Mastering Client Onboarding: A Comprehensive Checklist for Your Agency

If you just won a new project, congratulations! It’s now the time to onboard the new client. This onboarding process is crucial for setting the tone, aligning expectations, and fostering collaboration for the rest of your agency-client relationship. Without a thorough client onboarding stage, agencies can encounter pitfalls that cause miscommunication, missed deadlines, and ultimately, dissatisfied clients.

In this article, we’ll discuss the art of mastering client onboarding, providing you with a comprehensive client onboarding checklist that caters to various agency types. Whether you run a PR and communications agency, an advertising agency, a design agency, or a web development/software agency, we have you covered. Let’s dive in.

What Is Client Onboarding?

Client onboarding is the process of welcoming and integrating new customers into your agency’s operations and systems. It encompasses all activities from the time a contract is signed to the point where the project officially commences. Effective client onboarding helps you establish clear project expectations and objectives, and strengthen the partnership with the client.

To ensure a smooth and structured onboarding process, a client onboarding checklist is required. It outlines the necessary steps and procedures that both the agency and the client need to follow, which we’ll elaborate more on below. 

Why Do You Need a Client Onboarding Checklist?

Boost efficiency:

An onboarding checklist provides a clear overview of the onboarding process to enhance your efficiency. It allows you and the client to track progress and understand which stage you’re at. This clarity facilitates a seamless transition and enables your agency to commence work promptly, avoiding delays and confusion.

Foster Stronger Client Relationships

By addressing all activities needed to start and complete the project smoothly, the checklist instills confidence in the client. With a well-defined plan, the client can see that your agency actively listened to their needs during the sales and client meetings. This attention to detail reassures the client that you can meet their expectations and produce the desired outcome. As a result, you can build trust and create a solid foundation for a long-term relationship with your client.

Avoid Missed Tasks

A good customer onboarding checklist ensures that no step is missed during the onboarding process. From the initial phone call to the monthly feedback sessions, each stage is clearly outlined. By staying organized, you can see the big picture to anticipate potential challenges and prepare for any situation.

More Sale Opportunities

Clients appreciate a structured plan of action. A clear checklist shows your professionalism and delights clients in this early stage, making them happy and increasing their loyalty. This creates up-selling opportunities or getting their referrals to more business deals.

With so many benefits, let’s get into the details: what you should include in your customer onboarding process.

Client Onboarding Checklist for Any Agencies

1. Signed Contract and Advanced Payment

After your client confirmed the project, make sure you get a signed copy of the contract from both parties. Depending on your negotiation of contract terms, you can issue the initial invoice and receive a deposit before starting the work. Communicate with the client your preferred payment methods, such as bank transfer, check, credit card, or others.

2. Research The Client’s Company. 

Before diving into a project, take the time to truly understand your customer and their business. Conduct online research on their company and industry, and evaluate their existing marketing efforts to identify areas for improvement. You should explore their competitors as well to gain valuable background information. Use this knowledge to create a client questionnaire and guide discussions during kick-off meetings in the following steps.

3. A Client Questionnaire

Design and send a client questionnaire tailored to each client. This will gather essential information to better understand their needs and how you can assist them in achieving their goals. Include relevant questions specific to the services you’ll provide, such as:

  • Who are your target customers?
  • What are the problems you’re trying to solve?
  • What is your budget for the project? 
  • Who are your main competitors?
  • What are your upcoming business roadmaps?
  • What are your project goals and requirements?
  • Who are your project lead and project members?
  • How are your current sale performance?
  • What is your average customer churn rate and its pattern?

Collecting questionnaire responses ensures a smooth project initiation process. It enables you to tailor your services to the client’s specific needs and deliver results that matter most to them. 

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A Tool to Streamline and Improve Client Relationships

4. Assign Roles

The next step in the onboarding checklist is to determine the key stakeholders involved in the project within your agency. This is where you establish a project team dedicated to the client. Designate specific roles and responsibilities for each team member to ensure alignment and facilitates decision-making. 

Here, you should choose a project manager with strong expertise in the project nature as they will be the focal point of communication. Make sure the project manager has all details from the sales process to understand the context before getting the client onboarding process started. You can easily do this with a CRM system, which helps you to:

  • Store all information of leads and clients in 1 central database
  • Gain full visibility on all previous communications and interactions with the client 
  • Track client’s stages in the sales funnel and drive insightful analysis
  • Move a lead down the funnel to become an offical client and link to their project

5. Provide Access and Permissions

Identify the necessary software, tools, and platforms that will be used during the project. If you use a specific project management system, make sure you provide sufficient explanation or training documents for the clients if needed. If your client is unfamiliar with the tool, you can even schedule a meeting to guide them on how to use the tools to communicate and manage projects effciently.

6. Client Kick-off Meeting

A kick-off meeting is essential to clarify expectations, unify both teams, and boost spirits to official start a project. Although you may conduct a video call, it is advisable to hold this meeting face-to-face if your client is located in a reasonable distance.

Here’re what should be covered in this meeting:

  • Introduce both team members that will be involved in the project
  • Align goals and objectives based on the client’s needs 
  • Confirm the project budget 
  • Define the project scope, timeline, and key deliverables
  • Identify the KPIs of the project
  • Establish communication channels for different types of interactions, such as regular check-ins, feedback sessions, and progress updates
  • Outline how feedback and review cycles will be managed throughout the project, such as setting specific milestones or review points for client feedback

7. Set Up Reporting Templates

After your kick-off meeting, you should have a clear understanding of your client’s objectives. Now, it’s time to establish reporting templates that capture the relevant metrics to measure the success of your work. 

