In this episode, Carrie talks with Erin Flynn about Client Onboarding and how this process can be simplified by using templates and communicating regularly with your client.
What you will learn in this episode:
- Make sure your website explains who you are and what type of client or industry you do work for.
- Your website inquiry form should ask what are the goals of the website, what is the budget for the project, and establish if there are any time restraints around the work needed.
- The inquiry form should help the client know if they are a good fit for you.
- Potential clients will take the time to fill out the registration form on your website.
- Your onboarding is prepping the client to work with you. The inquiry form does not cover everything from the start to the end of the project.
- After a call, a second packet will go out for requirements and discovery. This packet will also identify how you work with the client.
- The Proposal is prepared after the second packet is returned that will have all the technical information and pricing.
- Finally, do not forget to get the contract signed and collect your first payment.
- Be available throughout the project as your contract outlines.
Onboarding Ideas for Freelancers:
- Get clear about the type of work that you do.
- Know your process and document flow.
- Outline and put an order to your workflow. Do you have a submitted inquiry form on your site and is it clear when you will schedule the first client call?
- Do not worry about getting all the information up front. Keep your inquiry form short and simple.
- You don’t want to scare off people with a large form requesting that all the questions be answered.
- Break your information down on your website with a loose outline.
- You should at least have an intro packet for the client. (Ex: if you need copy and you do not do copywriting, have a few contacts for that task).
- Your website should be consistent with how you work and what type of clients you want to work with.
- Your inquiry template can be standard and streamlined. You do not want to waste a lot of time with simple inquiries.
- Put yourself in the client’s shoes.
- Ask the question “How would I want to be treated if I were going through this process”?
- Don’t assume the potential client knows what you are talking about (ex: follow up with tasks through a project management system).
- Remember to use whatever method you are familiar with to onboard you client and your follow up communication. This can be pdf files, Word documents, screencast recordings or videos.
“Outboarding” your client:
- Hand off all the information about the website to the client
- The reference document should use whatever method you are comfortable with to provide the client with the project information.
- Provide tutorials on how to manage the site. (ex: creating users, changing passwords, adding posts, etc).
- If a designer worked on the project with you provide the client with the branding pieces of information. (ex: colors used on the site, etc.)
- Review how ongoing support and calls will be handled after project handoff.
About the guest:
Erin has been making websites since 1999 and started her own web design and development company in 2012. After a few years creating websites for clients, Erin shifted her business. Now, her primary business is helping other designers and developers navigate the difficult waters of entrepreneurship by providing courses and guides for teaching everything from how to start a web design business to how to deal with nightmare clients. When she’s not teaching designers or working with her own design/development clients, Erin can be found exploring the mountains near her home in Aspen, Colorado.
Carrie: Hey, Erin. Welcome to Office Hours. How are you doing today?
Erin: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on today.
Carrie: You bet. It’s a pleasure to have you. You do so much cool stuff online, specifically for freelancers, and I’m excited to have you on today to talk about client onboarding.
Erin: Yeah. I’m excited to talk about it. I told you in the email that I am a total dork when it comes to client onboarding. I love to chat about it.
Carrie: I’m glad that [00:00:30] you can dork out and nerd out on client onboarding because the world needs more of this. This was something that I didn’t really add into my process until very late in the game, to my dismay. I’m excited for you to drop some knowledge today.
Let’s start by just maybe … When I say client onboarding, or when somebody says client onboarding, what are we even talking about?
Erin: Basically what client onboarding is is prepping them to work with [00:01:00] you, giving them that information that they need to understand your processes and how the projects going to go, and even kind of … In my case, I like to also use it to screen clients before you get to far into the process and sign a contract so that they kind of self-screen themselves and say, “Okay. This person is not the right fit for me. I need to work with another designer.”
Carrie: Perfect. Okay. Your onboarding technically starts even before they are your client, so you’re giving the option to kind of self [00:01:30] select? Can you walk through what that … Is that a form on your website, or what is that?
Erin: I think that the onboarding process really starts when they first land on your website because if you are clear on who your niche is, who you work with, and what it is that you’re doing for them, then that prepares people to work with you, that makes them go, “Okay. This is the person for me”, or not, which is fine because you want to discourage people who are not a good fit for you. I really think [00:02:00] that the onboarding process starts like on the homepage of your website as soon as they land there when you tell them who you are and what you do and who you do it for.
