Let’s talk about new client onboarding for digital marketing agencies and freelancers:
If you don’t have a process for this nailed down, you’re going to waste time, lose money and deliver a less-than-ideal experience to the new client you worked so hard to sign.
I founded The Content Factory in 2010. In the decade+ since, I’ve been tweaking and perfecting our new client onboarding process.
I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve got new client onboarding on lock – and I’m going to walk you through my exact process below.
There’s an art and a science to onboarding new clients in a way that gets their buy-in ahead of the proposal.
When you get it right, the new lead is already excited to work with you – before you even have the first sales call.
I recently shared this step-by-step new client onboarding process in Sisters in SEO – skill sharing & networking for women & the gender diverse (if you’re a non-dudebro in SEO, hit that link and join us!).
It went over so well I decided to turn it into this blog post so more freelancers and agency owners – hopefully, you – can benefit from it.
This new client onboarding process works for just about any aspect of digital marketing, including PR, SEO/content, social media marketing, and more.
Glad you asked!
Here’s our workflow for new client onboarding:
Step 1: Initial Contact with the New Lead
If you think about it, new client onboarding starts way before the contract is signed.
In fact, every interaction you have with a new lead ahead of contract signage is part of the onboarding process.
Too many freelancers and agency owners miss the mark on this.
Unknowingly, they end up providing an unsatisfactory experience to the potential client – which often results in a missed sale instead of a signed contract.
The trick is to onboard new clients from the point of first contact, instead of from the point they sign the contract.
Here’s how I do this:
Whenever a new lead reaches out to The Content Factory, they have to fill out a pretty extensive New Client Inquiry Form before I'll get on a call with them to talk about their project.
The form asks for a lot of information, so I always offer to sign an NDA when I send it over.
It took me YEARS to develop this form (which you can download here, thank me later), but the effort has been worth it.
But funny thing happened as soon as I required new leads to complete this form before sales calls:
My close rate more than doubled.
There are 3 reasons why:
- The form is pretty lengthy, so the client has to sit down and spend some time filling it out and thinking about what they want, what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t, etc.
Just by asking the right (detailed) questions on the form, we demonstrate our expertise and investment in their success…and get the client’s early buy-in.
FYI: these are the types of signals you want to send early and often throughout the new client onboarding process.
- The form filters out the lookie-loos because it asks for their budget and clearly states our minimum engagement rate.
BAM! No more calls with clients who don’t have the funds to pay for our services
- The form tells me if we’re a good fit. Once I have the completed form, I have enough info about the potential client to identify if our services are a good fit for their brand (sometimes, we’re not).
In a nutshell, the New Client Inquiry Form helps pre-qualify the lead, answers many of our initial questions, and enables me to do enough research to hit the sales call prepared to talk in detail.
Beyond helping me slay the first sales call, the completed New Client Inquiry Form acts as a touchstone document for the people on my team who go on to service the account.
When we start working on the account, we often refer back to the New Client Inquiry Form when there are questions about branding, messaging, etc.
Curious as to what this magical form looks like? Get it here.
New Client Onboarding Step 2: The Sales Call
Once I’ve reviewed their New Client Inquiry Form and determined our services would be a good fit, I schedule the sales call with the client, myself and whoever on my team would manage the account.
During this call, we nail down what the potential client needs. Then, 95% of the time, we start the contract with competitive analysis and strategy buildout.
An important note on competitive analysis and strategy development:
I GAVE THIS AWAY FOR SO MANY YEARS BEFORE CHARGING FOR IT!
That came from a place of not understanding my value and feeling like I needed to "win" over the potential client...who I had already won over.
At least now, I know better.
If you're reading this and aren't charging for strategy development and competitive analysis – which is a necessary and time-consuming part of the job – please learn from my mistake.
I encourage you to get that competitive analysis and strategy buildout $$$, because it is SUBSTANTIAL (we charge $7,500+ for it now).
Another important note about strategy development, in particular:
If you don’t charge for this, the client will not value it as much.
It doesn’t matter if your strategy is amazing, the client simply won’t buy into the value of it.
