Onboarding – how to successfully bring on a new client

It can be exciting when a new client signs up to work with your start-up, but investing time and effort in properly onboarding them could be a good idea to help create a positive working relationship.

An onboarding process is a series of steps and actions that help introduce your client to your business’s way of working and ensure everyone is on the same page regarding expectations, communication, and what work needs to be delivered.

It can identify how clients want to get updates, how they can use any client-facing systems such as project management tools, how feedback is handled, and who their day-to-day contacts are within your start-up for payments and invoicing.

It’s also a stage where you can confirm fundamentals, such as payment terms and conduct final checks, such as a client’s credit rating and ability to pay before incurring costs.

Onboarding can take time – while the process is likely to be shorter and quicker for a start-up business, according to research by McKinsey & Company it takes an average of 100 days to onboard a new corporate client.

It can be worth the time and investment to get right, however, as 82% of larger businesses claim that onboarding is a critical plank in getting the most value from customers, according to research by Precursive.

Why onboarding clients is important

When starting work with a client, going through a defined onboarding procedure could be a good idea.

Onboarding involves activities such as introducing your business and your team to the client, establishing what work needs to be done and the results the client expects, and gathering crucial financial and company information.

Without this, it could be difficult to produce successful work for your client, and there’s a risk of delayed payments.

A thorough onboarding process helps cement the working relationship between your two businesses and can help avoid disputes in the future.

Consider creating an onboarding plan or checklist – this can ensure you have a document that contains essential client information, such as contact details and payment methods, and that you don’t miss vital information.

Checks when onboarding clients

Understanding your client in more detail is essential, and onboarding is a good way to conduct additional creditworthiness checks to ensure your client can pay and to clarify payment schedules and how payments are made.

Credit checks

When you agree to work with a client, your business could be taking a financial risk by completing work before payment.

Running a credit check could help you decide the level of risk associated with a specific client and determine when and how you want to be paid.

Organisations such as Dun & Bradstreet, Experian, and Equifax provide credit checking services, though you’ll need to pay for credit checks on businesses other than yours.

Payment terms and conditions

Discussing clear payment terms and conditions with your client is a good idea.

These terms and conditions could include the total amount payable, payment milestones, any deposits or upfront payments and preferred payment methods.

Payment terms should form part of any contract with your client.

A helpful part of onboarding is clearly detailing how clients should pay for invoices and who to contact in your business in case of a billing question.

There are likely to be other non-payment related terms and conditions that a business should share with its clients either from the start or on each occasion that the business provides goods or services to the client, depending on the nature of the relationship.

These should be provided before any binding contract is created between the business and the client.

There may also be money laundering or other regulatory compliance checks to be carried out depending on the nature of the business.

Contacts and feedback

Good communication can be critical to a successful working relationship with a client.

Use onboarding to collect information such as details of key contacts within your client’s organisation, how often feedback and update meetings should take place, and how to best share information and progress.

Remember to ensure you are compliant with UK data protection laws in your processing of any personal data about your client or their staff.

You may have a client who wishes to only work with you on a project basis.

At the start of project onboarding, it’s a good idea to clearly understand your client’s actual needs and expectations for the project.

When working with a client on a project, consider using onboarding to set clear goals, expectations, and understanding.

Actions to consider include:

  • a welcome email – this could consist of an overview of your business, key contacts, team members who will be working on the client’s project, their roles, and how they contribute to the project’s success
  • a kick-off meeting – this is an opportunity to establish a rapport, clarify the project scope, and understand the client’s expectations and goals
  • communications – establishing communication protocols, including preferred methods such as email, phone, and video calls, frequency, and points of contact
  • documentation – providing the client with any necessary documentation, access to project management tools, or other resources they might need to stay informed and engaged
  • client education – If your service or product requires client interaction or management, providing training or resources to help them understand and use it effectively is a good idea.

Once you’ve completed the steps, it can be a good idea to formally acknowledge the completion of onboarding and confirm that the client is ready to move ahead with the project work.

How to maintain a successful client relationship

You may want to think about maintaining a positive relationship and transforming a project into a long-term partnership.

You could do several things to make this happen, from setting up a project conclusion catch-up to understanding your client’s long-term goals.

Consider a project conclusion meeting to gather feedback on how your client found working with you, areas to improve, and potential next steps.

You could also ask them for a testimonial on your work and create a case study, showing that you value their input and are proud to show that your business has worked with them.

A simple phone call to thank the client for working with your business on a project could also positively impact potential future work.

When onboarding a new client for a project or on retainer, having a list of checks to complete before finalising the onboarding could be a smart business move.

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