After that, they go to your inquiry form, like they’ve poked through your website, they’ve seen your portfolio, they’ve gotten really excited about the kind of work that you do, and they go fill out your form. That’s where the onboarding like really officially starts because then you start getting information from them as well [00:02:30] and can determine if they’re a good fit for what it is that you do.
On your inquiry form, it’s really important to ask the important deal breaker type questions, like, “What’s your budget? What are your goals for this website or this project? What can we do to help you basically achieve those goals?” That really starts getting clients thinking about, [00:03:00] “I’m not just getting a website or whatever service you offer. I’m trying to achieve something”, and that’s kind of a different mindset than, “Okay. I need a website. I need to just put it up there.” It’s, “Okay. What specifically am I getting a website to do?” That’s a really important part of the onboarding process because it gets their wheels turning in terms of this project actually having a measurable [00:03:30] and good outcome, as opposed to, “Oh, I have a pretty website”, which doesn’t do anything.
Carrie: Yeah. I love what you’ve mentioned so far, that helping clients self select whether or not they even should be your clients and then putting them in that mindset on that first touch point with you that this is a goal-based project and not just checking off a box. “I got a website!”
They fill out the form. [00:04:00] Let’s say that you decide, based on the information they give you, that this is something that you want to proceed with, this is somebody you might like to work with. What’s the next step in that process?
Erin: What I do next is I send what I call an intro packet, which is basically kind of like a pre-done packet that tells them all about how I work specifically. This really is a big part of the screening, but also the prep. I’ll give them a [00:04:30] rough overview of the project, the types of work that I do, so more in depth than what’s on the website, and how they can expect to work with me. If I need the website content before I begin work, I say that in the intro packet because that way they can be like, “Okay. Hold up. Maybe I’m not ready for the website yet. Maybe I need to work with a copywriter”, and then they might email me back and say, “Okay. I need a copywriter. Who do you recommend?” I have a list of people that I work with regularly.
[00:05:00] I’ll give them a timeline of the project in my intro packet so that they don’t expect their website to be done next week. It’s a much bigger process than that. I also outline any major policies that are deal breakers for me, which in my case happened to be the hours that I work and when I’m available and how I’m available because I don’t do random phone calls throughout my week. That is a complete deal breaker if a client wants that. If they want that, they’re not necessarily a bad client, they’re just not a good fit [00:05:30] for me. They can say, “Okay. She’s not going to let me call her six times a day, so if I have to schedule calls, then I don’t want to work with her”, and that’s totally fine because like I said, that’s a deal breaker for me and it’s a deal breaker for some people. They can say, “All right. I’m going to move onto the next person. Maybe she can recommend somebody who does enjoy phone calls.”
That really gives them the big overview picture of what working with me is like. I find that most clients actually [00:06:00] … It sounds bad that they, “Oh, there are like all these different things and it sounds intimidating and overwhelming”, but really, my clients love having all of that outlined so they know basically what they’re getting into. When you’re spending thousands of dollars, you want to know what you’re getting into and how it’s all going to work.
Carrie: Okay. I’ve got a two part question for you. One, how long is this intro packet? Two, they actually read [00:06:30] it?
Erin: They do in fact normally read it. They don’t maybe necessarily read it super thoroughly, which is fine because I have another packet that I send them later that reiterates all of the important information. The packet, I’m trying to think how long mine actually is. I want to say it’s probably around 10 pages-ish. I’m not sending them like a 50 page document. It’s fairly short. It’s very skimmable. I’ve designed [00:07:00] it to be very skimmable, like, “Oh, here is what a timeline looks like”, and then they can refer back to it and go, “Okay, well I see that it takes four weeks to do this part of the project, so if I’m expecting this done in four weeks”, they don’t see that that’s a possibility. It’s just like the big highlights.
At the end of the intro packet is actually where I allow them to schedule a call with me. In the email where I send them the intro packet, I don’t send them my call scheduler. [00:07:30] The link to my call scheduler is at the end of the intro packet so they have to get through it far enough to at least get to that page and click the Schedule A Call button.
Carrie: Brilliant. There’s first intro packet, and then you say that you’re following up with a secondary document of some sort?
