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Onboarding Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Legally Onboarding New Clients

Legally Onboarding
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There’s nothing quite like the excitement and satisfaction of signing on a new client!

Whether you’re new to the world of freelancing, or an experienced creative or coach, legally onboarding new clients is a vital process for the success of your biz. Experts predict that, by 2028, there will be more than 90.1 million freelancers in the United States. That’s a large cohort of people who are doing business on their own terms: and we are here for it!

But being in business for yourself comes with a learning curve. You’re the master of your industry: stay in your zone of genius and leave the legal side to us. From Client Services Contracts to Non-Disclosure Agreements, you can always count on The Legal Godfairy to cover the legal side of your vision.

Shop online now, and keep reading for expert tips on establishing a secure client onboarding process.

Legally Onboarding

What are the Essential Aspects of Client Onboarding?

Like an abstract painting, client onboarding is one of those terms that is somewhat subject to interpretation. Does it start from the first discovery call? Does it start after you have a signed contract? Spoiler alert: it’s the latter. We wouldn’t be legal godfairies if we didn’t caution you against onboarding a client before they have signed a contract with you. This would waste everyone’s time, and could leave you in a vulnerable position if you’ve already shared content or access to any of your stellar work. 

So, client onboarding, first and foremost, starts after you have a signed contract in hand.

Then, let’s talk specifics: what is client onboarding exactly? It has distinct components, but here is a broad definition: 

Client onboarding is a process by which you introduce clients to your company, setting the foundation for your professional relationship.

Here are some examples:

Business Coach Client Onboarding 

Business coaches can use the client onboarding process to provide questionnaires, review responses, and lay a roadmap for topics, meetings, and goals.

Course Creator Client Onboarding

Course creators are often whizzes of client onboarding, as they rely on automation to run their business. The process should clearly provide information on what participants need to come prepared with, the syllabus and schedule for the course, and detailed learning objectives.

Freelancer Client Onboarding

Any kind of freelancer should have a simple, streamlined client onboarding process that provides a level set for expectations, scope of work, and processes like delivering work, review cycles, and invoicing.

client onboarding processes

Laying the Groundwork for Client Onboarding

Many small biz owners, especially digital service providers, dedicate a lot of time to their lead pipeline. All of these sales convos make it easy to forget that a signed contract is really the start of your professional relationship (not the finish line). There is groundwork to be laid even during the discovery phase. 

Here are some of the preliminary steps you can take that will make the onboarding process far less cumbersome:

Streamline Your Messaging 

It’s easy for service providers to schill their services in vague or ambiguous ways. In other words, if you feel the pickin’s are lean, you want to represent yourself as able to “do it all.” 

As your business grows, this will change, but until you can be choosy, you still need to be clear. Clearly state who you are, what your qualifications are, and the service or goods you offer. This will go a long way in alleviating miscommunication or out-of-scope asks down the line. Who has time for that noise anyway? Not you.

Have Your Paperwork Ready to go 

We are sticklers for this one. We can’t help it.

Even if you are a brand new freelancer, you do not want to be Googling, “Client Contracts” at 5:30pm . . . when you have a client onboarding call at 6. What you cobble together from random online sources could have disastrous consequences down the line. That’s like using six different recipes for a perfect batch of Pinterest brownies—it won’t be pretty.

Worse yet: that frankenstein contract may not even be enforceable in a court of law. This means you could be facing potential lawsuits. Or that potential dream client could instead take advantage or not pay for your hard work. Don’t risk this by being unprepared, sis. Legally sound agreements are part of the cost of doing business. We cannot overstate the importance of having your legal ducks in a row before you onboard a client.

Assemble Onboarding Materials in Advance 

If Tinder has taught us anything, it’s that first impressions do matter; even digital ones. This is, again, not a “Google it the day of” situation. Consider all of the onboarding materials you want to have (you’ll easily collect a list as you read through this), then write them, get them designed, and test them. 

Seriously: go through the entire sequence, in order, before you have a client do the same. You’ll identify gaps you didn’t foresee and tighten up the process, so you can be pressed and professional from day one.

Laying the Groundwork for Client Onboarding

Why is Client Onboarding Important?

You may be thinking, “this sounds like a lot of work.” We get that. Because it is. But this is work worth doing.

