Client Onboarding: A Guide For Freelancers

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What is client onboarding?

Just as the name suggests, client onboarding is the process of taking on a client into your business. It is the perfect opportunity to build a strong relationship and get the client up to speed on what the next steps are and what the process as a whole will look like.

Your client may potentially be nervous and so the whole point of client onboarding is to help reassure them that they’ve made the right choice in working with you.

Importance and benefits

Now that you know what client onboarding is, let’s take a look at the importance of having a strong onboarding strategy and the benefits it can provide you as a freelancer. 

Beneits of client onboarding

#1 Sets the right tone

Onboarding a client is essentially you setting the tone for how the remainder of your work with said client will be. For example, if you’re organised, professional and efficient at the start of your working relationship, that’s generally how your client will see you throughout the length of the whole project. 

#2 Potentially more work

Additionally, a successful client onboarding process can lead to more work from your client in the future. If they’re impressed with your process right from the start, then they’ll more often than not, want to work with you again and that means that all the time you spent working on marketing, proposals, and developing your relationship will have been worth it!

#3 Opportunity for referrals

Yet another benefit of having a good client onboarding strategy is the opportunity to gather referrals and recommendations. When a client is happy with the work you’ve done for them, they are more likely to refer you.

#4 Increased efficiency

Onboarding allows you to gather crucial information right from the start, leaving you in a strong position to begin working with someone new. This in turn increases business efficiency and helps you avoid any bottlenecks down the line.

#5 Compliance

A well thought out client onboarding process allows you to know for certain that compliance is present in every aspect of your strategy.


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Questions to ask yourself when onboarding a new client

A few things you might want to consider when onboarding a new client are as follows:

  • Does my current onboarding strategy work? Does it need to be updated?
  • What do I want the client to know prior to us working together?
  • What are some of the most important assets that I need from the client? (Documents, files, etc)
  • What needs to be signed by both parties prior to us working together?

Answers to the questions above will help you take the necessary steps during your client onboarding process.

Client onboarding step by step

The following process roughly details the various steps involved in onboarding a client. These are as follows:

#1 Introductory call

First things first, you’ll want to have a meeting or a call with your client prior to agreeing on anything. The purpose of this is to see if you’re a good fit and whether or not you’re capable of providing them with what it is they need.

#2 Submitting a proposal

Next, you’ll want to send them a proposal that includes everything that’s needed to let your client know what will be done and when it will be done.

Your proposal should be able to define the services that will be provided in a professional and comprehensive way. Your proposal should show that:

  • You understand the needs, goal and ideas of your client
  • You’re offering the client the best possible alternative with the best quality
  • You’re considering all wishes and ideas from the company or client

#3 Discussing details

The next step of the client onboarding process is to clearly discuss details pertaining to the project. You’ll need to make sure that you include everything you need to start working efficiently. You should consider things like:

  • Budget
  • Timelines
  • Communication
  • Payment
  • Project necessities, etc.

All of these things are vital and need to be discussed prior to signing on your client.

#4 Signing of contract

Once you’ve gone through all the details and the client has accepted your proposal, it’s time to send over a contract for them to sign. A contract is a legal agreement between you and the client and exists to protect both of you. It should therefore include as much information about the project as possible to avoid misunderstandings in the future.

💡 It’s imperative that you not start any work before you have a signed contract!

#5 Client questionnaire

Once you’ve both signed a contract of agreement, you might consider sending your client a questionnaire. Because each client is unique, you’ll want to understand the specific wants and needs of each and not generalise and make assumptions.

Not only does a questionnaire help you gather any and all information you might need, it also sets clear expectations and gives you in-depth understanding of what your client wants from you.

#6 Sending over a welcome kit

You can send over a welcome packet or an email along with the questionnaire above. The purpose of this is to make your clients feel welcome and to assure them that they’ve made the right choice in selecting you as their working partner.

#7 Kick-off meeting

Once you’ve sent over the welcome packet or email and gathered all the info you need, consider asking your client for a meeting to get everyone involved on the same page. This is particularly important if you have a team. You can use this opportunity to show your client that your entire team understands the scope of what’s required.

