All WordPress developers want their projects to run stress-free. While you can’t guarantee that throughout the entire project, you can manage things more smoothly by onboarding your clients carefully.

This is a step that many developers skip over, mainly because it involves a lot of work and patience. However, onboarding is vital, especially for large projects where the final product is likely to be used by a lot of people. It helps everyone get on the same page about what the project will involve and what’s required to get it done.

In this post, we’ll look at what client onboarding is, and discuss how to implement a strategy. By the end, you’ll have what you need to make sure your projects run smoothly from the start. Let’s get to work!

An Introduction to Client Onboarding

For the uninitiated, client onboarding is a fancy term for getting all of the resources you need and asking all of the questions you have about a specific project. The ideal is to cover all the necessary bases upfront, then be left alone to work on the project, with the client checking in periodically to ascertain your progress.

In most cases, the onboarding stage should come between the client’s agreeing to undertake a project, and you actually beginning work on it. During this time, you’re essentially looking to tie up all the tedious clerical aspects that might bog down your workflow if introduced later on. This includes tasks such as getting contracts signed, and discussing any legal issues that could cause roadblocks.

What’s more, you’ll want to deal with any project-specific questions at this point. For example, websites will often require media. Therefore, figuring out whether you’ll receive the final images and graphics throughout the project, or will end up working with placeholder or stock graphics during development, gives you further insight when creating your project roadmap.

When handled carefully, client onboarding can result in ‘planned flexibility’. In other words, you’ll have a solid overall roadmap in place, but will be able to expand and adjust it when the unexpected happens. You may never be able to know everything ahead of time, but you can strive to answer as many questions and secure as many vital resources as possible.

Why Client Onboarding Should Become a Key Part of Your Future Projects

At this point, we’ve talked about what client onboarding means in objective terms. However, you may still be wondering why you should implement it. More specifically, you might be questioning what onboarding as we’ve described it can offer you over your existing process.

In our opinion, there are a few reasons to make this a concrete phase of each project:

  • You provide a level of ‘gravitas’ to the project, as the onboarding process is the first professional task you’ll undertake with the client. This helps to ensure that everyone involved is thinking ahead and taking things seriously.
  • It can save the client money in the long run. While you’ll undoubtedly take a little longer to get the project underway, you’ll likely bill less hours down the line. While you do obviously want to bill as many hours as is reasonable, you should also consider that a project that ends quicker lets you begin the next one promptly.
  • You get to work in relative peace, mainly because you’re not disrupting your own ‘flow’ by asking the client questions constantly.

On the whole, it’s very helpful to make sure you have all of the information and materials needed to successfully complete your project to a high standard. What’s more, the client will also want their project to be successful at the lowest possible cost. Onboarding is the answer to both your needs, so implementing it should become a priority.

How to Onboard Clients (A 3-Step Plan)

It’s worth offering a caveat here, since the following process isn’t a completely rigid outline for how to onboard clients. You’ll encounter many unique clients, projects, and assignments for which it’s necessary to take a modified approach. However, you can consider these three steps a general checklist to follow whenever you initiate the onboarding process.

Step 1: Start the Onboarding Process Early

You may not realize it, but onboarding the client starts before you’ve even agreed to do work for them. In fact, it pays to begin this process on your website and contact form.

There are a few ways to get onboarding started early. You can:

  • Provide an (FAQ) section, detailing some of the primary aspects of your workflow.
  • Offer case studies that outline how you work, and are focused on the benefits to the client.
  • Optimize your client intake form, since it’s the ‘secret sauce’ that boosts your client onboarding efforts. This form can help you ask vital questions upfront, without incurring any cost to the client.

This three-pronged approach can help you begin projects in a much smoother, quicker, and cheaper way. What’s more, you may find that your conversion rates (i.e. the percentage of clients who are willing to undertake a project) rise, due to the confidence they’ll have in your professionalism and preparedness.

Once you have a client ‘on the hook’, so to speak, it’s time to turn your thoughts inward.

Step 2: Ask Yourself Questions About Everyone’s Requirements

Once you have a client who’s ready to initiate a project, onboarding can start in earnest. Knowing what you’ll need to get from this onboarding is vital for ensuring a smooth process and a high-quality final project.

At this point, you’ll want to take some time to figure out what both you and the client need from the project. To do this, you’ll need to ask yourself a series of questions:

  • What do I need in order to carry out the project successfully?
  • What does the client consider a successful project?
  • How will I onboard this client specifically?

You’ll notice that the questions themselves are simple, and that’s by design. After all, this is just a starting point. Once you’ve answered the first two questions in particular, you’ll likely have a bunch of further queries and clarifications to take into the final (and longest) stage.

Step 3: Begin Mapping Out the Onboarding Process

Let’s take a deeper look at the third question from the previous section: what your onboarding process will look like. As you might expect, this is worth considering on a client-by-client basis. What’s more, you may find that you end up revisiting the previous step, in order to re-ask or reword your internal questions. This is absolutely fine, and the iteration you go through now will pay off in the long run.

During this stage, you’ll want to look closely at the information you get from your client, combined with some of the answers you received from the previous section. With these details, you can start to determine what your onboarding workflow will look like. In most cases, this should be a linear process that gets the client smoothly from the project agreement stage all the way to the project start point.

We can’t tell you exactly what the result will look like, because each process should be different depending on your client, their goals, and the project’s needs. However, we’ve already outlined the primary elements you’ll want to consider throughout the rest of this post. In addition, looking at how others tackle client onboarding can help you find the best form for your own process.

Finally, it can help to consider the onboarding process like a huge storage box, into which you add or take away various elements. However, don’t worry if you get some aspects wrong the first time around. Refining your onboarding process is an ongoing task. Your overall goal is to streamline the process and prepare more thoroughly with each new client.

Conclusion

We get it: as a developer, you’re probably more comfortable cracking open your code editor than discussing the minutiae of the upcoming project. However, the latter doesn’t have to be a challenge, especially when you have a clear strategy for onboarding your clients. In fact, developing a clear onboarding process is one of the best ways to ensure each project’s success.

This post has been a primer on how to successfully onboard your clients. You can use the three-step plan we’ve discussed to get the job done:

  1. Plan ahead, and start your onboarding process before the client’s initial contact.
  2. Ask questions, to make sure you understand what you and the client want from the project.
  3. Map out the onboarding process, based on all the information you have to hand.

Do you see client onboarding as a crucial aspect of your development projects? Give us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Featured image: kirkandmimi.

Tom Rankin is a key member of WordCandy, a musician, photographer, vegan, beard owner, and (very) amateur coder. When he’s not doing any of these things, he’s likely sleeping.

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