Here’s why client onboarding is important:

It builds efficiency — The front-end work you do to develop client onboarding processes makes your life way easier as you grow. If you spend a few hours, or even a few weeks, refining this process, you can slightly adapt, then rinse and repeat it for each new client.

Less churn — Clients will take your work as seriously as you do. A solid onboarding process alleviates some of the major complaints clients have of service providers (that they’re flakey, unpredictable, unprofessional) and breeds loyalty into the client relationship.

Reduce scope creep — If you’ve been in the freelance economy for any length of time, you know that scope creep is one of the most common issues that independent contractors face. This is easily reduced by managing expectations with iron-clad contracts delivered prior to onboarding.

Client satisfaction — With the exception of surprise parties, people like to know what’s coming. It’s human nature. You can provide predictability from day one, which increases client satisfaction.

Build referral base — Happy clients tell their friends. Build your reputation for professionalism and overall awesomeness when you onboard clients the right way.

Ensure compliance — For client relationships, there are two sides of the expectation coin. In a sense, you are holding each other accountable for follow-through. This compliance is a lot easier for everyone to uphold if it was set forth in black and white from day one.

Client Onboarding Checklist

So, let’s get practical, baby. We want you to walk away feeling empowered to implement client onboarding processes like the professional badass you are. Here is a checklist of all of the elements you need to include, provided in sequence (you can thank us later):

1. Client Contract

  • Proposal terms
  • Proposal accepted
  • Contract revised, if needed
  • Contract signed by both parties
  • Prepayment or deposit sent, if needed

Tip: simply plug your contract into a signature software like DocuSign or HelloSign or into your preferred CRM – we highly recommend Dubsado.

Once the contract has been signed and deposit/payment has been made, then you can send your Client Onboarding Packet, which we’ll make a little more friendly by calling it a Welcome Kit.

2. Welcome Kit

Sending a Welcome Kit is a warm and positive way to kick off the project. It sets the tone for future interactions and also sets expectations at the onset of your relationship. 

Here’s what to include in a Welcome Kit:

  • Welcome note: properly welcome client and thank them for choosing you
  • Introduction/meet the team
  • Tip: if you work in a team, use photos of each team member, and be sure to include titles and roles so the client knows who to contact if they have a question.
  • Steps for getting started
  • Tip: if this includes signing up, logging in, or sharing information, be sure to include screenshots to make it easier for the client to get started.
  • What the client can expect (outline the process)
  • Timeline for deliverables
  • Tip: include scheduling frequency for calls and a clear delineation of milestones.
  • List of what you need from client 
  • Communication guidelines, payment policies & procedures
  • Visualized roadmap or clearly written next steps
  • FAQs
  • Contact info sheet

3. Discovery Questionnaire

A discovery questionnaire (aka onboarding questionnaire or client intake form) is fundamental, especially if you are tailoring your services for web design, graphic design, copywriting, coaching, consulting, marketing, or engaging in any client or brand-specific work. To make this step even easier, we recommend including a link to the discovery questionnaire or client intake form in your Welcome Kit.

Since every client is different, this is the most efficient way to gain a better understanding of the new client and their needs. At a minimum, the questionnaire should have the client relay the following:

  • Client contact information
  • Client business information 
  • Client digital properties, listed out
  • Client goals and expectations
  • Asset sharing

4. Project Launch

The final stage for an incredible onboarding experience is to launch the project (yay!). Introductions, goals and deadlines should be in place and, if you work with a team, team assignments should already be made. It’s important that you carry the project over the threshold with these next steps:

  • Kickoff Meeting/Onboarding Call 
  • Add client (and team members if needed) to your project management app – we love ClickUp
  • Create initial to-dos and project workflow
  • Reporting cycles
  • Stand-up notes and feedback process
  • Deliverable schedule or additional information

Client Success Plan

As you navigate your new client relationship, the first month of working together is often your opportunity to knock it out of the park by clearly showcasing how you add value to a client’s life or business.

There are a few key elements to this:

Organizing Workflow

Don’t miss a beat. You don’t get a second chance to launch a new project successfully, so be sure your workflow has no gaps and you don’t miss a deadline or have a weak link in your operations.

Ongoing Communication

Of course, you want to communicate at the right frequency, but be responsive and go above and beyond to ensure the client knows you are working hard for them.