Erin: Yeah. That actually happens a couple stages down the line. The next step that I actually do is [00:08:00] I get on that call with them and I talk about their project and their goals for their project and what they want to accomplish with their website. I make sure that I feel like I’m a really good fit for their project and that I can help them achieve those goals, and also that I feel like they’re somebody that I want to work with for the next six, eight, or 12 weeks of my life, because I find if you don’t connect well on the discovery call, it can be really bad. You don’t want to take on a project [00:08:30] with somebody where you don’t enjoy hearing from them multiple times a week.
Like I said, there are actually a few more steps before that second document. I do the proposal, which is pretty much a classic proposal. “Here’s outlined what we’re going to do. Here’s what’s included.” I make sure that they understand all of the different tech stuff, which is the hardest part, and if they have any questions, we get back on the call. That’s where the pricing [00:09:00] really comes in. They have a rough idea of my pricing before they ever contact me because it’s above my contact form, but that’s where they actually see what it’s going to cost. The proposal is a really important document that I think a lot of people tend to skip, which is not good.
Finally, I make them sign a contract if they agree to the proposal. That’s obviously a necessary step. [00:09:30] Then I make them pay me before I start work, and then I send them a second document that outlines all the nitty gritty details of the project. I call that a welcome packet. That’s after they’ve signed the contract. That’s after we’ve agreed to work together, they’ve made their first payment, and then I outline all of the things, like, “Here’s how to use the project management system. Here’s a video showing you how to ask questions in it, how to upload files, [00:10:00] how to access all of that kind of stuff.”
I give them instructions on how to send feedback that I can actually use instead of, “I just don’t like it”, because that’s not really great feedback. I, again, give them information on how and when to schedule calls because, like I said, my office hours are really important to me. I give them instructions on how to send their text, their images, and just like expected response time throughout the project because I’m really fast [00:10:30] at responding to people during a project, much faster than if somebody just emails me and has like a random question. I get a ton of emails, but if I’m actually actively working with somebody, I typically respond the same day, so I make it really clear that during the project, I’m going to be super fast and helpful. Outside of the project, once we’re done, you might expect something a little bit different.
The welcome packet is more like the tiny micro level details that would be way too overwhelming to tell somebody [00:11:00] at the very beginning, but that they need to know during the project so that there’s not confusion about, “Well, do I email you? Do I call you? Do I ask? Basecamp, how does this work?”
Carrie: That’s fantastic. You’re really providing a lot of education, not just for working with you specifically, but for what it’s like working with a contractor.
Erin: Exactly. I think that, especially if you’re working with a small business or a medium sized [00:11:30] business and they’re not familiar with how freelancers work, you really need to have all of those details outlined or they’re just going to be confused. They think that you work just like they do.
Carrie: Do you ever get any kickback of, “Hey, we actually use”, I’m making this up, “Hey, we use Asana. Can we do that? We’ve already got this ongoing project happening in Asana. Can you come over and be part of that versus having to do this Basecamp thing?” Is there any room for flex in that?
Erin: [00:12:00] For me, there is. If they’re already using something that I know that they’re in there all the time, I would much rather hop on their project management system that I know that they know how to use, that they are comfortable using, and that they will be checking on a regular basis. I’d much rather do that and learn how they use it, as opposed to try and force them into something else where they might get frustrated and then not communicate properly. For me, I can be very flexible. I know other people [00:12:30] maybe don’t like to be that flexible, but I’ve tried pretty much every project management system out there. If you give me 15 minutes, I’ll figure out how to do the basics in it and it’ll be fine.
Carrie: Okay. We’ve got the intro packet, we’ve got some phone calls, some proposals, contract, a welcome packet, then diving into the project. At this point, the client is fully onboarded, but I’m curious, just keep going through the process. Are you outboarding them?
Erin: [00:13:00] I do actually outboard them as well. I do, originally enough and totally off the wall, I do a goodbye packet as well. Basically, if I’m outboarding them, that includes all of the information they need to know about their new website, so, “Go to this page and reset your password. Here’s your username. Reset your password and then you can log in. Here’s like a walkthrough of your website, [00:13:30] your admin panel.” Then I’ll have some basic tutorials that I reuse with every client about how to create a blog post, how to edit a page, things like that that don’t change. Then I’ll have some tutorial videos about how to do the custom things on their website.
