How To Onboard Clients In Your Service Business


In the last episode we talked about creating a deluxe client experience on a small business budget.  Well, one of the things that will help you stand out is having a stellar client onboarding experience.  And the best way to do that is to have a process that is clear, repeatable and has a high level of communication for the client.  There’s no way around it, you’re going to need technology to help you out here – preferably a project management system.  There are a ton of options available, but I’m going to recommend Asana, because it can do everything you’ll need to get your client up and running, it’s an easy way to keep everyone on your team on track as well, and you can use the free version to do it all, so it won’t break the bank.

The first thing you should do is to chart out what your onboarding should look like.  Start with sending the proposal, what comes next for you?  For my human resources service business the process looks like this:

  • We send the proposal
  • The client says ‘yes’
  • Then right away, at that point, we create the Client Onboarding Project – that way we can be sure everything is captured right from the very beginning, and it also helps us stay on track and not forget any steps.
  • Then we send the agreement for signature
  • Once the agreement is signed (by the way – a quick pro tip here, it’s always a good idea to wait for the agreement to be signed before you begin work.  Because until you have their signature, they aren’t really a client) – then we send our welcome and start up eMails – they cover things like how we handle security, introductions to the team they’ll be working with and what the onboarding process will look like, along with a timeline – this helps us level set the client’s expectations on how the process will work and what comes next
  • Then we set an implementation meeting

The implementation meeting gives us an opportunity to gather the information we need to manage the client’s account.  Now, for us that means asking about current policies, benefits and payroll.  We also collect a lot, and I mean a lot, of documents (after all, we are HR!).  So we send the client a Document Request Checklist – now that may not be the same in for your business, but I’m sure there is information you’ll need to gather to properly onboard the client.  Put as much of it in a checklist as possible.

To make things easier, we divide our implementation process into stages – we have the Pre-Deal stage, this is where we put things like prepping, sending and collecting the contract; then we have the After Signature stage – we use this to get the company information into our accounting and other systems, the Implementation stage where we gather the information and documents we need to get the work done, the Assessment stage – we have this because all our client engagements start with us doing an assessment of where they are now; and the Post Onboarding stage – this is the meat and potatoes of our ongoing engagement with them.

By the way –  back to our discussion in last week’s episode about friction – we do everything possible to reduce the friction for our clients and to make the process as easy as possible for them.  We create a dedicated folder on Box, our cloud document management system, and we give the client upload access.  That way they can simply drag and drop all the documents they need to get to us, securely and easily.

Box is amazing, it has a free tier on the individual side, and starts at $5 per user, per month on the business side.  I suggest signing up for the Business plan, you get all the features, and you can invite up to 10 collaborators at no additional cost.  I know a lot of people use DropBox, but has much more robust security features for my needs, and offers a lot more storage (10 gigs vs. Dropbox’s 2 gigs).

Another critical part of our onboarding process is to capture birthdays and make sure that information goes on our birthday reminder list so we can send a card.  And my Exec Asst does a reminder to both the HR Business Partner working with that client, and to me, as the CEO.  That way, in addition to the card, when we’re talking to the client, we can say Happy Birthday as well.

This is what I meant in last week’s episode about creating a process to capture those special little touches.  If you haven’t seen last week’s episode about creating a deluxe client experience,  be sure to check it out after this episode.

You can also capture other information like the company’s anniversary date, or the client’s work anniversary – of course you don’t want to interrogate them, just be aware when you’re chatting – or even try doing some research.  Most times you can find a good work anniversary date on LinkedIn, and you can find a company’s incorporation date by doing a search on the Secretary of State’s website in their particular state of incorporation.

it’s always a good idea to wait for the agreement to be signed before you begin work.  Because until you have their signature, they aren’t really a client.”

Try breaking up the implementation meeting itself, into 3 sections; an overview of the process and timeline, gathering information and documents, and next steps.

On the back end, part of your next steps should be specific client communication points to check on how things are going.  This is critical when you have a team, and you may not be the person working directly with the client on a day to day basis –  but it’s also really important even if you are the day to day person.  Having a specific task to reach out to the client and ask how things are going for them, and how they’re getting along with the process, is incredibly valuable and you’ll find it will surprise and delight them – again, because not everyone does it.   I would suggest formal touchpoints monthly for the first 3 months, then quarterly.  They don’t all have to be conversations, mix it up a bit, give them a survey, or use a Net Promoter Score.  If you vary the approach, your client won’t feel like you’re always asking the same question of ‘how are we doing’ over and over…..that can feel like it has a bit of desperation attached to it.  But if you use a varied approach, conversations, surveys, net promoter scores, you will get better data without that ‘icky’ feeling.

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So, once you have charted out your onboarding process, now you have to set it up in a system that can manage the tasks, give you reminders, maybe even give the client visibility into the progress.

One tool I love for this is Asana.  For one thing, you can use the free version, and invite the client as a guest.  That way, they can access anything that you share with them, a specific task, or a whole project – but they won’t have access to the whole platform.

So, first off, set up an account with Asana if you don’t already have one.  Again, I would recommend starting out with the free version – if you decide you need to upgrade, you can do that later at any time.

You want to set up a new project, and call it ABC Client Onboarding.

Make each stage of your onboarding process a section, then list each of the steps or tasks in the proper section.

Each task gives you the opportunity to create sub tasks and attach documents and pictures.  You can also set a due date, and assign the task to someone on your team, or yourself.

If you want to give the client visibility into the process, you can invite them as a Guest to the project, and they will be able to see which tasks are completed and which remain to be done.  Or you could have specific tasks for the client (like providing a copy of their handbook), and assign it directly to them.

So, see – Asana has loads of flexibility, and again…it’s free.  And even if you decide not to use Asana, I’m telling you, you will want to use some sort of project management system to capture your onboarding process.  That way you won’t have to re-invent the wheel each time you take on a new client.

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