Routine Check-Ins

There’s magic in simply checking in. This could be a simple follow-up email if you haven’t heard from your client within the expected timeframe or a post-launch call to discuss any high-level points and gain valuable feedback so you know what’s working and where to improve. No matter how you choose to check-in with your client, following up always adds an extra layer of care, consistency and customer service that your client will appreciate. 

Milestones

Again, this is about delivering on time every time. Meet milestones and deadlines in advance, and be sure your client has visibility into the work you are performing.

Relationship Management

Like any new relationship, you may see the honeymoon phase fade in the first 90 days. That’s okay, but it does mean you need to quickly interpret how your client is feeling and address any issues that come up.

Delivery and Reporting

Depending on the nature of your work, your client may demand more reporting, or not even look at your reports. You should control the situation as much as possible, providing exactly what you said you would during onboarding, but being flexible if new arrangements need to be struck.

Engagement Practices

While you want to prove yourself and exceed expectations, it is also important to set boundaries on engagement. Clients run the gamut from “texting your personal phone” to being unable to reach for weeks at a time. If you onboarded effectively, you should know how much to communicate, and you need to stick with that.

The methods by which you stick to this success plan include:

  • Automating communication with clients
  • Internal organization and clear areas of responsibility
  • Interactive opportunities to be fun, friendly, and engage with clients
  • Bonus points for adding extra swag: no client is going to say no to a fun, meaningful gift or gesture of appreciation

How Onboarding Impacts Client Value and Retention

Engaged clients and customers spend more money. That’s a fact. Here are some stats to back us up:

  • Experience-driven businesses have a 1.5x higher year over year growth in terms of customer retention, repeat purchase rates, and customer lifetime value (CLV). 

Adobe and Forrester

  • 40% of people will spend more than they had planned to when they receive a highly personalized customer experience.

Boston Consulting Group

  • 65% of respondents to one survey said whether they become long-term customers of a brand or not has to do with positive experiences throughout the customer journey.

Adobe Experience Cloud and Microsoft

Research from McKinsey found that when companies invest in client experience, employee engagement also increases (by 20%)! 

A great customer experience starts with onboarding. By providing a flawless onboarding experience and delivering exceptional service, clients and customers will be singing your praises from the rooftops. Take advantage and use this as an opportunity to secure steller testimonials.

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with your current onboarding practices, however, never fear. We can help you course-correct. After all, that’s exactly what legal godfairies are for.

Legal Troubleshooting: Course-Correcting a Poor Onboarding Process

Legally-speaking, there are four areas you need to address if you have a current onboarding process that looks nothing like what we’ve described above:

  1. Onboarding — If onboarding itself is inadequate, start with the contract and agreements. We can help you with this: visit our online shop for solid and secure contracts that can replace homemade or nonprofessional ones.
  1. Initial Development — If your processes of communication, workflow, execution, and reporting are off, simply take a step back and re-read the checklist above. You should easily see what can be improved, and the areas you need to shore up.
  1. Ongoing Development and Retention — We may sound like a broken record, but having the right contract addresses issues here as well: clear parameters, boundaries, and timelines can all be established from day one in what you sign, then shape the relationship moving forward.
  1. Separation — Your business may cater to short-term projects for clients, in which case the separation terms in your client contract should be crystal clear. This circumvents issues of clients who live in a “gray area” or remain inactive for long periods of time.

In each season, you and your clients will be happier if you operate within a solid, clearly communicated, legally binding framework.

Great Onboarding = Happier Clients and Less Churn

We’ve established that client onboarding is crucial to ensuring healthy, long-term, profitable client relationships. You’ve worked hard to land that new client so be sure to implement these tips for an epic client onboarding experience. 

Ready to show up like a pro? Shop our easy-to-use, lawyer-approved contract templates to give you and your new client the best chance of success every step of the way.

Because life isn’t always a fairytale.

*Disclaimer: This blog post has been prepared solely for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to provide, nor should it be relied on for, legal advice. Should you require advice regarding a specific matter, appropriate legal or other professional advice should be obtained.

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Hi, I'm Neesa.
Attorney-turned-entrepreneur.

I traded stuffy suits, corner offices, and corporate boardrooms to serve small business owners and other freedom-seeking entrepreneurs like you from a tiny island in the Caribbean Sea.

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