As a marketing agency owner, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of signing on a new client. Even if it’s a regular occurrence, the excitement never wanes.
Client onboarding is the process of welcoming a new client to your business. If you don’t have a detailed process for doing so — complete with an onboarding checklist — you’re likely to overlook important details and make mistakes that cost the agency both time and money.
The benefits of a proper onboarding process include:
- Formalizing your working relationship
- Gathering the necessary information to service the client
- Reducing the risk of future disagreements or miscommunications
- Showing your client that your attention to detail is second to none
So, how do you make sure you take advantage of all these benefits? It’s simple: implement an onboarding checklist that you can employ with every new client.
While no two companies take the exact same approach to onboarding, there’s a six-step onboarding checklist any agency can use to establish a strong working relationship from day one.
In this guide, we'll look at the following six step onboarding checklist:
- Contract and payment
- Internal Kickoff Meeting
- Onboarding Questionnaire
- Set Up Client Reporting
- Project Management
- Client Launch Meeting
Let's get started.
1. Secure a Signed Contract and Payment
A verbal “yes” is exciting in its own right, but it means nothing until you have a signed contract.
Providing the client with a contract should always be the first step in the onboarding process. There’s more than one way to share a contract, including email, online services such as DocuSign or HelloSign, and in-person signing.
If they’re truly excited about working with you, it won’t take long for them to review the contract, ask questions, and return a signed copy.
At that point, there’s only one thing left to do: wait for the client to remit payment. Be clear about how you’d like to receive payment, such as bank wire, check, credit card, or PayPal.
Tip: you don’t have to request payment upfront, but it’s good practice to at the very least request a deposit. Neglecting to do so puts you at risk of non-payment, which is one of the fastest ways to bog down the growth of your agency.
2. Conduct an Internal Kickoff and Assign a Team
Now that you’re past two major hurdles — receiving a signed contract and payment — it’s time to meet with your team and prepare for the project. Specifically, this is the best time to conduct an internal kickoff meeting and assign the client to the appropriate team member(s).
Your internal kickoff is the time to perform the following tasks:
- Assign a team and brief them on the scope of the project
- Ask and answer key questions
- Distribute all applicable information, such as client suggestions, website URL, social media profiles, and marketing collateral
- Discuss next steps
Much the same as your onboarding checklist, your internal kickoff meeting should remain consistent from client to client.
3. Send Your Onboarding Questionnaire
This is your first chance to reconnect with the client after the sales process, so take full advantage by making a good first impression.
Send a detailed, yet concise, welcome email that provides the client with information on what comes next.
This should be accompanied by a client onboarding questionnaire, which is designed to gain a better understanding of the client and their requirements.
Here are a few tips to make the most of this step:
- Don’t include too many questions (15 to 20 at the most)
- Carefully consider how you distribute the questionnaire, such as via a Google Sheet or software application
- Politely share a deadline (something like: we’d love to receive the questionnaire back within 10 business days)
- Offer to help with any questions or concerns
A well thought out questionnaire will result in useful information both for the onboarding process and future use.
4. Set Up Your Client Reporting
Marketing agencies should have a comprehensive and automated reporting system to keep the client in the loop and share progress.
For example, an SEO agency may want to include the following types of data in their client reports:
- Keyword rankings
- Backlink analytics
- Competitor analysis
- Website analytics
- Top ranking pages
Having a reporting platform like AgencyAnalytics will help with this. In order to ensure consistency in your reporting, you'll also need to answer key questions such as:
- Will you send periodic reports or a live dashboard?
- What is the reporting frequency?
- Who is in charge of adding a reporting summary and personalized commentary to each report?
Even if it’s second nature to you, this part of the client onboarding process deserves your immediate attention. The good thing is that once you've set up your initial report or dashboard templates, this process can largely be automated with reporting software.
5. Initial Project Setup
It’s one thing to bring a client on board. It’s another thing entirely to manage every last detail of the project to ensure a high-quality customer experience, which is why choosing and using the right project management software is so important.
Just the same as setting up your reporting platform, this is critical to effectively onboarding and managing your new client.
If you’ve yet to choose project management software, this list from Capterra is a good place to start. It lists out many of your best options, including a variety of SaaS companies that are currently dominating the space.
Let’s assume that you have your software in place and you know how to use it. Here are the next steps:
- Add the new client
- Invite team members to the project
- Upload all applicable information, such as contact details, contracts, and the scope of work
- Set milestones in order to keep your team engaged and pushing forward
Also, keep the information current in your project management tool. For example, if your client adds or removes services, make note of it to ensure that your team is on the same page.
Your project management software will do a lot of heavy lifting behind the scenes, so don’t brush past this step. When you harness the power of this software, it helps with everything from organization to client retention.
6. Have a Kickoff Meeting
After you've completed the previous steps, the final checklist item should be to have a kickoff meeting with the client. Don’t dive into your first meeting until you double-check two things:
- You have a completed onboarding questionnaire in hand
- You’ve finished all internal processes, such as setting up reporting and project management
With those details squared away, it’s time to schedule your first meeting. This is a big step because it’s the first time you bring everyone together.
Here’s a list of things to touch on during your first meeting:
- Introduce everyone on your team
- Ask for a brief intro from everyone on the client’s side
- Quickly review the onboarding questionnaire, especially if you (or the client) have questions or concerns
- Clearly lay out the next steps
The primary goal of the first meeting is to get everyone on the same page. Without this, your team could take off in one direction, while the client is expecting you to head down another path.
By the time you realize this happened, you’ve wasted time, money and resources, while possibly angering your new client.
After your first meeting is in the books, spend a few minutes tying up loose ends with your team. Some of the primary points of discussion will revolve around:
- Questions you need to answer for the client
- Concerns or potential sticking points
- Anything that doesn’t align with the agreed-upon scope of work (this is often when you first recognize scope creep)
- Information to add to your project management system, such as new contacts
- Next steps (it’s time to actually get to work on the project)
Remember this: your client is participating in the meeting, but you’re running it. Take charge, steer it in the right direction, and be sure to keep all parties on track and within the predetermined schedule.
According to a study from Harvard Business Review:
more than 80 percent of executives said that an increased focus on onboarding offers a significant or moderate positive impact over the life of the contract for revenue, client renewals, and client referrals.
That alone should be reason enough for you to focus the necessary resources on the client onboarding process.
With the help of a checklist, you're taking the first step to automating your client fulfillment processe. With the help of automated reporting software, you'll now have a step-by-step process to start each client engagement off in a clear and consistent manner.