I’ll include little notes about … If I hired a brand designer to come into the project with me, she’ll give me information on like, “Here’s when to use your logo. Here’s when to use your [00:14:00] submark. Here are your colors and Pantone and RGB and CMYK for printing purposes.” We’ll have all of that information in a custom branded to the client packet, although most of the information, we can reuse it. We’ll brand that as like a very special package that we give them that’s custom to their brand and that can be like their big referral document at the end of a project. Clients really love that. They’re like, “Oh, I actually have all of this information together.” I don’t know how often [00:14:30] they read it, but you know, three months later when they’re wondering what their colors are, it’s in that document. They contact me a lot less since I started doing that.
Carrie: Yeah. That’s a fantastic reference document/training to hand off. It sounds like you’ve formalized the process pretty well. Are you using any sort of automation in terms of when some of these emails or packets, [00:15:00] definitely not the goodbye packet, but the initial ones when they’re being kicked off? Is your intake form going into any sort of a CRM or that sort of thing?
Erin: I actually don’t do that. The reason why is because I’m really picky about who I work with, so I prefer to manually enter people into my programs once I decide they’re a good fit because I get a lot of tire kickers, and I think a lot of people do. [00:15:30] I don’t like to clutter up my programs with people who are just kicking tires and trying to get random quotes and who aren’t very serious about hiring me, but you can totally automate all of that.
I do automate, actually. If I send the intro packet and they don’t pretty quickly book a call with me, I do push them into an email funnel that talks about why you should work with a web designer and create a strategic website [00:16:00] and what the benefits of working with us are, and it gives them some more information and then pushes them to book that call with us. I’m not a hard sell person, so it’s like a three to five email series, I forget how many are actually in there, and it just nudges them a couple times to say, “Hey, you still want to work with us? Come on. Go ahead and book it.”
Carrie: Yeah. That’s fantastic. [00:16:30] By the way, I love the process. It sounds like you’ve got a well oiled machine, as it were. Let’s move into talking about maybe a freelancer that does not have any of this in place, or maybe has some bits and pieces, but it’s very informal. Let’s talk about some tips of how someone could create an onboarding [00:17:00] experience for their clients.
Erin: I think the first thing that you need to do is get really clear on how you work. If you are confused about your process or the different steps that you’re going to take, then you’re not going to be able to onboard clients easily and you’re going to kind of confuse them. I think really the first thing that you should do is sit down and say, “Okay. How do I want this flow to go? Do they fill out my inquiry form first or do they call me first? How [00:17:30] does this whole process work?” Just bullet point the outline to the different steps that it takes and what order they need to go in for you because everybody works differently. My order might work for you, it might not, but I think you just have to get really clear on what makes sense for the way that you work and the different steps in your process and what information you need from your clients in order to do your job properly and at what stage they should be doing that.
One thing I do want to mention here is that a lot [00:18:00] of people, or a lot of web designers anyhow, try to get all of the information upfront and they have like this 100 question inquiry form, which unless you’re a super famous huge name, it’s not going to work for you. You want to keep your inquiry forms three to five minutes max to fill out. Just put in the biggest deal breaker questions into your inquiry form, and then ask the rest of your questions later in the process, [00:18:30] even if that’s immediately after they contact you you send them a questionnaire, because you want to get people to contact you and you don’t want them to be scared off by this like giant form that I keep seeing people doing. Then they wonder why they don’t get clients.
Carrie: Yes. That’s a fantastic point. It’s intimidating.
Erin: It is.
Carrie: Especially if you maybe don’t have all of the data right in front of you that’s needed to fill out the form, like say if you’re actually asking for [00:19:00] logins or, I don’t know why you would have that on an intake form, but-
Erin: I’ve seen it.
Carrie: Okay, so that’s a great starting point. First, just sort of bullet down what your process is, the various steps involved, and then you take that and then what?
Erin: Then I think you need to look at your website and make sure that you are presenting some of that information, not overwhelming amounts of it, [00:19:30] but some of that information as they go. If you have even just like a short little on your services page, like, “Here’s how the process works.” It’s like three points, like, “First, you get in touch. Next, we talk about your project. Third, we build your project”, whatever. Just kind of have that loosely outlined so that they can get a feel for how you’re going to work initially, and then as you go along, you’re going to get more and more in depth into that, but that way, they don’t get totally overwhelmed when they first [00:20:00] talk to you and you have a million different things about your process.