The kick-off meeting is also a good time to ask for any assets you may need access to or to clear up anything that was mentioned, or not mentioned, in the client questionnaire.

#8 Checking in

Once all strategies have been explained and you’re in the process of working on the project, consider setting up timely check-ins with your client. This will help you update them on a regular basis and keep them in the loop of what’s happening.

Onboarding a new client

Tips for a more effective client onboarding

Here are a few things to keep in mind in order to create a more effective client onboarding process:

#1 Put your client first

A major tenet of success is customising your service or product to each of your clients – if you take the same approach to every new client relationship, it may backfire. 

Adopting a people-centric approach (meaning addressing the specific needs and goals of each client) is the foundation of good business practice. Address concerns that your client has already raised in the process and reinforce how you intend to address those concerns in the future; preferably with a detailed plan. 

#2 Recognise your client’s concerns early on

Recognizing your client’s concerns early on allows you to set the right expectations for your role in the relationship. Plus, if you collect all the necessary data from your customers and ask them to define their goals, you already have a good idea of ​​the direction to take. 

#3 Set smaller goals

Once you’ve laid a solid foundation and clearly defined your client’s goals, it’s time to take action. For example, if your client wants to see results in the form of key figures, present them with it at your next check-in. 

More often than not, you won’t reach your client’s end goal in the shortest amount of time, but that’s okay! You should instead focus on setting yourself smaller goals during the project so that you can celebrate small successes together.

#4 Create a clear communication plan

A clear communication plan can help you and your clients stay on the same page during the length of the project. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are your clients in the same time zone as you? 
  • Should you update them with a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly check-in meeting? 
  • Should you be sending them newsletters and company updates?
  • How often do they want to hear from you? 

If you don’t have face-to-face contact with your client, you should ask them this question in the client questionnaire mentioned above. If you do talk to your customers face-to-face on a regular basis, you should ask them the same question in the conversation.

#5 Make use of technology

Whatever your current system, you should create a plan to incorporate analytics, customer data and technology into your collaboration. There are useful tools (like Zapier or IFTTT) to help you automate the client experience throughout the onboarding process. 

Keep in mind that these tools are only intended to assist you and it is still necessary to customise the onboarding process for and on each client.

#6 Provide and receive feedback

It’s important that you not just share your own feedback, but also listen to what your client has to tell you. Feedback can help continuously clarify the general expectations on both sides. 

Ask your customers to do so when the moment is right. Are they satisfied with the communication plan? Do they feel like you’re missing out on something? Do the planned goals make sense in connection with their expectations?

#7 Keep it simple

Last but not least, keep the process simple. Overthinking your process can lead to unnecessary and complicated steps which in turn can lead to client confusion and frustration. 

Offboarding – Dos and Don’ts

The opposite of onboarding, offboarding refers to the act of saying goodbye to your client once a project is complete. The goal here is to end the experience on a high note, making sure your client has exactly what they need in order to encourage working together again or for you to gain referrals and recommendations.

There are some things you need to keep in mind in order to make sure you offboard your client as smoothly as possible. These are as follows:

The do’s of client offboarding:

  • Provide the client with a summarised document on the status of any and all projects
  • Return or give over any files or assets that the client may need
  • Gather feedback from the client 
  • Thank your client with an exit package 
  • Express your desire to work together again
  • Provide your client with a CTA to further develop your relationship
  • Ask your client for a recommendation letter
  • Politely remind your client about referrals

The dont’s of client offboarding:

  • Withhold any information regarding the project
  • End communication without making sure all project tasks are complete
  • End your relationship via an email or a message
  • Pressurise or force the client to commit to any more work
  • Fight back over any negative feedback that the client may have
Stefania Volpe

Stefania joined the international team at freelancermap in 2020. She loves marketing, the digital world, foreign languages and meeting different cultures. She moved from Italy to Germany thanks to an exchange program at the university and worked as marketing manager for several startups. Now she focuses on helping freelancers and IT professionals to find jobs and clients worldwide at www.freelancermap.com.

By Stefania Volpe

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