How to Create a Client Onboarding Process and Set Expectations

What do you do when a conversation leads to a new client relationship? Is it a smooth process from one step to another, or are clients frequently confused, barraging you with questions about the next step in the process? Creating a client onboarding process can help ensure a positive customer experience that will set the tone for your entire project.

The foundation of your client onboarding process should involve an up front investment of time in the form of creating a series of documents for each step of process. Although you’ll spend a considerable amount of time on the front-end, this investment pays off in the fact that you’ll be able to use these documents over and over again with subsequent client projects, without having to create them all over again from scratch.

In this article, we’ll go over some of the most necessary documents you’ll need for creating a smooth client onboarding process, with considerations for what to include to make each one as useful and all-encompassing as possible.

Creating a Web Development Contract

Client onboarding actually starts before your prospect becomes a new client. As with any exchange of money for services, you’ll need a basic contract for legal protection if things go south during any point of the project.

Make sure to include all essential contract clauses, like how to handle expenses during the project (hosting, themes, plugins, etc.), or specifying a kill fee for an incomplete project if the client decides not to see it through. AND CO provides freelancers with a fill-in-the-blank contract that becomes legally binding upon signing if you don’t have your own template to work off of.

Besides adding basic clauses to protect you and your time, contracts should also be used to set expectations between you and the client. Specifically, use your contract to fully define the project in terms of the scope of work.

Here are a few questions your scope of work should answer, to ensure that you and the client are on the same page:

  • What CMS (i.e. WordPress) are you designing the website for?
  • Is the client in charge of setting up hosting? If not, how will expenses be handled?
  • Will the design be mobile friendly, or will that require an additional charge?
  • Are you including the cost of a premium theme?
  • How many revisions/total project hours are included for the project?
  • Will you be providing any considerations for SEO in the design?
  • What is the handoff process going to include? Will you provide any CMS training?
  • Will you be doing mobile testing, browser testing, or user testing?

The more specific you can get with the scope of work, the better. Most, if not all, of these pieces should have been discussed prior to sending a contract, but can also serve as an additional conversation starter before work begins.

A well-defined scope of work protects you in the situation where a client asks you where something is that hasn’t been discussed as part of the current project. You can then refer back to your contract and propose a solution–for additional budget.

Once you’ve defined a detailed scope of work, make sure to also include a section detailing a calendar of project deadlines.

Here’s a sample of what your project deadlines might include:

  • Week 1: Payment required to get started. Then, the completion of a client questionnaire, or in-person meeting, to define basic direction.
  • Week 2: Selection of a premium theme to provide the foundational structure of the website. Client must sign up for web hosting and provide access details to move to the next phase.
  • Week 3: Website wireframe created for review. Client and developer must agree on structure before moving on to the next step.
  • Week 4: Initial website structure created with first round of revisions by client.
  • Week 5: Second round of revisions after client feedback.
  • Week 6: Website testing for various devices, browsers, and with users.
  • Week 7: Website launch and finishing touches.

It’s important to note that the client’s participation is crucial in staying on top of deadlines. You’re the professional and will execute the project according to your interpretation of their needs and wants. But the client still needs to provide guidance when it comes to reviews during each step and any necessary revisions.

Adding in a clause that calls attention to this fact protects you if the client gets in the way of on-time project completion. Stay on top of deadlines by reminding the client that their input is needed before a deadline passes.

The Client Intake Form

Ideally, when you start a new web development project, you’ve already discussed the basics of what a client is looking for, and have an idea of how you’ll execute their vision. Once they’ve signed your contract and have made any necessary payments to get started, you’ll want to more clearly define the direction of the project.

To do this, you’ll want to create a reusable client intake form, covering anything and everything that you’ll need to know to complete their project. You can either go over this on the phone (or in person) with them or send it to them with instructions for completion to be handled on the client’s own time.

There are a couple of different ways to create the actual intake form. You may have a specific platform that handles multiple aspects of dealing with clients (like 17hats, for example), but if not, it’s all about personal preference. A few options for your client intake form:

  • Create a free form on Google Forms or Typepad, which allows for multiple responses. This will organize all client information (as far as intake forms) in one handy place.
  • Create a Google Doc, and set to “view only,” and invite clients to access the document. Setting it to view only will ensure that they don’t overwrite the basic structure. Instruct clients to create a copy to share with you, or to download as a .docx, and attach to an email.

Of course, deciding how to create your client intake form will depend on what responses you want from clients. Your intake form should cover a wide variety of topics, including:

  • Goals: Why are we creating this website? What goal(s) do you have for it?
  • Branding: The customer’s logo, tagline, and even words and phrases they associate with their brand.
  • Style: Is there a preference in terms of colors, typography, etc.?
  • Contact information: For everyone involved with the project, and their roles, in one place.
  • Target customer: Information regarding their target customer, like demographics and psychographics.
  • Competitor information: This can help with design/structure inspiration, and seeing the end result of a similar businesses vision.
  • Structure: What are the necessary pages for the website? Do they already have content, or do they need help with that? What do they want in the header, footer, sidebars?
  • Logins: Are there specific integrations they want your help with (ex/ MailChimp, Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel)? What are the hosting/cPanel/FTP access instructions?
  • Competence: How familiar is the client with WordPress/web design? Or in other words, how much hand holding will the client need when you pass over the finished website (in terms of ongoing maintenance).

WordPress Technical Assistance

If you’re lucky, all of your clients are a product of the digital age and will have no issues setting up hosting, pointing domains, getting you login information, and updating their website without breaking it, as soon as you hand it over. Of course, if this were the case, they might be smart enough to handle the whole project on their own and would have no need for your services!

Web developers have to learn to love the lack of technical savvy many of their clients are notorious for. Besides expecting it, they have to plan according to it. Anticipate where you’re spending the most time on tech support with clients, and create support documents with enough details for clients to self-service these common issues.

In some cases, this may be as simple as curating a selection of support pages/articles from their host. But in other cases, this may require you to create your own detailed use case documents, complete with screenshots and drawings.

One of the most common use cases a client may require assistance with revolves around setting up web hosting. Take this as an opportunity to create a detailed guide for your preferred host. If it’s tailored to a specific process, most clients will likely go with your recommendation. This presents an awesome opportunity for making affiliate income, not only in terms of web hosting, but for any themes, plugins, and other tools you frequently recommend to clients.

Besides providing you with an additional income stream, creating support documentation can also double as excellent content for your website. This, in turn, can help with SEO (if optimized appropriately), and in building trust with potential clients. Showing that you not only know your stuff but can explain it to someone who doesn’t, can be critical in winning new business (especially from the technophobes).

Setting Expectations Through Client Onboarding

At its root, creating a client onboarding process is a necessary factor for providing an excellent customer experience. It sets the tone for the entire project early on and helps clients who are unfamiliar with web design to feel some sense of security in terms of what comes next.

For web developers, creating a client onboarding process involves spending some time creating documents that can then be used over and over, for future client projects.

Good luck creating your own client onboarding process!