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6-Step Client Onboarding Checklist for Agencies

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 you both time and money.

The benefits of a proper onboarding process include:

  • Formalize your working relationship
  • Gather the necessary information to service the client
  • Opportunity to complete legwork upfront, as to save time later
  • Reduce the risk of a future disagreement
  • Show 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 an six-step onboarding checklist any agency can use to establish a strong working relationship from day one.

1. Contract and payment
2. Internal kickoff
3. Onboarding questionnaire
4. Set up reporting
5. Project management
6. Launch meeting

✅ 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:

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 proceed. This is the best time to:

Conduct an internal kickoff meeting Assign the client to the appropriate team

Your internal kickoff is a time to do the following:

  • 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 Reporting

Marketing agencies, in particular, should have a comprehensive 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! You'll also need to answer key questions such as:

  • Will your reports require a summary?
  • What type of data should you share with the client?
  • Who do you need to share the report with?
  • Is it best to manually deliver the report, or set it up for auto-delivery?

Even if it’s second nature to you, this part of the client onboarding process deserves your immediate attention. You don’t want to have to go to your client after one month and say “sorry, but we forgot to set you up with our reporting software. We’ll have more data for you next month.”

That’s a bad look that quickly kills the client experience, so make sure you set up your reporting platform early on.

✅ 5. Set Up the Project

It’s one thing to bring a client on board. It’s another thing entirely to manage every last detail to ensure a high-quality customer experience.

And that’s 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 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. Some of our favorites include:

Tip: Slack mis a great addition to any project management software, as it allows for efficient communication among team members. If interested, you can even create a Slack channel for your team and your client’s team to communicate.

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 - when it makes sense to do so - 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 Launch Meeting

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.

Tip: don’t schedule an old-school conference call, but instead request that the client joins you for a video chat over Zoom. Not only does it allow you to put a name to a face, but it helps establish a more personal relationship.

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
  • Discuss the client’s goals
  • 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 that it’s valuable to all parties.

Wrapping Up

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 never have to second-guess yourself. You’ll always know you’re taking the steps necessary to start your business relationship on the right foot.

Written by Chris Bibey

Chris Bibey is a freelance writer and content marketing consultant based in Pittsburgh, PA. For 10+ years, Chris has provided content creation and marketing services to entrepreneurs, companies, and agencies spanning a variety of industries.