My Client Onboarding Process

The process of completing a client project can be a whirlwind- phone calls, project drafts, revisions & celebration of the final handover. And while those are all critical components, there are a number of steps that must occur before the client process even begins in order for the project to run as smoothly as possible.

How you handle the process can make or break the entire project; from timely responses, discovery calls, Skype meetings, contracts, invoices and revisions.

So here is a sneak peek into my client onboarding process: my hope is that you walk away with some tips & resources to help make your own process even that much smoother (and more efficient!).


01. Client Inquiry

The client onboarding process always begins with someone inquiring about your services. These can come from word of mouth, your website contact page & forms, advertisements that you run, Instagram or Facebook messages, or adding products/examples of your work to platforms such as Behance, Dribble, Creative Market and Etsy.

Because my pricing is already included on my website, a majority of the inquiries I receive are serious ones (meaning they are nearly ready to put down the invoice deposit and get to work!).

While I’m on the note about pricing: some business owners prefer to discuss pricing with potential clients during a discovery call, rather than displaying packages on their site. There are a few reasons why I choose to include pricing for my services on my website at the get-go. First, it saves us time. If my prices aren’t within their budget, we would both be wasting time sending emails, scheduling meetings, having a discovery call; only to realize that the service simply wasn’t in the business owner’s price range. I also display pricing on my website, as it explains to potential clients that I value transparency. I have nothing to hide: my pricing reflects the work and experience that I’ve put into running my business, and I’m simply not interested in negotiating discounts on my services.

Once a client sends over an inquiry, I respond as quickly as possible and add a link to my calendar so they can schedule a time for a Skype meeting to discuss details before booking.

02. Skype Meeting/ Discovery Call

After a potential client books a call with me, I meet with them for a 30 minute Skype or phone call. During the discovery call, I explain to them what is included in the package they are inquiring about, walk them through my process from start to finish, and answer any questions they have.

During the call, I make sure that clear expectations are set regarding the design process.

At the end of the call, I explain that I will send a follow-up email with an outline of what we discussed in our meeting, available dates for the project, and our next steps (given that they want to move forward with the project, of course).

03. Follow-up Email To Client

Although potential clients typically know whether they are ready to make the investment, I give them a few days to think everything over before sending a follow-up email. Once I do send it over, I summarize the highlights of our discovery call, give them my available dates, and ask them a few questions such as:

  • Are they interested in moving forward with the project?

  • If so, which of my available dates would they like to reserve?

  • Which payment option do they prefer to use?

  • Do they have any other questions?

I then go on to explain the next steps in the process, which are:

  • Our contract/ client agreement

  • An invoice for the deposit processed through Square payments (explained below)

Once these steps are complete, their spot is then reserved in my calendar and I will begin sending over their client homework (it’s fun homework- I swear!) so that we can get everything started.

04. Client Agreement

Once my client confirms that they would like to move forward with one of my packages, I send over a contract/ client agreement through 17Hats. I invite them to look the agreement over and let me know if they have any questions.

When I first started working with clients, I actually tried designing/ drafting up contracts myself. While this is doable in the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey, I would suggest moving forward with a system such as 17Hats once you start receiving multiple client projects a month (unless you are BFFs with a lawyer who will do this for you, of course).

Honeybook is another reliable option for contracts/client agreements, invoices and overall client management.

Once my client fills out the agreement & signs the document, I receive an email notification from 17Hats and sign it as well.

05. Invoice For Deposit

Once the agreement has been signed by both of us, I send over an invoice to my client for the first payment of my package through SquareUp payments. I use SquareUp, or Square, payments for all of my client invoices.

I give my clients a few different payment options: They can either pay in increments of 50% (50% of the deposit at the outset, with the remaining 50% to be paid upon file hand-off/completion), 25% (25% due at the outset, 2 payments of 25% spread out evenly, and 25% upon completion). I also recently started offering a third, custom-tailored option for clients who need the payment timeline extended slightly (within reason).

06. Client Homework

Now that the paperwork is complete, it’s time for the fun stuff… homework! I always send over “homework” to my clients to get started on the project; a number of questionnaires and a checklist for my client to complete before the project moves forward (one of them is pinning to a shared Pinterest board, so I promise, it really is fun homework!).

By having a structured system in place and having clients send me all of their brand information and content at the outset, I’m able to get started on the project immediately. This ensures that I am being most efficient with my time, rather than constantly emailing back and forth with the client regarding photos, content, copy and other relevant information.

I begin by setting up a shared Google Drive folder that will include all of the project files (content such as photos, copy/text, design inspiration, revisions, final files, etc.), and add a folder specifically for client homework.

I always notify my client that their homework is due before the project starts.

07. Check-Ins & Client Gift

One of the many reasons I love setting up client homework in Google Drive is that all of the documents are shared between my client and I, meaning that I can periodically check in on their progress.

There is typically at least 1-2 months between the date a client books me and when the project actually starts, so I like to check in on my client every few weeks to see how their homework is coming along and whether they have any questions for me.

If the project start date is in a week or less and they haven’t began their homework, I send over a gentle reminder that their project is approaching and the homework needs to be done on time in order for the final project to be complete.

I also recently started sending a Starbucks gift card to my clients a few weeks out from the project start date to surprise them with a motivating little gesture for getting their homework completed on time. This usually brightens their day, and it’s a simple task for me because I can do it all online with little effort.

And there ya have it! I hope this summary of my client onboarding process has been helpful. If you enjoyed the article, or if you want to learn more about my client process, contracts, invoices or anything else, feel free to drop a comment below! I would love to answer any and all questions you may have.