Ultimate guide to client onboarding

The Ultimate Guide for Client Onboarding

Client onboarding is a powerful way to improve relationships with your clients. Manage client onboarding correctly, and your projects will run more smoothly, end on time, and hit their goals. It’s a time-honored way to meet expectations. This article aims to provide answers to the process involved in client onboarding, key principles that are involved in the client onboarding process, client onboarding tools, template and questionnaires. Let’s deep dive.

Everything you need to know about client onboarding:

    1. What is client onboarding?
    2. What’s involved in the client onboarding process?
    3. Why creating a client onboarding process helps your business
    4. Key principles to guide your client onboarding process
    5. Client onboarding process template
    6. Client onboarding questionnaire – Ask the right questions
    7. Tools that you can use for smooth client onboarding
    8. The one essential client onboarding tool

1. What is client onboarding?

What is client onboarding

Client onboarding is a process that a consultant or freelancer uses to start a project or client project effectively. It typically involves questionnaires, checklists, and meetings. Participating in a client onboarding process helps the consultant and the client get on the same page regarding goals, timeline, and other factors.

2. What’s involved in the client onboarding process?

Client onboarding process

There is no single client onboarding process suitable for every client or consultant. In general, client onboarding involves some or all of the following elements:

2.1. Scale the client onboarding process based on size and complexity

The size and complexity of the onboarding process should align with the project’s complexity. For example, a six-month website design project with a $250,000 budget would merit an effective onboarding process. On the other hand, a consultant offering a 1 hour paid call with a client might ask 2-3 questions.

2.2. Complete a new client questionnaire

You will find example client questionnaire questions below in this guide. In brief, this document helps you understand the client as a whole. For example, a marketing consultant might want to gather data on which marketing campaigns have generated the best results for the company.

2.3. Clarify project requirements

It’s tough to be successful until you have a clear picture of what’s required. A project brief (also known as a creative brief) is a written project description. It might include details on the project’s deadline, technical requirements (e.g., specifications for images or videos), and specific images.

2.4. Seek clarification on the documentation completed by the client

The client may not have all the data that a consultant requests, or a client may not answer the questions in the right level of detail. If details or numbers are needed, make sure you follow up with the client. In some cases, the client may need help downloading or organizing data.

2.5. Project kick-off meeting

After collecting data, the consultant may schedule a project kick-off meeting. This meeting is an excellent way to set expectations for the project and plan the first few steps. In larger projects, you might have several meetings to meet all critical stakeholders.

2.6. Client onboarding portal set up

In more complex projects, setting up a client portal with the client may be helpful. This could be simple as a shared Google Drive folder or inviting a client to a task management app like Asana.

3. Why creating a client onboarding process helps your business

Benefits of client onboarding process

It’s wise to set up a client onboarding process for a few reasons.

3.1. Prevent client disappointment

There is a higher risk of disappointing the client without a client onboarding process. For example, your client might like to receive weekly status updates during projects. Some clients might prefer to share feedback in Zoom calls, while others like to add comments in Google Docs. With a robust client onboarding process, it is easier to determine client preferences at the start.

3.2. Gain a strategic understanding of the client’s situation

In many projects, the client requests the service of a consultant or freelancer to make progress on their strategy or goals. For example, a business may offer 100 products, but their goal might be to sell more of their high-priced products because those products are the most profitable to sell

Asking about a client’s strategy and goals during onboarding means that a consultant can suggest additional creative ideas.

3.3. Increase client satisfaction

Robust client onboarding means the consultant is likely to meet all of the client’s expectations right away. This is important because it means that the project can be completed without the stress of rework. It is easier to obtain testimonials, referrals, and repeat business when client satisfaction is high.

4. Key principles to guide your onboarding process 

Designing a client onboarding process for your business is easier when you know the proper best practices.

4.1. Seek first to understand the customer

Take your time during the onboarding phase of the project to understand your customer. You might have some ideas on how to solve the customer’s project. However, it is wise to validate those assumptions by asking questions. The time you spend listening to the customer during onboarding is invaluable, so make sure you take notes.

4.2. Gather data

Gathering complex data about the client’s situation is also a smart best practice. For example, a life coach might ask clients about their lifestyle, diet, exercise, and sleep habits. These data points will make it easier to determine if there is improvement in the future.

4.3. Make a positive first impression

The onboarding process typically occurs at the start of the project when the client and consultant don’t know each other well. That means you have an excellent opportunity to make a positive impression as a consultant. Specifically, work extra hard to communicate clearly, respond to messages, and conduct meetings effectively.

4.4. Get clear on what success looks like

When you lack an understanding of what the client considers success, the entire project will get more difficult. Whenever possible, seek numbers. For example, a website design client might say, “we want more leads.” A professional designer should ask for numbers (e.g., do you want 10% more leads than you had last year?) so that you can determine if the project is successful

Now that you know the high-level principles that make client onboarding work let’s dive into how to execute this process with a template.

5. Client onboarding process template


The following new client onboarding process or checklist is a starting point. Add or remove steps based on your experience as you onboard more clients.

