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Creating a system for onboarding clients is one of the most important aspects of your business. It’s the first time that you’re making an impression. Having a disorganized client onboarding process can leave people confused and make it challenging to do your job.

Think of your client interaction with you as a journey. The journey starts with their first inquiry and ends when they get the final result or product. An uncomplicated customer experience from start to finish is a surefire way to get great referrals from your clients.

Here’s how to streamline your onboarding process:

Outline the Milestones in Your Client’s Journey

To create your client onboarding process, first brainstorm all of the steps that you and your client need to go through to arrive at the final result.

What information or directions do you need to get from each of your clients? How will you collect the information from them? Gathering information may be as simple as requesting editorial instructions or work tasks if you’re a writer or virtual assistant. You can do this through email.

The steps may be more complex if you’re doing a larger project like web design. You’ll need to discuss with your client brand strategy and design inspiration. Consider creating a client intake questionnaire to organize this process. Google Forms is a free way to make a questionnaire. TypeForm is another platform I’ve used to build out questionnaires.

Communicate Your Expectations

Explain the stages of your work flow to all of your prospective clients once you have it ironed out. Clients feel confident when you’re in control and setting expectations gives them a guideline to follow. If you use a project management software like Asana, give your client a lesson on how to use it.

It’s also a good idea to set expectations as far as communication. Can they email you an unlimited amount of times to give feedback? Do you prefer communicating over the phone or Skype? Make that clear.

Send Your Contract

Your contract should include details of the project, when you bill clients, and any other working terms you’ve both agreed on. I use HelloSign to upload contracts for a digital signature. I’ve found that this is the fastest way to get a response from clients instead of requesting they print and sign a document.

Send Your Invoice

When you send your first invoice will depend on what you discuss with your client. I always recommend that you request a deposit upfront from a client to get a large project started. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule depending on the circumstance.

If you collect money upfront, send out your invoice during onboarding so you can get paid promptly. You’ll know a client is going to be a hassle if there are delays in payment of the initial invoice. Break up with any clients who could be a headache early on.

Final Word

Think of your onboarding system like the Ikea shopping experience. Ikea takes you on an intricately planned journey through the sales floor. You select tags for furniture you want. When you get down to the basement, you search for those items and you’re on your way.

A fine-tuned process benefits you and the employees because of its efficiency. Work on tightening up your own onboarding system this year and it can make a world of difference for your customer experience.

Taylor K. Gordon is a personal finance writer and founder of Tay Talks Money, a personal finance and productivity blog on hacking your way to a happier savings account. Taylor has contributed to MagnifyMoney, The Huffington Post, GoGirl Finance, Madame Noire, and The Write Life.

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