Untitled design (27)

How to execute a strong client onboarding process — and why you must

As a professional web developer, there’s a chasm you need to traverse between converting a client and starting their new project: that mysterious phase known as “client onboarding.” This process is crucial to ensuring you’ve got everything you need before starting the project, as well as making the client comfortable with how the project will progress.

Client onboarding: A guide for web designers & developers

Here’s what we’re going to cover in this guide:

  • Why formalize client onboarding?
  • Why you need an onboarding process.
  • Why your clients need an onboarding process.
  • Attributes of a successful onboarding process.
  • 7 steps to execute a strong client onboarding process.
    • 1. Collect information with a comprehensive new client intake questionnaire.
    • 2. Solidify strategy with a paid discovery workshop.
    • 3. Follow your formal administrative process.
    • 4. Do the admin pre-work to get the project started.
    • 5. Hold a project kick-off meeting.
    • 6. Follow up with your welcome package.
    • 7. Present plans for further follow-up.
  • Common onboarding errors.
  • Onboarding checklist outline.
  • Best practices for onboarding.

Let’s get started.

Why formalize client onboarding?

An established process relieves you from the stress of remembering every single question you need to ask, and helps you gather all of your resources in an organized way, enabling you to deliver the project smoothly.

This key series of steps provides the opportunity to build a strong relationship with your client, address early concerns, get everyone up to speed, and start on a positive note.

Why you need an onboarding process

As with just about everything in web design, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The process that’s right for you might not work for others, but it’s critical in helping you:

  • Create a great first impression that paves the way for a trusted, long-term relationship.
  • Build efficiency via clear communication.
  • Reduce scope creep by confirming details and setting expectations.
  • Make sure you’ve got everything you need before starting the project.
  • Anticipate exceptions, misconceptions, and potential obstacles.
  • Breed loyalty, fostering better retention and reducing churn.

Why your clients need an onboarding process

Clients also have additional needs addressing the many aspects they may be unsure of, and their need to just “know” what’s going on. In addition, the process can:

  • Assure them you have a plan, which should relieve anxiety.
  • Increase their comfort level about how the project will progress.
  • Allow them to understand expectations so they can collaborate with you more efficiently.
  • Reassure they are being listened to.
  • Reinforce they have hired a pro who takes their business seriously.

Attributes of a successful onboarding process

A thoughtful and deliberate onboarding process lets clients know that you consider them a partner in defining the success of the project. To ensure successful onboarding:

Know what questions need answering

Essentially, the onboarding process boils down to two critical questions:

  1. What do you need in order to deliver a successful project that runs smoothly?
  2. What must the client do to make sure you get what you need?

Of course, nested under these are many more questions. For example, once you know which deliverables you need, there will be additional questions about timeline, format and ownership.

Craft an effective onboarding checklist

Client Onboarding Checklist

A checklist lets you focus on discipline and structure — and following it with each project brings peace of mind. Referencing your checklist ensures you don’t forget crucial steps or take actions out of order.

At the same time, build in flexibility and scalability.

Both factors are key to every single process you undertake as a web designer — it’s important to know when you can bend or break your own rules, and you’ll want to make sure that it’s efficient to execute the process multiple times, perhaps simultaneously.

You’ll want the ability to skip steps if warranted, and at the same time, anticipate the trade-offs in doing so.

Make supporting materials available to clients pre-sale

The onboarding process starts well before a proposal is accepted, with your very first contact with a potential client.

For example, your website could offer details on how you work on projects. This could be a paragraph, a dedicated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section, or even well-written case studies describing how you deliver a project.

Treat each client as a special case

We already know that each client is different, each project is different, and even your approach may be different. Use good judgment to customize the onboarding process as needed, taking the client’s unique goals and situation into account.

7 steps to execute a strong client onboarding process

A significant challenge we experience with any client is their lack of knowledge about what they need or why they need it. But if we are being fair to our future clients, should we expect them to?

As a website professional, you must be the facilitator, drawing out goals that even they might not realize.

1. Collect information with a comprehensive new client intake questionnaire

Start with a finely tuned and comprehensive client questionnaire that asks the right questions, so you have information even before there’s a project in place. It’s your first true opportunity to gather what you need, and asking the right questions will save both time and money.

The paid discovery workshop nails down the information you need to create the proposal and contract for the full project.

Sell this workshop as a true strategy session to work through the client’s needs, goals, and how they anticipate achieving those goals.

Through this engagement, you can walk your client through the steps to create a clear, defined vision for their website and what it’s supposed to achieve.

