Five on Design  |  Episode 50  |  June 26, 2018

What does your onboarding process look like?

When I was starting my freelance business, one of the most exciting things was spelling out my creative process. This mostly included what would happen once a client had signed with me and we got to the fun part” of my job.

I didn’t pay much attention to my onboarding process. And a lot of graphic designers make the same mistake. It’s super easy to get excited about the parts that we actually want to do. We end up glossing over the things that we don’t want to do. It includes much more than onboarding process, but for the sake of this show, we’re going to focus on an onboarding process.

So what does a good onboarding process look like?

Ideally, this is one that sets both you and the client that you’ll be working with up for success. You should both know what goals you’re working toward, the steps in the process, and what to expect as you finish the product.

For me, the biggest help was setting up a pre-onboarding process. This is mostly centered around the contact form on my site. By having a pre-filtering process in place, it saved me a lot of time and grief filtering out clients that wouldn’t be a good fit. It allowed me to focus more on the clients that I did want to work with. 

Often, when we set up our website, it’s easy to attract people who want to kick the tires or don’t have a budget that’s ideal for the project. It’s easier to have them decide that you’re not a fit if what they’re reading or filling out isn’t jiving for them.

But let’s say they get past that first step. The next thing you should definitely do is set up a call or a meeting to discuss the project in depth. Find out where they’re currently at. Find out what kind of problems they’re having. Find out what it is that they’re looking to have you do, and why they feel that is a good solution to that problem.

From this point, you should be able to take some of those notes back, and if you still want the project, begin establishing a plan and some goals. I know a lot of people get contentious on this, because it is doing some work for free. But, it’s a good step to show some value beyond making something look pretty. It can be tied to some business goals.

The common example I always turn to here is an ecommerce website. If someone’s struggling for sales, you can establish a plan and some goals to increase sales. If they buy into your plan and understand it clearly, it gives you a good chance at getting the job.

Next up, make sure you present your plan.

This is another step graphic designers struggle with. It’s super easy to hit send” and hope for the best.

If you have the opportunity, I recommend you present your proposal to your client. Go through what it is that you’ll be doing for them. How it will help them? Answer their initial questions right away and show interest that you’re not going to expect them to figure it out on their own. It shows that you’re invested in the relationship up front, rather than hoping that they figure things out on their own. This is another advantage when they’re digging through a sea of proposals while you cross your fingers that they’ll pick yours.

Last, keep communicating.

This is by far the biggest struggle that clients have. And I’ve seen it from the client side. We sometimes struggle with the going on and figuring out what’s happening next, where the designer is at, or what needs to be done. 

We don’t know because the designer might have gone dark on us. As a client, that can be a bit frustrating. So no matter what, no matter where you’re at in your process, always keep communicating. Keep your cleint up to date if they need to get you something, if they don’t need to get you something, or where you’re at with your creative process.

Keeping the line of communication open is essential for success — for your client and for you. It’s what makes a project end on a good note and paves the way for future opportunities.