Systemizing Client Onboarding

Last week, I wrote a post about how I use canned email responses to help spend LESS time in my inbox and create a more efficient working environment. But I also kinda left you all with a cliff-hanger about the actual email I send to each and every starting client (via a canned response). That's because I felt that this particular email deserved it's own post ...

So. You land a client and everyone is happy and excited. That is until you have to go through the motions of getting them into your system and schedule. At this point, most designers have to prep + send a contract, input project information (and costs) into the books, lay out a schedule, send out any homework, and inform the client of next steps so that everyone is on the same page. Plus the other stuff I'm probably forgetting. ;) All of this dampens the mood a bit and takes quite a bit of time to get through. But it doesn't have to!

That's where a "starting client" canned email response comes into play. It doesn't take care of everything for you, but instead sets you up with a to do list of what needs to happen along with a general intro to send out without having to compose a new email from scratch. To help illustrate what I mean, I'm going to share my exact email and follow up with how I use it as a guide for smooth + quick client onboarding.

- - - - - - -

"Hey (Client's Name),

I'm so excited to get started on our project together! To kick things off, I've outlined all of the next steps for you to review below. I know it looks like a lot, but I promise it's not. This is simply my way of making sure that you and I are both on the same page. Here goes ...

01. I'm about to send over your contract through an app called CudaSign (you should get an email w/ a link shortly). Here, you'll be able to review the document and then sign directly online! If you have any specific questions before you sign, just let me know!

02. I've put together your initial invoice so that you can pay your downpayment online. You can view everything right here (link). Once you've read + signed the contract (above), feel free to pay the downpayment directly from the invoice. You'll be routed to PayPal and can pay with any card you'd like!

* Signed contract and downpayment are due before my end of the design process can begin. So ideally, in the next few days!

03. Next up, there is some client homework that you can begin working on whenever you're ready. Everything is housed in one Google Doc, which you'll be invited to via email. The purpose of this homework is for me to dive deep and really understand what it is that you do and what's needed for the project at hand. Instructions are included within the document itself!

04. To keep us on track, I'm also going to invite you to a task management app I use called ToDoist! This is where tasks will be delegated to whoever needs to complete the item, as well as corresponding due dates. I usually set reminders for my clients to help stay on track. The first few steps (including when your homework from step #3 is due) are already up!

That should cover things for now! If you have any questions about anything you've seen thus far, just let me know and I'll be happy to answer.

Chat soon, Bre."

- - - - - - -

The first thing you'll notice is that this is a long email. But instead of typing up something similar at the beginning of each project, I save myself so much time (we're talking 20-30 minutes at least) by having a canned email response ready. It also acts as a checklist for what I need to do in order to get new clients into my system. It all starts with me creating a new email (or "replying" to an existing chain) and inputting the above canned response. But before I send, I prep everything that's needed in order of appearance from the email itself. I'll go over all of that below:

01. PREP CONTRACT The first task is the contract. The canned response reminds me to prep the actual contract, which I do in Adobe Illustrator from a base layout I've already created. I simply replace project details, double check spelling, and save as a PDF. Then I upload the PDF to CudaSign (only $1/month) so that my clients can easily review + sign directly online. Easy peasy!

02. PREP INVOICE For invoicing, I use an app called Pancake. I'll talk about Pancake at a later time (another in-depth post!), but for now, it's important to know that this is how my clients pay me. All I have to do is convert their original proposal (another cool feature of Pancake) into an invoice, add a payment schedule, and paste the unique URL into my canned email response so that the client can pay me directly online. Again, super easy for all!

03. CLIENT HOMEWORK Most projects require my clients to fill out some sort of questionnaire. Typically, this is either for branding, website design, or a combo of both. To help keep things efficient, I use Google Docs and have all three of my most used base questionnaires (mentioned above) ready to replicate and send off. To do this, I right click on the questionnaire template that's needed, select "make a copy," and then BOOM, done!! All I really need to do is rename the file and invite my client to the document itself for completion.

04. PROJECT SCHEDULE And last, but certainly not least, I put the new client into my scheduling system, ToDoist. At it's best, ToDoist is a simple task manager, but it also has a few unique features that help keep me organized on a daily basis (like project folders and reminders). Seriously, check it out! For the initial onboarding, I simply create a new folder, get the first few tasks up, and invite my client to view their folder. No worries, I'll make sure to do an in-depth post on this one down the road because it's a really nice system to use.

- - - - - - -

When it comes down to it, my client onboarding process truly relies on the canned email response and reminds me of what needs to get prepped before hitting send. So now, instead of trying to remember everything that needs to get done and feeling all sorts of scrambled, I simply paste in my response and start powering through. Doing this has saved me loads of time (!!!) and cut the process of getting a new client into my system by at least half, if not more. Win win. :)

If you have any tips for speeding up the client onboarding process, I'd love to hear about them in the comments section! Because at the end of the day, process refinement is an ongoing thing, always open for change and improvement.