For instance, if you’re offering paid media services, metrics like cost-per-click, revenue, and ROI are crucial. You’ll need software that can provide comprehensive reporting on these metrics. On the other hand, for an SEO client, monitoring keyword rankings and organic search traffic requires different software. Therefore, ensure that the chosen software and reporting templates aligns with the required metrics. It’s important to tailor the reporting process to each client’s needs and get the right tools to deliver accurate and relevant data.

8. Document Everything

Create a comprehensive documentation for transparency throughout your project. This includes:

  • Project guidelines: Establish clear brand style guides, house copywriting style guidelines, buyer personas, tone-of-voice documents, or design preferences. Consistent guidelines ensure accurate representation of the client’s brand identity and messaging, and provides a frameworkfor cohesive deliverables.
  • Project handoff: Document instructions for the execution team, providing access to relevant files and assets, and communicating key project details for a seamless transition.
  • Client cheatsheet: Develop a printable reference document for the client, containing essential information about your agency and the project strategies. 

By documenting these elements, you promote transparency, facilitate effective communication, and ensure everyone has easy access to the right information throughout the project lifecycle.

9. Ask for Feedback

After a few weeks running the project, survey your new clients about the onboarding process Keep it brief, since your client is probably ultra-busy. Focus on the following questions to measure customer satisfaction and with their onboarding experience:

  • How would you rate our service so far?
  • Is there anything you would change about the onboarding process?
  • Would you recommend our services?

By sending out a simple survey, you can receive valuable feedback on your practices and refine your onboarding plan to be more seamless. Embrace this feedback, as your current clients may provide insights to improve the onboarding process, which can help you convert new leads and retain more clients.

Tailoring the Client Onboarding Checklist for Different Agency Types

Above are the universal onboarding practices for all agencies. However, each agency type has its own unique requirements, and thus, needs some tailored components in the onboarding process. We’ll look at 4 common agency models and explore what should be customized in the client onboarding checklist for each: 

PR and Communications Agency:

  • Develop a media contact database: Collect and organize relevant media contacts for media outreach and press release distribution.
  • Conduct brand messaging workshops: Discuss with the client to refine and align their key brand messages to ensure consistency across all PR efforts.
  • Plan event management strategies: If you offer event management services, include steps for planning successful events, such as conferences, product launches, or press conferences.
  • Establish crisis management procedures: Have a plan in place on how to address potential PR crises and develop crisis communication plans.

Advertising Agency:

  • Audit their existing activity: Take a look at the client’s previous marketing campaigns and browse their social media profiles to understand their current performance and give them suggestions.
  • Create a dedicated creative brief: Specify the information needed for creating compelling ad campaigns, including target audience, messaging, and desired outcomes.
  • Integrate ad platform setup: Specify the process for setting up advertising accounts on various platforms, such as Google Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Meta Business Suites, or other ad networks.
  • Outline creative asset requirements: Provide guidelines for collecting or creating high-quality creative assets, such as images, videos, or ad copy variations.
  • Incorporate A/B testing processes: Instruct steps for conducting A/B tests to optimize ad performance and gather valuable insights on customer behaviors and preferences.

Design Agency:

  • Get a full branding package: Request brand style guides, logos, color palettes, and other visual assets to ensure design consistency.
  • Create an initial design concept: Discuss the design direction and any special requirements for the deliverables, including the preferred file formats for compatibility and ease of use for the client.
  • Discuss design feedback and revision processes: Agree on the feedback and revision loops to ensure client satisfaction, including how frequently to schedule design review sessions, how to present and receive feedback, and iterate on designs accordingly.
  • Integrate prototyping and wireframing tools: Include instructions on the neccessary tools to visualize and refine design concepts before final implementation.
  • Include your agency’s design portfolio: Attach some examples of your previous work to better showcase your expertise and persuade the client on your design ideas.

Web Development/Software Agency:

  • Specify development technologies: Identify the development stack, programming languages, and frameworks required for the project.
  • Determine testing and deployment procedures: Establish user acceptance testing (UAT) protocols, bug tracking processes, and deployment strategies to ensure a smooth launch.
  • Set up hosting and domain: If your client is starting from scratch, guide them through the process of domain registration, hosting account setup, and DNS configuration for website or software deployment.
  • Create version control procedures: Adopt a version control system, such as Git, and establish the process for code repository management and collaboration.
  • Plan for security measures: Implement security measures, such as SSL certificate installation, user authentication, and data encryption.

Final Thoughts

Winning a new client is an exciting achievement. To ensure all the hard work to acquire a client pays off, a streamlined onboarding process is crucial. This process shows your professionalism and delights customers with your exceptional service right from the start. 

The key is to create a comprehensive onboarding checklist tailored to your agency type, covering all necessary steps and considerations. This approach guarantees a seamless and personalized onboarding experience for your clients. By implementing a well-structured onboarding process, agencies can foster successful collaborations, surpass client expectations, and establish a foundation for long-term satisfaction and growth. Embrace these guidelines and witness the remarkable difference they can make in practice. 

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