A Client Onboarding Checklist for Freelancers

When you win a project with a new client, it’s a great feeling. But the work is just beginning, and you may feel the pressure to set this new professional relationship up for success. 

As you start working with a new client, it helps to have an onboarding process. A client onboarding checklist makes the logistical tasks manageable so you can focus on the work they hired you to do. When done right, it’s a consistent set of steps you can rely on to get each new client accustomed to your workflow.

Woman writing in a notebook

Here’s my go-to checklist, and why each step matters —

1. Add the Client to a CRM

Above all, it’s necessary to store your client’s contact details and notes in a central place. That could include point of contact names, email addresses, billing addresses, and more. Many freelancers will use a CRM (customer/client relationship manager) to keep the info organized in one place. 

The last thing you want to do is go digging for a billing address in an old email chain. Instead, systemize client details by capturing them in a CRM that you can search easily.

Popular choices: Google Sheets, HubSpot, Zoho, Insightly 

2. Send the Contract for Signature

The project contract might be the most crucial document in your freelance engagement. It’s critical that you get a signature from your client before you begin work.

Contract strategy is an entire article (or law course) of its own, but the key when you’re onboarding is to get a contract signed so that both parties are legally protected. Luckily, it’s easier than ever to close that loop, thanks to services which allow your clients to sign contracts in a web browser or app. They save time and unnecessary hassle when it comes to signing and returning contracts. 

Popular choices: DocuSign, Adobe Sign

3. Send Your “Best Practices”

While a contract sets the legal terms and is often drafted by an attorney, there are also non-legal details you will want to communicate that will help set up a successful first project. 

When I start working with a new client, some of the information I send them includes; the best way to reach me, when they can expect to hear from me, a preferred process for feedback and their options for receiving deliverables.

It’s best to send this in one kickoff email that your client can jump back to throughout your work together.

4. Invoice for a Project Deposit

After a contract, the most significant assurance is a deposit. It’s a financial vote of confidence that ensures commitment to the project from your client. It protects the hours and resources you will commit upfront in case the worst happens, and there is a dispute. 

Make it clear in your deposit invoice that it is a partial payment and reference the remaining amount that will be due upon completion of the project. It may seem like overkill, but your client’s finance team will love you for it.  

Popular choices: PayPal, Quickbooks, Harvest, FreshBooks

Paper Airplane made with graph paper

5. Set Up a Deliverable Workspace

No matter what type of work you do, there will likely be deliverables–finished product–that you’ll need to send to your client. It’s helpful to set up a deliverables space with a file sharing service.

It might be necessary to work across multiple file delivery services based on the client’s preferences or the type of materials you are sending. Some organizations have their own premium accounts on a single service, or they’re accustomed to using one tool over another. Make sure to discuss what type of delivery system will work best while hammering out the project details.

Popular choices: Dropbox, Google Drive, WeTransfer, FTP

6. Set Up a Feedback Workflow

One way you can handle client feedback or edits is via email. But email chains can break off into unrelated tangents, and before you know it, the edits are lost in the chain. This can lead to missing that feedback and potentially disappointing your new client.

Consider establishing a feedback workflow plan. Deliver milestone drafts where you ask the client for feedback, and capture it in a Google Doc or Dropbox Paper file, for example. Doing so will allow you to easily document, track, and refer back to those edits. 

Popular choices: Google Docs, Dropbox Paper

7. Get to Work!

Once you’ve successfully onboarded your client, you can get started on the real work knowing that you and your new best friend are on the same page!

A client onboarding system brings organization (and dare I say sanity) to your freelance business so that you can focus your energy on your core skills. Putting a system in place early will help you repeatedly add new clients successfully.

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