Offering the discovery workshop before website creation is critical in terms of building a website that works.

It also serves as a great way to be first in line for the job, before even offering a proposal. In the end, discovery will be helpful for the organization that needs the project built, not just for the ones doing the building. Still not quite sure what a discovery workshop is?

Digging into the discovery session

A discovery strategy session is a standalone paid service that clarifies what the project is all about before you even write a proposal. It covers information grouped into three sections:

Why, what, and who?

  • What is the Why behind what the client is trying to achieve, in terms of goals and impact they hope to make online?
  • What products and services do they bring to the market?
  • Who is the group of people that will most benefit from their What?

SMART goals

With answers to these questions, it’s time to define three to five SMART goals, where SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.

Most importantly, each goal should focus on something they are trying to achieve online, and something the website can make happen.

In guiding clients to articulate SMART goals, use these guidelines:

  • Specific — Does it target a specific area for improvement?
  • Measurable — How are you measuring your success?
  • Achievable — Is it reachable?
  • Relevant — Is it realistic to achieve?
  • Time-bound — When would you achieve it by?

The buyer’s journey

Client Onboarding Footprints In Snow

What steps will website visitors employ to eventually take advantage of what is being offered? This can be broken down into five areas:

  • Attract: How will your client attract leads? Will you need to replicate the experience provided by current tools?
  • Capture: How does your client capture leads? What can be given away in exchange for their email address?
  • Nurture: Is your client set up to currently nurture these leads via email marketing?
  • Convert: Most importantly, does your client know what steps they want people to take to convert and make a purchase?
  • Measure: Lastly, how do we measure all this? This is where your client determines the metric that matters the most, based on their SMART goals. It might be site visitors, email signups or something as simple as phone call requests.

In addition, you may have the opportunity for additional discovery work such as:

  • Competitor research: Working with the client to evaluate their competition and what they do well. If clients are having trouble articulating what they want their website to achieve, or which market they are trying to reach, this could be key.
  • Design research: Working with the client to further clarify what they want the site to look and feel like. Style and design can be part of the discovery workshop if this helps determine how to attract the “who” identified earlier in the strategy session.

After the discovery session, follow up by delivering a consolidated document summarizing the findings.

Yes, from here any other web designer could take the project away from you — but you’ll have been paid for the strategy work.

Doing that work for free to create a proposal is selling yourself short.

The client gets their money’s worth — and while they could very well go off and use this deliverable with another web designer, chances are they will see the value of working with you.

3. Follow your formal administrative process

Once you have that clear vision, you can proceed to a formal proposal for the project.

Invest effort in further research on your client, their history, and their competitors. Spend time reviewing the questionnaire responses, drafting the timeline, and identifying deliverables needed.

Make sure the proposal, contract and first invoice are addressed promptly, before proceeding to any additional tasks.

4. Do the admin pre-work to get the project started

Whether you use a project management tool or rely on a shared folder via Dropbox or Google Docs, set up everything you’ll need for this client, and invite them to collaborate as appropriate.

Add them to your mailing list.

Invite them to follow your social media accounts.

Relax knowing you can efficiently and effectively manage your client’s new website with the free tools and resources available through Upfiv Pro.

5. Hold a project kick-off meeting

If you’ve already conducted the discovery workshop, you’ve begun the process of building trust and setting the tone. Now the project work begins in earnest so it’s time to reinforce the seeds already planted.

Conduct the kick-off meeting face-to-face if possible (or via video chat if not). Plan to cover the following topics:

  • Schedule, with a focus on next steps
  • Additional homework needed to proceed with the project
  • Major deliverables
  • How you’ll handle future scope changes
  • Details about your work hours and availability via email or phone during specific office hours, including typical response times
  • How meetings are scheduled and take place — be sure they understand the platforms you use, such as Zoom or Skype, and how you schedule appointments, such as via Appointlet or Calendly
  • Preferences around how you want to receive deliverables
  • Q&A

If you have any swag you like to share with clients, be prepared to distribute at the meeting, or mail to arrive in time for the meeting.

6. Follow up with your welcome package

A welcome package is a set of files that welcomes your new client and includes key information that is necessary for the project to finish successfully.

Think of it as a roadmap that will guide your client through the process of working with you, helping them to stay on track with their tasks and commitments, and answering questions.