The next thing I think is really important is that intro packet where you outline actually how you work and all of your major policies and what they should expect during the project. Like I said, whether you need content first and if there are copywriters you can recommend or what kinds of different information you’re going to need from them. Just get that together so that if they get that intro packet and they go, “Okay, I’m not ready to [00:20:30] actually book this website because there are x, y, and z things that I need to go do”, then they’re aware of that and you’re not starting a project without what you need.
Carrie: I hear you saying something crazy, and that’s that your website should be consistent with the way you want to work and the clients you want to get? What?
Erin: Yeah, I know. It’s kind of like a really novel idea. I’m probably the first person who’s ever thought of it.
Carrie: No, but really, you [00:21:00] bring up a great point because I think in our minds, we know what it is we want to do, how it is we want to work, who it is we want to work with, but then the reality, if we go back and looking at our websites, most of the time we’re not really communicating that. I think that’s an important point to draw out, to be sure that there is the consistency there.
We’ve got our intro packet now, and this is a template [00:21:30] that … Is that the same one you use for … Is there anything custom about that intro packet?
Erin: I do not customize my intro packet. You could, you totally could, depending on what information you collect from them via the contact form or the inquiry form. You could add a little bit of a blurb or something at the beginning that maybe talks about their goals or something. I would keep that really streamlined though as much as possible because like I said, it’s kind of like a pre-screening [00:22:00] document and it’s also just general information, so if you’re redoing it every time and you’re getting tons of inquiries and you’re spending like five or 10 hours a week customizing these things, that’s really a waste of your time if people aren’t necessarily booking you. You could be doing billable hours instead.
Where things really start to get more custom is at the proposal stage where you’re actually talking about their specific goals and how you’re going to help them achieve that, [00:22:30] as opposed to the intro packet, which should be fairly general, like stuff that’s not going to change from project to project. Although, it might change if you do, for example, brand design and web design. You’re going to need two different intro packets probably. I wouldn’t overly customize those at all.
Carrie: Okay. Then the welcome packet. I’m guessing there’s a fair amount of that that’s templated too and then you just drop in custom goods.
Erin: Yeah. My welcome packets are completely templated as well. The [00:23:00] only ones that I do custom are the goodbye packets. Proposals and contracts get customized too, but the only packet that I customize fully really is the goodbye packet because that’s very specific to their website and their specific project and what they need to know. Again, I reuse content as much as possible. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel every single time, but I’m a very strong proponent of reusing [00:23:30] stuff when you can reuse stuff to save yourself time.
Carrie: Good deal. Erin, are there any other tips that you would give to someone for creating their onboarding experience?
Erin: I think put yourself in your clients shoes as much as possible to think about how you would want the experience to go, because it’s really important that we create good experiences for our clients so that they [00:24:00] refer others to us, so that they have an enjoyable project, so that they really like working with us and they want to share us with the world and just feel good after the project. I think think about how would you want to be treated if you were going through this process.
Remember, also, that clients don’t know everything that we know, so if something feels like common sense to you, whether it’s a technical term or just the way that you work, [00:24:30] realize that that’s not common sense, that’s not common knowledge, and that your clients probably don’t know it. Break things down as much as possible. Put things in simple terms. Just kind of explain things that you don’t necessarily feel like you need to explain, but would be important to the process that they know or understand what that is.
If they don’t know what a project management system is, then tell them what that is in your intro packet and say, “We’re going to use a project management system, [00:25:00] and what that is is this program that keeps our files organized and our discussions organized.” It doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s just you need to recognize that they don’t know what you know, and you want them to feel knowledgeable and not stupid so that they have a great experience.
Carrie: I love that. One question. When we’re talking about these packets, just to be clear, these are PDFs or Word docs or [00:25:30] something like that? We’re just calling it a packet?
Erin: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I do them as PDFs, but I have students that have taken my workshops. Some of them do videos. Some of them do like a page on their website. It can really be any form that you want it to be. You can make it however you want. It’s just whatever method you feel is best to convey the information.
Carrie: Thank you, Erin, so much for taking the time to come discuss client onboarding with me. Where could people find you [00:26:00] online or follow up with you?
Erin: The best place to find me is at erinflynn.com. I link to all my social media accounts and my workshops and everything from there. Just type in my name and go there.
Carrie: Awesome. Thank you so much, Erin.
Erin: Thank you for having me, Carrie.