You might think agency client onboarding is just one simple part of your operation.

Actually, it matters a lot more than you think.  In fact, this one process can mean the difference between plateauing at your current level, and unlocking a wave of growth that can sustain your agency for years.

This is why having a solid client onboarding experience is essential.

In this post, I’m going to share how to think and standardize this process so that you are consistently delivering a great onboarding experience for each client even as you scale. 

  1. Why client onboarding matters (a lot)
  2. What really matters: Your client’s experience
  3. Commit to standardizing your client onboarding
  4. Standard timeline for new client onboarding
  5. “Day one” experience
  6. Gather assets in one place
  7. Communication during new client onboarding
  8. Showing progress during onboarding
  9. Optimize your client onboarding process & tasks

Why client onboarding matters (a lot)

New client onboarding can be the reason your agency struggles, or it can be its “secret sauce” that superpowers your growth. 

Here are signs that either need to create a client onboarding process or refine your existing one:

And here is what it can look like after you improve your client onboarding process:

What really matters: Your client’s experience

When we talk about “client onboarding,” we’re not talking about just another SOP in your operation.

We’re talking about people.

Your client is a person (or multiple people).  They have desires, fears, goals, anxieties, and aspirations, just like the rest of us.

Your client went through a long, arduous process to get to the point where they felt comfortable enough to pay for your service for the first time.  The moment after they made that purchase, they’re suddenly in a very fragile state of mind, teetering on the edge of “buyer’s remorse.”

“Did I make the right decision?”

“Will I lose money and time on this?”

“Will I really get the outcome I hope for?”

Your client onboarding process is what puts these fears to rest.

And it’s your client onboarding process that turns these fears into delights:

“I knew it!  this was the right decision” (I’m so smart 😉

“This was money well-spent.” (I feel secure)

“I’m getting the results I hoped for.”  (I’m seeing an ROI)

You’re only a month in, and you’ve basically locked in a raving happy customer for life—all thanks to your impeccable onboarding process.

So let’s see how you can get there.

Commit to standardizing your client onboarding

Generally, to make your business more scalable, you need it to become more predictable. Even if everything in your business is highly variable, new client onboarding is one place where you can really control the flow of things.  Use this to your advantage!

For example, here are some key aspects of client onboarding that can be standardized:

Let’s break down each of these, with specific ideas for ways you can improve them, streamline, and make things more predictable. 

Standard timeline for new client onboarding

Delays and rush jobs can both wreak havoc on any agency’s operation.

That’s why you should take control of the timeline from the moment your client begins their engagement with you.

I highly recommend committing to two key policies when it comes to starting work with new clients:

Note: Regarding “rush jobs” — Just because an eCommerce retailer might earn more revenue for expedited shipping doesn’t mean you should take their queue and charge a bit more for speedier agency services.  

In my experience, rush jobs just aren’t worth it. Your client’s problem isn’t that they want it done yesterday.  It’s that they want it done right.  If they want it done yesterday, they’re better off doing it themselves, or using a ready-made solution, etc. They hired you to achieve a business outcome.  If that’s what they want, then that requires a reasonable timeframe.

So what should your timeframe be?

Early on in my service business, I made the mistake of optimizing for speed.  I thought clients wanted to get onboard faster.  I was wrong.

Once I realized we should optimize for quality, everything clicked, and the business entered a long phase of growth.

Build your onboarding process around what it will take to be successful—both in the short term and in the long-term.

If you’re a marketing service, 4 weeks is a typical timeframe to take a brand new client from day one to “up and running.”  But the exact timeframe will vary depending on the nature of your service.

It’s OK to make adjustments, but it’s best to make those adjustments standardized for all new clients going forward.  Always.  Be.  Improving.

“Day one” experience

Your “Day One” experience should make the client feel like they made a great decision. Buyer’s remorse and anxiety can settle in quickly, and you want to address this head-on. 

What feeds your client’s “buyer’s remorse” anxiety?

Here are some of the most common reasons why buyer’s remorse can creep up: 

Here is how to instantly put them at ease (the basics):

If things are going off-track, here are some things you can do to course-correct.

Gather assets in one place

The most common “blocker” for new client onboarding is gathering all the assets and information you need from your client in order for your team to proceed with their work.

An all-too-common occurrence: Each client sends you their information and assets in piecemeal across 50 different emails, dropboxes, Slacks, and you’re struggling to keep track of it all. Then your ideal timeline goes off the rails, your team gets frustrated, your client feels overwhelmed, and nobody’s feeling very successful here.