Your welcome package should:

  • reiterate your policies
  • prepare them to do their part
  • position you as a professional
  • eliminate confusion on what happens when
  • set the foundation to ask for referrals and testimonials

7. Present plans for further follow-up

While the kick-off meeting included an explanation of your follow-up methods — especially on initial tasks to gather information — you’ll also want to follow up with specific next steps in terms of schedule and deliverables.

Possible exceptions

Even with the best intentions to strictly follow your process, the occasional exception could make sense.

  • What if the project requires a very compressed schedule? Can any steps be skipped or combined? What trade-offs might be associated with those changes?
  • What if this is a new project for an existing or former client? Can any one-time setup steps be skipped or combined?

Common onboarding errors

Looking for ways to blow it? The following lapses may be the sure-fire path to failure — or at the very least, time and/or money lost to re-work.

  • Not doing your pre-work from the start, in terms of really understanding your client, their current situation, their needs and their competitors.
  • Skipping steps without considering the trade-offs or consequences.
  • Making assumptions instead of asking questions.

Onboarding checklist outline

Start with this basic onboarding checklist to develop your own customized version that best covers everything you need to start the project off successfully.

Client Onboarding Man Working On Laptop

Gather basic information

  • Confirm names, roles and contact information of each participant

Process intake questionnaire

  • Send questionnaire and instructions
  • Receive completed questionnaire
  • Check for missing information and request if needed

Execute paid discovery workshop

  • Confirm if being conducted for this project
  • Schedule discovery workshop
  • Hold discovery workshop
  • Send follow-up materials

Manage project proposal

  • Prepare and send proposal
  • Revise if necessary based on feedback or questions

Manage contract

  • Prepare and send contract
  • Receive signed copy of contract

Handle invoicing

  • Generate and send the first invoice
  • Confirm payment receipt

Wrangle project management

  • Set up internal project management systems and tools
  • Invite client to access any systems where information will be shared

Welcome

  • Introduce client to any additional team members
  • Add client to communication and project management channels and tools

Plan and hold a kick-off meeting

  • Schedule meeting
  • Prepare meeting materials including agenda, to-do list with items needed from client, draft timeline including future check-in dates and milestones
  • Hold meeting: review agenda, review to-do list, review/adjust/agree on timeline, milestones, goals

Follow-up from the kick-off meeting

  • Update project management system
  • Send welcome package, summary and any follow-up information
  • Plan schedule for next follow-up conversations and/or reports

Gather and use feedback

  • Request feedback on onboarding process
  • Incorporate process revisions based on feedback

Best practices in onboarding

Now that you’ve got a strong client onboarding process in place, stick to some general guidelines to ensure a smooth experience for all involved.

Educate clients around expectations early and often

Explicitly set expectations around how you run your business — whether it’s payments, communication methods, or delivery of information. By including this information in your kick-off meeting, proposal, welcome package, and on your website, you optimize collaboration with clients to get your work done most efficiently.

Stay accessible and responsive

Be ready to address questions or confusion quickly and thoroughly. Reassure clients that you know what’s up, and that you’re there to guide them along the way. Encourage them to ask questions if they don’t understand — it’s preferable to answer early on, and nip potential issues in the bud.

Keep information flowing

Do your best to keep everyone in the loop regarding status, deliverables, timeline, budget and potential issues — and do all in your power to avoid surprises. It’s almost impossible to over-communicate about these topics.

Improve the process

Every new (or departing) client provides input to improve your onboarding process, which translates to improved client satisfaction, and more opportunity to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Closing thoughts

Of course, it’s up to you to determine the detailed onboarding process that will work best for your clients — based on understanding the success factors of your own established working environment, and their goals and expectations for the project.

Your ultimate objective is to have the right tools and processes in place, keep the workflow moving in the right direction, and deliver a final outcome that aligns with your client’s vision of success.

Use these suggestions and best practices to get a head start on defining the process that works best for you.

This article includes content originally published on the GoDaddy blog by the following authors: Aaron Reimann, Cody Landefeld, Kristina Romero and Tom Rankin.

Image by: You X Ventures on Unsplash

Untitled design (20)

How to ‘sleigh’ your holiday marketing campaigns

The holidays are fast approaching and it’s time for business owners to start preparing. Brands are strategizing and starting their holiday marketing campaigns earlier every year, and it’s no surprise since small businesses claim the holidays account for more than 30% of their total yearly sales.

Shoppers are checking off all the people on their lists, so it’s vital that you are top-of-mind when they’re brainstorming where to go to satisfy their retail and holiday needs.

8 ways to ‘sleigh’ holiday marketing campaigns

With some timely prepping and extra effort, you can certainly “sleigh” your sales goals this holiday season with these ideas.