Ask me how I learned this the hard way
Also, conducting competitive analysis and mapping out a detailed plan of attack (that will *actually* generate results for the client) takes a lot of time.
In our case, it takes anywhere from 3-6 weeks, depending on the complexity of the account.
The report we send to clients is often 60+ pages of detailed strategy and analysis, packed with spreadsheets that include everything from influencers to target to SEO blog pitches.
To be effective, you need to do this level of background research.
MAKE SURE YOU CHARGE THE CLIENT FOR THIS WORK!
With the setup of Step 1 and Step 2, I usually close prospects on the first call (which takes 30-60 minutes).
No exaggeration, by the time the client gets to the sales call phase, they’re already excited to be working with us.
At that point, the sale is mine to lose.
And I rarely do.
About 1 in 10 times, a second or sometimes third sales call gets scheduled, prolonging Step 2.
How Much Do You Charge for New Client Calls?
Several people have asked me how much I charge for new client inquiry calls.
The cost of admission is covered by the time the new lead invests in filling out the New Client Inquiry Form. If somebody wants consulting, it’s a horse of a different color.
For 1:1 consulting and strategy development, I charge $350 per hour (bookable via this link).
Client Onboarding Step 3: The Proposal
Within 72 hours of the last sales call, I send out the proposal and contract.
We use (and recommend) Proposify for this, which enables us to templatize proposals and tack on contracts that the new client can easily e-sign.
Although each proposal is different, having some standard templates set saves a lot of time and provides a simple, sleek and professional experience for the client.
Before I customize the proposal template, I review my notes from the sales call and (you guessed it!) their New Client Inquiry Form.
From there, I assess whether the client should be charged higher rates based on the complexity of their account and adjust the quote as necessary. Ultra technical clients get charged higher rates.
I map out everything to be included in the competitive analysis and strategy development services, then send out the proposal and contract.
Note: in 95% of cases this contract is NOT for ongoing services.
How do we know what to recommend if we haven’t done the competitive analysis and strategy buildout?
By now I’m sure you see where I’m going with this
A second proposal for ongoing services comes after we create and review the competitive analysis and strategy development report.
New Client Onboarding Step 4: Invoicing & Payment
As soon as the contract is e-signed (again, Proposify makes this sleek & seamless), I send out an invoice to be paid before delivery of services.
No payment? No kickoff call.
I see many freelancers and agency owners complaining in Facebook groups about clients being super slow to pay. Been there, hated it.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned over the 12+ years I’ve been CEO of The Content Factory:
It’s important to “train” your clients from the get-go that payment is expected in a timely fashion – and before services are rendered.
Too many freelancers and agency owners get so excited to sign the new client, they don’t want to scare them off with immediate payment demands.
This is where your contract saves you!
Establish from Day 1 that payment is due up front, and then hold your client to the contract they signed.
They’re certainly going to hold you to your end of it!
So don’t be shy, and definitely don’t be rude.
That said, be firm in establishing your boundaries – payment and otherwise – early on.
If not, the client will learn they can walk all over you…and they will. Trust me, it’s better to nip boundary-pushing in the bud early.
Client Onboarding Step 5: The Contract Kickoff Call
Once payment is received, I schedule a contract kickoff call with the client, and whoever on my team will be touching the account.
This usually takes an hour or more, and we leave the call with in-depth answers to our questions.
We also leave the call aligned on the next steps and expected turnaround times, because again this report takes a while to build out.
Since we tend to dig into many nitty-gritty details on the kickoff call, we make sure to record it for future reference (Zoom makes this simple).
Finally – Delivery of Services!
As services for the new client begin, it’s important to regularly update the client on your progress and err on the side of asking too many questions instead of too few.
We send weekly status updates on Fridays, bullet pointing out all of the work that was done on the account that week.
Weekly reporting is a simple thing, but clients love it!
My team and I love it, too – because by keeping the client updated, we keep them out of our inbox asking for status updates.
The new client onboarding process outlined above has saved me a TON of time over the years.
On top of that, it’s also helped me win over billion-dollar clients and get higher-paying projects
Hopefully, it works for you too 🙂
What do you think of my new client onboarding process? Drop a comment if you think I left anything out!