Your new client onboarding process needs to short-circuit this. 

I recommend building out one client intake form where you can gather everything you need from your client in one place.  

Here are some tips for optimizing your new client intake form:

Pro tip:  ProcessKit’s intake forms features check every one of those boxes for you. 

Communication during new client onboarding

Clear, consistent communication with clients is essential for any well-run agency.  However, it is the most important at the beginning of your client engagements. 

I can’t hammer this point home enough:

Your client must never be wondering, “When will I hear from them again?” Nothing feeds a client’s anxiety and frustration more than feeling like they’ve been left in the dark.

Use one of my favorite communication “hacks” to prevent this from happening: Set up a weekly update email.

My service company sends these on the 4 Fridays during every new client’s onboarding month.  Other agencies send weekly update emails every week throughout the lifetime of a client’s engagement.

Every weekly update email should follow this template framework (fill in your own language, as needed):

Here’s a real example of what one of these weekly update emails might look like:

Hi [Client’s first name],

Hope you’re doing well!  Here is your weekly update:

Everything is on track to deliver your first blog article by November 1st 🙂 

Here’s what we did this week:

  • We finalized your content calendar
  • We created the initial article outline

Here’s what we’ll be working on next week:

  • We will write your full article draft
  • We will set up your website for blog publishing

A few items we need from you:

  • We’re awaiting a few answers to questions in your “Getting Started” form.  Here’s that link for you again:  (link)
  • Please send us the invite to access your website CMS.

As always, any questions or concerns, please feel free to let us know by replying to this email.


Brian and the team at AwesomeCo

Pro Tip:  You can use ProcessKit’s template-emails feature to build out email templates just like this one, dynamically fill them with key information, and actually send them off directly from your tasks!  See this video on how it works.

Showing progress during onboarding

Those weekly update emails can go a long way to keeping your client informed of “where things are at” on a week-to-week basis.  In many cases, that’s all you need.

But sometimes, it helps to give your client a little more visibility into the status of things.  This is where a dedicated client portal can serve your business—and your clients—well.

The key here is to help—don’t harm—the process.  

How to make a client portal actually help your process:

Pro Tip:  Use ProcessKit’s customizable client portals to automate and share key status updates with your clients and key stakeholders. 

However, don’t let your client portal do more harm than good. How might that happen?

Here are some ways a client portal can do more harm than good:

Optimize your client onboarding process & tasks

All of these improvements could do wonders for your client onboarding—and in turn, your business.  But only if you can actually execute them.  Efficiently.  Every.  Single.  Time.

That’s where your process comes in.

And that’s where your task management comes in.

It’s vitally important that your new client onboarding process is well documented, with all the key steps, instructions, time frames, and who’s responsible for which pieces.

But it’s not enough to just document your process.  You have actually executed it.  Repeatedly.

Your new client onboarding process needs to be converted into active tasks that your team can execute predictably.  And since you’re turning your process into tasks, it should be “smart”.

Here are a few ways to make your client onboarding process “smart.”

Use dynamic due dates

Stick to your ideal timeline by setting up dynamic, relative start, and due dates on key steps in your client onboarding process.  For example, if the drafting process hinges on when you complete the kickoff call, set it up to be due “5 days after the kickoff call occurs”.

Automate team assignments

You probably have multiple people involved in different aspects of your onboarding process.  For example, a project manager coordinates the kickoff call.  A writer prepares a content outline.  A technical assistant sets up the website.  And so on.

Build these assignments into your process.  Have a large team with multiple people filling each role?  Implement a dynamic role assignment system.

Use conditional logic

The goal, of course, is to make your process as predictable as possible.  But that doesn’t mean there won’t be variation!

Build in conditional logic— ”if this, then that”—rules into your process to account for the most common scenarios and adjust automatically.

For example, if your new client uses WordPress, execute the steps involved in setting up their site with your favorite WordPress plugin.  Or if they’re on Squarespace, follow a different set of steps.

Keep clear visibility at all times

As you scale up your client onboarding process, you’ll want to maintain clear visibility into where everything is at—leaving nothing to fall through the cracks.

Your system needs to answer these questions for you, at a glance:

Pro Tip:  I created a 12-part video course to show you how you can automate your new client onboarding process with ProcessKit.  Dive in for free:  Process Automation for Service Companies

In sum, one of the keys to unlocking predictable growth in your agency is standarizing your agency client onboarding process. 

If you’d like to learn more about how ProcessKit can help you transform your agency client onboarding by freeing up time, space, and mental energy, click here.