  1. Send the client onboarding questionnaire.
  2. Review the client onboarding questionnaire for completeness and accuracy.
  3. Obtain clarification on the onboarding questionnaire.
  4. Assess the client’s current situation (qualitative and quantitative factors)
  5. Discuss the client’s goals and strategy
  6. Confirm the project scope in the project brief (e.g., deadline, budget, and other critical details)
  7.  Schedule and run the project kick-off meeting

Using all of these steps is essential for larger projects. Taking a few hours or days to clarify goals upfront on a multi-month project can save you hours of frustration.

6. Onboarding questionnaire – Ask the right questions


Use the following client onboarding questions as a starting point. You may add additional questions based on your company’s specific needs. For example, marketing consultants might ask for access to a client’s critical tools like their email marketing platform or website analytics.

The following client onboarding questionnaire is based on a marketing consultant working with a growing e-commerce company.

  1. What business results does your website currently generate in email leads and orders in the past 90 days?
  2. How many unique visitors have your website received in the past three months? How does this compare to last year?
  3. What is the size of your email marketing list? Can you provide access to your email list for analysis?
  4. What are your business goals for the company for this year? 
  5. What digital marketing strategies are currently working well for you?
  6. What do you see as broken or not working well with your website?
  7. What are the key technologies your website uses (e.g., Shopify, Drift, etc.)?
  8. How do you prefer to receive project status updates (e.g., short email summary, weekly calls, etc.)?
  9. Imagine the project is fully complete. What specific results would put a big smile on your face?
  10. Who are the key people I should work with on this project (e.g., developers, head of marketing, etc.)?
  11. Why is this project a priority for you right now?
  12. Are there significant dates (e.g., relaunch for Black Friday sales) to keep in mind as we plan the project?
  13. How would you describe your best customer? What do they like most about doing business with you?
  14. Do you have a website analytics platform like Google Analytics or Google Search Console? Can you provide access to it?
  15. I find it helpful to interview or survey a sample of customers to find out more about what they like and dislike. If you have completed a customer survey in the past 12 months, please share the results with me so that I can avoid duplication.
  16. Do you have a customer loyalty program to encourage future orders? If so, how does the program work, and what results have been achieved?
  17. Have you previously worked with marketing consultants? If so, what did you like about the experience? What didn’t you like?

7. Tools that you can use for smooth onboarding

It is easier to stay organized if you use tools to simplify your client onboarding process. Try these tools to run your client onboarding process more smoothly. There are two types of tools you can use for client onboarding. The first type are specialized tools designed specifically for onboarding. These tools are a good choice for a rapidly growing business. The second type of tool are more general-purpose tools that can be adapted to client onboarding.

7.1. Specialized Client Onboarding Tools

These client onboarding tools are a good choice when you need to interact with multiple clients each month. These tools support client onboarding as well as ongoing project management requirements.

  • GuideCX 
    • Client Onboarding Features: GuideCX has unlimited guests, and there is no login required for clients. You can also control the visibility settings to control who sees what information.
    • Key Features: the tool includes time tracking and resource management so you can manage your team quickly.
  • Rocketlane 
    • Client Onboarding Features: the tool makes it easy to produce status updates for clients and gather insights from clients throughout the project.
    • Key Features: Rocketlane is built with collaboration in mind, so you can add multiple users on your side and the client-side. The product also has built-in reminders, making it easy to get needed information to keep your project moving ahead.
  • Client Portal
    • Client Onboarding Features: Client Portal gives you and your clients a single place to view project files. That means no more emailing files and links back and forth. 
    • Key Features: Client Portal lets you brand the interface to match your business. In addition, the app can send notifications when tasks are completed.

7.2. General Purpose Tools For Client Onboarding

When you first start an online business, you might want to avoid the expense of specialized client onboarding software. Don’t worry! There are other apps – which you might already have – that can easily be adapted to client onboarding.

Using Google Docs for client onboarding is simple. Create two templates in Google Docs: a new client questionnaire and an overall client onboarding checklist. Use the example questions covered above to create these templates. 

Once you have your templates created, you can simply create a copy of the template and update the file’s name (i.e., put the client name in the file’s title so that you can easily find it). Once you have the files ready, send the questionnaire to your client and track the rest of the onboarding process with your checklist.

If you are new to creating templates in Google Docs, check out Google’s guide to creating templates.

You might already have Microsoft Office. Did you know that many free templates are available for Microsoft Word and other Office programs? These templates make it easier to create client onboarding documents for your business.

There are also free templates you can edit for your needs. For example, the small business client intake form is good for consultants working with individuals like life coaches. 

For your internal client onboarding checklist, consider using Microsoft Excel to keep all of the information organized in a clear way.

8. The One Essential Client Onboarding Tool

Gathering information from a client to understand their needs is essential. More than information, you also need the ability to set up meetings with your client quickly. With CheckYa, you can easily schedule meetings with your client at a time that works for everyone. To see CheckYa in action, sign up for your account.

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