When it comes to freelancing research, you’re likely to find more “famine” articles than those about the “feast” side of things. This isn’t surprising, because the famine can be scary as hell.
Not every freelancer is desperately living off of ketchup sandwiches and cheap ramen though, right? I mean, if you’re a big fan of ketchup sandwiches, you do you… but that wasn’t my ultimate goal when I decided to start freelancing.
You want to be busy. You want to be choosing the fancy, trendy kind of authentic ramen with the weird boiled egg in it. Unless you’ve got some kind of failure agenda that I don’t understand, I’m guessing your ultimate goal is a successful freelance career that allows you to eat whatever you want.
Now, if my hippie mother were here, she’d rub some essential oils on your forehead and tell you that in order to be successful, you must first “Visualize the manifestation of your success.” And, you know what? In this instance, Mom would be right. Take a moment to imagine yourself as a busy, sought-after freelancer. New clients would be contacting you daily… begging you to chat about their needs and ideas. In addition to fielding all of the new inquiries, you’d be diligently working away in your office or favorite coffee shop, nonchalantly being the creative dynamo that you are.
That sounds great… but also a little stressful, right? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tried-and-true system that welcomes new clients smoothly without interrupting your current work until absolutely necessary? That’s called “onboarding” my dear friends, and we are here to help you visualize that manifestation of success with a handy onboarding checklist that will get you organized before the crowds start knocking at your door.
Ready for that onboarding checklist?
Good, because here we go.
Now, I realize that “onboarding” sounds pretty jargony, so just think of your business as a giant ship, of which you are the captain.
You want people to get “on board” the ship as quickly and efficiently as possible, you want them to know all of the ship’s rules and practices beforehand… and you don’t want to leave the helm until people are completely ready to talk to you.
That’s, essentially, what client onboarding can help you achieve. Lauren Hunt, of LP Creative Co., is a firm believer in a solid onboarding process:
“Implementing a cohesive and functional onboarding process is not only essential but beneficial for both our agency and clients because it lays the foundations for a strong relationship. This allows us to have an open line of communication at the forefront of our projects, while setting expectations, timelines, and goals for both our agency and our clients.”
One of the most popular ways to inquire about a freelancer’s services is via the contact form on their website. These are usually very simple, allow potential clients to send you an inquiry email, and are a great start to a successful client onboarding process.
Now, what if that form knocked off a few other onboarding steps right from the get-go?
The world of forms has expanded into a beautiful universe where a contact form is for more than a simple “Hello.” With certain platforms like Typeform and plugins like these five, you can add a form to your website that gathers a lot more than the usual contact info.
By using these options to create custom forms, you can find out what kind of service or package a potential client is looking for, how much they want to spend, and how quickly they need it done, saving you a lot of time in the future.
The Welcome Packet
When you score a potential new client, you want to make sure your personalities will be compatible… or at least that you’re not going to end up strangling each other before you get paid. One way to do this, of course, is through direct communication like email or phone, but that takes time.
A welcome packet (coupled with a detailed questionnaire) will take care of this step while you tend to other business. This thoughtful document should include a warm introduction, insight into your values and business model, and any other process info or guidelines that you would like your potential client to be aware of. This is the perfect time to set expectations about timelines, payment, and communication.
On the client side of the welcome packet is your new client questionnaire. A detailed questionnaire is your sneak peek into the mind of the inquiring potential client. This can not only help you determine what kind of client they’ll be, but will also give you a better idea of what they want from a project.
The Phone Call
Streamlining your workflow with automation is all well and good, but you’re a human, right? Humans generally prefer talking to other humans when it comes to customer service, and eventually, you’re going to need to hop on a call.
I, personally, prefer a video call via platforms like Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts. If I could have a meeting in person, I’d do it in a heartbeat, but it’s not always possible. Video calls allow me to read mannerisms and facial expressions, giving me an idea of the kind of person I’m going to be working with.
In this call, you can dig a little more into concept and project planning. Here, you can hammer out the details of the project, finalize a price, and choose deadlines. Since you’ll have collected information about the client and their company already via the questionnaire, you can use this call to make the official decisions needed to sculpt the perfect contract.
A word of warning, however:
Be sure to specify in your welcome packet just how long this phone call will last. It can be fun to talk to new people, but remember that all that time spent talking could be spent tackling deadlines or putting in billable hours.
Contract & Invoice
Trust me, you don’t want to waste time dancing around the contract and payment part.
If you include a rundown of your process in your welcome packet, your client will already know that a contract and an invoice or estimate will be arriving quickly, thoroughly eliminating that “Oh, you need a contract?” conversation.
If you’re equipped with an eSignature platform and online invoicing system, you can be on your way to payday without ever having to buy a stamp or ask your responsible friend if you can use his printer.
The next step in our onboarding checklist is another one of those jargony terms that make me want to intelligently touch my thick-rimmed glasses and say, “Oh, yes, CRM. Very important, that CRM.”
The truth is that CRM stands for “customer relationship management,” and can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. You’ll generally hear CRM in reference to CRM software, which records and manages your clients’ information and interactions, providing you with the ability to research past client activity and have all of their information at your fingertips when you need it. This works especially well in agencies where multiple team members deal with the same clients.
Even a small operation can benefit from CRM, however. There are different levels of CRM software that are more accessible to freelancers and small businesses so it’s important to do your research. CRM software has the potential to speed up your workflow and save you some precious time.
I’ve learned a lot during my freelance career. I’ve honed my networking abilities, learned when and how to say “no,” and narrowly escaped my early contract-free days without any major legal issues. I’d say the most valuable thing I’ve discovered, though, is project management software.
Project management software is an incredible way to organize a project and communicate with clients and team members. It allows you to assign tasks to team members, upload images and project-related files, and keep all involved parties up-to-date with the progress of the project.
My personal favorite is Trello — probably because it reminds me of my old college bulletin board, covered in sticky notes — but there are a veritable bajillion other options out there. Basecamp, Asana, and Slack are all fantastic options.
Adding your new client’s work to the project management system will help keep you on track, and will keep all of the pertinent files and information in one place. If you’ve ever spent nine minutes searching through your email for that one message containing that one file, you’ll know how valuable this capability can be.
Take that onboarding, embrace it, and run away off into the sunset with it.
Onboarding is one of those things that take effort at first, but pay off big time in the long run. If you can sit down with this onboarding checklist and create even a basic client onboarding process, you’re going to feel more organized and on top of things. You do it, you reap the benefits, and then you get to spend an extra hour roller skating, home brewing, or singing karaoke because you can.
And, I suppose, you can spend more time making ketchup sandwiches, if that’s where your heart’s at.