  1. Be festive and fun with your branding.
  2. If all is calm, then all is bright.
  3. Provide answers by creating a gift guide.
  4. Get festive with a unique holiday special.
  5. Make the holidays a win-win with a contest.
  6. Partner up because the more the merrier.
  7. Give back to get more.
  8. Don’t forget to spread the love.

Use these eight festive marketing strategies to increase sales, get in front of more people, and make 2019 your best year yet.

1. Be festive and fun with your branding

Whether you have a brick-and-mortar store or your brand lives online, this is the time of year to go big on branding.

People are dazzled by holiday lights and tinsel everywhere they look, so don’t let your business seem blah next to all the others.

You know what your email inbox looks like in December. It’s overflowing with festive emails and clickable content.

  • Do your emails reflect the excitement of the holidays?
  • Does your business look like it’s a holiday headquarters?
  • Are your store windows flashing holiday cheer?

If not, let’s fix that.

Bedazzle your logo

One easy way to get festive is to change your logo to cliche holiday colors like red and green. Think that’s too corny? Here are 15 famous brands that have altered their logo for the holidays. If that’s still too off-brand for you, try working with more muted variations like white, gold and silver.

Add festive graphics

The next way to “sleigh” your holiday marketing campaigns is with some festive graphics. Catapult your website visitors into the holiday spirit with a temporary holiday home page banner.

Next, share holiday-themed graphics on social media throughout the season. Post fun holiday quotes, announce sales or seasonal specials and share important information using these exciting graphics. The good news is they can be reused throughout social media, emails and online.

Being festive shows your customers you’re in the holiday spirit and it adds personality to your business.

It’s also a smart way to humanize your brand, which will improve sales and the reputation of your brand in the long-term.

2. If all is calm, then all is bright

Holiday Marketing Campaigns Cat With Lights

Holiday-crazed shoppers are anything but calm. Thankfully, this craziness creates a sales opportunity for you.

Make it a stress-free holiday by simplifying things for your customers.

Offer a gift wrapping option, extend your store hours, grant free shipping or delivery, validate parking, and simplify return policies.

You can appeal to the rare proactive shoppers or inspire people to shop early by offering an early-bird special or layaway option.

Not only can you make the shopping experience stress-free, but also fun!

Host a special shopping event and holiday party that brings your community together. Your customers will have fun and get their shopping done at the same time. Talk about a win-win situation.

But, it might not be possible for your business to offer all of these options.

During this stressful time, you can be a light to your customers. Simply providing a snack to a weary shopper or helping someone carry something to their car can change someone’s day.

Next-level customer service and a simple smile go a long way — especially during a time of year when shopping malls become a battle zone and your customers are trying to get through the chaos.

By adding a little extra zen to their errand running, your will quickly entice them to stay longer in your store and on your website.

3. Provide answers by creating a gift guide

While we’re discussing ways to make life easier for your customers, let’s talk about a clever way to promote many of your products simultaneously: gift guides.

Match the typical holiday recipients — husband, daughter, grandma, best friend — with your corresponding products.

If your own selection of products or services isn’t wide enough to span this group of gift recipients, you can add other companies’ products. Just be sure to choose like-minded businesses and those who complement your brand without any competition.

Not only does bringing in outside sources improve the quality of your gift guide, it also has the potential to expand your audience reach.

How? Contact the brands and tell them you’re including their product in your gift guide. Chances are, they will be happy to share that guide with their followers too, which puts your brand in front of a whole new audience.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll return the favor in their own holiday marketing campaign and include you in their content in other ways.

Gift guides make great content for email newsletters, social media and blog posts.

These helpful guides are popular and come from brands and influencers alike.

Make a mental note to tap some local or like-minded bloggers in your industry who release gift guides and take the time to email them. Ask to be considered for their guide this year or if there’s another way you can work together. You miss all the chances you don’t take.

In addition to a gift guide, brainstorm other ways your products and services can be incorporated into the holidays.

  • Can they be used in a holiday recipe or used in a unique way at a holiday party?
  • Can they make holiday shopping easier?
  • Maybe something you sell would be a nice donation for a charity or can become a tax write-off?

Get creative and think about how you can make your business more holiday-friendly.

4. Get festive with a unique holiday special

The next way to improve your holiday marketing campaigns is to boost sales with a holiday special.

Limited-time offers excite customers and drive extra traffic in store and online.

