. If you’re at a point in your business where you can invest in a tool, I highly recommend you do!
Set clear expectations
When I was working from Thailand in 2018, I ran into an issue where a client called me in the middle of the night. It was the afternoon her time but I was sound asleep and there was no way I was answering a phone call at 2 AM.
That was a learning experience for me. While I thought I had been very clear on how to communicate with me and when I was available, being in a different time zone taught me that I wasn’t actually being all that clear.
Make sure you let your clients name the exact means of communication you will respond to and try to keep it to 1 method maximum. Don’t hand out your phone number, your email address, your Facebook messenger, and on and on and on. Give your client one way to reach you (most likely email) and let them know if they reach out to you in any other way, you won’t be guaranteed to respond or even see it.
Also let them know when they can expect to hear from you and include the time zone! So if you’re available from 9-5 on Monday through Thursday… is that EST, GMT, or PST? Be clear. And if your client is in a different time zone, include a link to a time zone converter so they can easily tell what time of day it is their time when you’re available.
Review project management system
The final part of the onboarding process is walking the client through how to use your project management system.
Whether you’re using Asana or Dubsado, your client most likely doesn’t know the ins and outs of it like you do. To ensure your client loves the process of working with you, you want to send them a video tutorial or do a one-on-one video walkthrough that shows them how to use the tool and then allows them to ask you any questions they might have.
When you’ve landed a web design client, you sure better be celebrating! Each new lead, each new email address added to your list, and each new client is a baby-step toward web design becoming the number one source of income in your web design business. So make sure you take the time to celebrate!
Post-celebration, make sure you start off each project on the right foot by putting your client through the best client onboarding process they’ve ever experienced!
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