Congratulations! You’ve just had an initial conversation with a potential client. They love what you offer and you’re both eager to get to work, but should you get started right away? The simple answer, no.
Not until you’ve got your ducks in a row.
Here are some ways that I onboard clients, which should help streamline projects and give your clients a lasting impression, knowing their project is in good hands.
1) Ask Important Questions, Get Important Answers
Before moving forward after your initial conversation, there are a few questions you should be asking to understand how you can provide a solution to the client’s problem.
The key to every successful project is knowing what questions to ask so that you can give the client an unforgettable experience, and one that is going to benefit their business. Having little to no information when starting a project is a recipe for disaster, inevitably causing headaches and frustrations for both parties.
When it comes to onboarding new leads, you’ll find yourself regularly asking a lot of the same questions to various clients. This process can be quite time-consuming if the proper automation isn’t in place, either through a template or online form.
To automate this process, I’d recommend looking back at some of your prior conversations. Take notes when you notice a pattern in the sorts of questions you’re asking, and use those notes to create your template/form.
Here are a few ideas of questions you should be asking if you aren’t already:
- Client information, first name, last name, location
- Contact information, email, phone number
- How would they describe their business?
- Who is their target market?
- What resources do they require?
- Do they have any reservations/preferences for the design?
- Do they have a budget in mind?
- Do they have a deadline for their project?
- What do they aim from hiring a ‘insert your role as a designer here’?
Once you’ve laid out a set of questions that you feel you should be asking every client, now you can formulate this in an easy to use template which you can use as a reference when conducting discovery calls/sending a simple email.
As mentioned previously, another great way to collect the information you need is from an online form, which you can create as a simple contact form on your website or through something like Google Forms.
2) Make use of proposals & contracts
Having a summary in place of what you’ve discussed with your client thus far sets the groundwork for what’s to follow when it comes to you working on their project. It gives your client a clear understanding of what to expect from you as a service provider.
In the proposals I send, I include details of my design process and relate that to the project in question. Remember, not everyone has experience working with designers, so it’s a good idea to make sure they know what to expect from you.
A common misconception when it comes to contracts is that they are just there to protect designers, their time, and the money they’d receive from the project. Of course, this is true, but contracts offer much more than just that.
Contracts form a mutual agreement between BOTH parties. Meaning that as long as I (the service provider) provide the quality of service promised, you (the client) agree to pay for said services. In the case of services not being provided to the level promised, clients would be more than entitled to receive compensation or a refund entirely.
A contract gives security on both ends. Designers know that they aren’t liable to be scammed, and clients know that their designer takes their job seriously and aims to work to the best of their ability.
As a designer, contracts will ensure that you are working with individuals that are serious about hiring. I have had to deal with many difficult situations as a designer because of contracts not being in place, and I’d recommend you don’t make that same mistake.
Serious clients don’t question contracts and understand their soul purpose. If you find yourself in a situation where a lead is being particularly difficult, grumbling at the idea of having to sign a contract, or just questioning the purpose of them entirely, this should raise red flags.
3) Make it easy for clients to send you what you need
One of the aims, and something I see designers struggle with, is being accommodating, understanding who your client is, and in doing so, providing an excellent level of service.
It’s quite a simple concept in theory, but something I don’t believe many designers give enough consideration to, which in the long-run, makes clients unwilling/uncomfortable with working with a designer in the future.
You need to understand who your clients are, their technical capabilities, and what they’re comfortable with doing. Especially if you’re asking them to provide you with resources that will help the project proceed.
In instances where you need to receive files from your client, there needs to be a tailored process to make this as straightforward as possible. And if you need to explain how these processes work, then that’s what you should be doing!
Think about how you can go above and beyond for your clients. What seems like a small gesture to you could mean the difference between a return hire or not.
A process that works for me, and has done for quite some time, is assigning a folder to each of the clients I work with using Google Drive. This way, we can seamlessly share files with little to no issues.
Google Drive allows for a desktop app and mobile app. Because of its accessibility and ease of use, my clients have had quite a positive experience using the platform.
If my clients have ever had any issues when using the platform, I’ve been able to provide them with a video tutorial showcasing to them how it works, with a voice-over to help every step of the way, an example of what I meant about going above and beyond.
4) Outline a roadmap of the design process
As mentioned previously, I tend to outline my design process in the proposal that a lead receives upon answering my onboarding questions.
The design process is full of various stages, and when going into detail in the proposal, gives clients an understanding of everything that’s entailed and when to expect updates.
By explaining your process and plan for the project in a proposal, you can break down each process into stages, which the client can follow. They can see how everything progresses and follow the journey from Stage 1 > Completion with clear indications as to what classifies a stage as being completed.
Ensuring that you know what you’re doing as a designer, and giving your client peace of mind, knowing that you are dealing with things professionally and orderly.
You might want to consider taking a snippet of your proposal to showcase this ‘roadmap’ and send this across to your client for future reference. Just in case any information gets misplaced, they’ll have a copy to look over and save.
Not something necessary for every project, but if your project involves various in-depth stages, you might want to consider using a project management tool to create a breakdown of tasks that can be followed and updated in real time.
In the last section, I share a suggestion on what project management tool to use that I’ve personally experienced that you could be missing from your toolbelt.
5) Manage your projects efficiently
There are no ‘must-haves’ when it comes to project management. As someone who has tried and tested many solutions out there, I believe every designer should be searching for a solution that works for them and not what others tell them they must be using.
Organisation and efficiency are crucial, so if your project management doesn’t allow you to be either, you need to switch things up.
You might be a fan of the old school and rely on notes or a whiteboard to keep track of your projects. That’s fine, as long as everything is organised, easy to follow, clear, and concise. Those are the factors you need to carry throughout whatever method of project management you choose to use.
If you’re someone like me, who likes to keep up to date with technology trends, and interested in keeping most of my tools present on my desktop where I spend most of my time, then looking into an online project management tool might be for you.
A personal recommendation that I have would be to use an app like Asana. Asana has allowed me to collaborate with clients seamlessly and in real time, providing clients with regular updates and notifications whenever a task is complete.
If you’re used to manually writing out emails updating your clients whenever you’ve made progress, you’ll be surprised at how much time automated notifications save.
Some of Asana’s handy features:
- Being able to create sections and sorting tasks (For example: To Do, Doing, and Done)
- Set priority levels for each task
- Updating status to keep clients informed
- Providing due dates as well as relevant descriptions
- Being able to add comments and attachments, which is particularly useful if revisions are needed
- Being able to add milestones
- Having the ability to create teams and invite various people to each team
Asana isn’t free but does offer a free 30-day trial without the need for any payment details. All you need to do to get started is create an account and see if it’s something that could work for you.
I make this recommendation because Asana has massively improved my efficiency and organisation skills, but it might not work for you. I would always encourage you to do some research and see what’s available. Most project management tools come with free trials, so you might as well try a few out!
- Understand who your client is, ask questions, and get the information you need.
- As well as getting the information you need to start a project, make sure your client is as informed as possible as to what to expect from you.
- Always use contracts
- Find a project management method that works for you
- Make receiving and transferring files easy to understand
- Don’t jump into a project blindly