If you have an eCommerce store, try offering free shipping, discount codes or a small gift with purchase. Even a small stocking-stuffer can persuade a shopper who is on the fence about a sale.

A holiday special, no matter how small, also provides that added incentive for last-minute shoppers on the hunt for a last-minute deal.

After the holidays, most retail businesses experience down time. Keep customers checking back with your business long after the holidays are done by providing a coupon with holiday purchases for a future purchase. That way, customers are willing to revisit your store to take advantage of this new incentive.

5. Make the holidays a win-win with a contest

Another unique holiday marketing idea is to host a contest.

Advertise an attractive gift package and announce the winner a week or two before the holidays are over to keep the excitement going through the season.

To enter your contest, ask people to follow you on social media, share your post and/or tag some friends.

Another entry option is to create a quick landing page with an email capture form, or use a survey tool like TypeForm to capture email addresses and contact information.

Not only will you excite your audience with a fun contest, but you’ll drum up some new followers and capture some extra email addresses, which you can market to year-round.

Social media is a great platform for these contests and giveaways.

Because social media posts gain impressions by engagement and shares, contests often become popular content on timelines, spreading your cause and also increasing brand awareness.

Contests engage your audience and influence loyal fans (or new ones!) to participate. Amplify your voice and share your contest via emails and any other communication channels you’re already using. The more shares and engagement you can create, the more you expand your organic reach online to get in front of more and more eyes over the holidays.

Holiday Marketing Campaigns Wrapped Presents

6. Partner up because the more the merrier

They say the more the merrier, right? Bring that mentality to your business and leverage this friendly time of year to find some new partners. Team up with other businesses in your neighborhood or industry and run a holiday special together or invest in some seasonal advertising that promotes both of you.

If you have similar goals or complementary resources, you can even throw an event together. If an in-person event isn’t possible for your business, partner with a like-minded brand online to host a holiday giveaway on social media or find another way to co-promote to each other’s audiences.

Sharing is caring, and if you can discover a lucrative way to become allies with a fellow business, it’ll be sure to boost sales this holiday season.

Partnerships open new doors and introduce the possibilities of endless opportunities all year.

If it’s not the right time to work with another business, why not join forces with your loyal customer base?

Make holiday shopping a family affair and attract kids with holiday cookie decorating or hiring a Santa Claus for photos. Try your best to find these partnerships long before the holidays begin — the more time for planning and working out details the better.

7. Give back to get more

The holidays are a popular time of year to give back too, and that can have a positive effect on your marketing. Consider partnering with a charity to spread some holiday cheer to those who are less fortunate.

There are many ways to aid a charity as a business, and you can use your status to also get your community involved as consumers by either donating money, buying an extra item to donate, or offering their own time or volunteer hours.

Doing the right thing and helping others feels great, but it’s also a smart business move.

Working with a charity gives you newsworthy content to share on social media and within your content marketing, such as on blogs and within emails. An added bonus is the fact that people respect and promote businesses that are trying to make a difference.

People are happy to make a purchase for a good cause. Your decent deeds improve any word-of-mouth marketing and positive talk about your brand.

8. Don’t forget to spread the love

If you only take away one strategy from this article, be sure to spread the love this season.

Do everything in your power to make your customers feel appreciated. That means being extra thankful and grateful in all communications and interactions.

Send an email just to thank your audience — no selling or advertising involved. Share a social post with pictures of customers and revel in joyful memories.

While holiday shopping lists are what bring your customers in during the season, your love and quality customer service will bring them back year after year. Use this time of year to build your community and strengthen the relationships with your audience through gratitude.

This is where small businesses can stand out. Every business is competing with one another for shoppers’ purchases. Small businesses — even those with loyal buyers — are no exception.

There are ways to compete with big box stores, but excellent customer service and genuine interactions are a big way to get ahead.

While department stores herd customers like cattle and people become numbers, you can make a difference with targeted marketing and embracing small interactions with each customer you encounter.

You’ll capitalize on all the good service you’re sharing when people happily leave positive online reviews and don’t hesitate to tell their friends about your great store.

It’s never too early to start planning your holiday marketing campaigns

It’s smart to plan ahead and start preparing for the holiday season as early as you can.

Here’s a holiday marketing checklist to help you get organized before you begin implementing the marketing strategies listed here.

As the holidays roll around, stock up on hot chocolate and take time to prepare your team and business. A strong holiday marketing campaign will help you stay on people’s radars before, during and after the holiday season. It’s time to crush those sales goals. You got this — “sleigh” away!