Having a cohesive onboarding and project system for new freelance clients can save you time AND sanity. Instead of scrambling to remember what you usually do next for a new client, you’ll have your entire process laid out, streamlined, and even automated! Here are a few simple steps to get you there.
1 | Evaluate your current freelance client onboarding and project process
Hey, you may not have one yet. That’s okay. When you’re first starting out freelancing, a lot of things are changing frequently. The way you did business when you first started probably isn’t the way you do business now, even if you only started a week ago! You adjust as you find better ways to do things and build a system, even if it’s informal and undocumented.
Here’s where we get started, though. Look at your current onboarding process. Even if that system is just some steps that you’ve cobbled together and [usually remember to] do each time you get a new client, that’s still a process! It’s time to figure out what you do and don’t like about it. Make a list of the steps in your onboarding process and then make notes next to each step about what works and what doesn’t. We’ll refer back to this later on.
Now that you’ve made your own list, it’s a great idea to ask past and current freelance clients what they do and don’t like about your process to get a perspective from the other side. You may be surprised at what they tell you! Something that flows smoothly on your side may seem clunky or unintuitive to your clients. You want the client experience to be enjoyable or at least not unpleasant, right? Getting the words right from your clients’ mouths could change how you look at your client onboarding system!
2 | Find areas to streamline your freelance client onboarding and project process
It’s time to outline your dream workflow! Ignore specific tools and what you do or don’t have at your disposal while making your outline. Imagine what that optimal workflow would look like from lead → client → project process → end of project. This is going to look different for each industry, but you can Google to find example workflows.
Remember to take into account the necessary steps for each phase of the process, even if you aren’t doing them at the moment. In the onboarding phase, you’ll definitely want to include some sort of client welcome packet to outline what clients can expect. If they know what you will and won’t do during the project phase (e.g. you have certain office hours, you have preferred communication methods, etc.), they’ll be better prepared and you can always refer them back to that welcome packet if they ask for something outside of scope. They’ll also have a better idea of the project timeline and when YOU need things from THEM.
When you were reviewing your current process, you likely noticed areas for improvement. It could be something as simple as “these four emails could have been condensed into one” or it might be something as big as revising a number of steps. Whatever those areas are, there is bound to be a way to streamline them and make the process easier and more enjoyable for both you and the client. If you get stuck and can’t figure out how to improve something, reach out to other business friends or even trusted clients to get their input!
3 | Determine the tool(s) you’ll need to create your freelance client onboarding and project system
Once you’ve outlined your ideal workflow, think about what tools you can use to accomplish it. My favorite is Dubsado because it is so versatile and looks great on both your side and the client’s side. It makes it easy to communicate with clients and keep everything you need for each project in one place. There are other great CRM (Client Relationship Management) tools out there, though, so choose the tool that works best for you!
At a minimum, you’ll need a way to distribute and sign contracts, manage client communication, and send invoices and receive payments. If you choose the right CRM or a similar tool, you should be able to do all of these things in one place. One of the things that can really trip up an onboarding and project system is having too many tools involved. Personally, all I use these days is Dubsado (and Calendly for scheduling, until they release their built-in scheduling tool!). The simplicity of being able to manage all aspects of your projects from one dashboard makes life SO much easier.
When choosing the tool(s) you’ll use for your client onboarding and project system, you may also want to consider proposals/quotes, automation, client portals, and scheduling. Having a tool that can send professional proposals/quotes/whatever you want to call them can help you land more freelance projects. (That’s another reason I love Dubsado – their automated proposal options are AMAZING.) Being able to automate as much of the process as possible also saves you a LOT of time. Dubsado’s automated workflows have saved my butt a few times! Scheduling can also be key because if a client can simply choose a day and time, it eliminates all of those back-and-forth emails while you try to find a time that works for both of you.
Client portals also give your freelance clients a single place to look to for communications, contracts, forms, and whatever else they need. Rather than having to sift through a million emails to prove you really did send the thing the client is freaking out about, you can gently refer them back to their client portal where everything is waiting for them. CRMs like Dubsado even track whether a client has read an email you sent, so if they tell you they never received it, you can tell them when you sent it and when they “may have” seen the email (even though you know they opened it!). Just one more way a system makes your life easier!
4 | Create your freelance client onboarding and project system
Once you have your new system outlined and know the tools you’ll need to accomplish it, it’s time to get to work! Each system will vary, but here’s an example of how you could create a freelance client onboarding system with Dubsado:
- A potential client fills out a lead capture form on your website →
- They receive an [automated] email asking them which package they’re interested in →
- The potential client fills out the form included in the email →
- The system triggers a proposal based on the package selected →
- The potential client accepts the proposal →
- The system sends the contract and your new client(!) signs the contract →
- The system sends the client the invoice for their down payment and sends you a reminder to countersign the contract →
- The client pays the down payment and the system sends their welcome packet →
- The project begins!
There’s so much more you can do with this, but that’s an example of the onboarding process. Notice that literally the only thing you personally have to do in this example is counter-sign the contract! Many of us have discovery calls or something similar before sending a proposal, but in some tools, you can even automate that too. Imagine having to send all of those emails by hand – it could take you an hour overall. With an automated system, you have that hour back to spend with your family, watch some Netflix, get even more clients, or do whatever else you want to!
As you can see, a freelance client onboarding and project system can be a lifesaver in your business! It doesn’t have to be time-consuming and can actually SAVE you a lot of time if you do it right. Just find the areas for improvement, outline your new system, and implement it. So, what are you waiting for?
Leave a comment with your thoughts on freelance client onboarding and project systems! Here are some ideas:
What was your biggest takeaway from this post?
What is the one thing in your freelance project process that feels like it takes the most time?
What excites you the most about creating an onboarding and project system?