Behind the Scenes of Our Design Onboarding Process

June 1, 2022

Whether you have one month or 10 years of experience running your own design business, you’re likely well acquainted with the initial high of attracting new clients, and the subsequent low of, “what happens next?” 

As designers, we have the tendency to place the majority of our focus on attracting new clients. The truth is that attracting new clients is just the tip of the design business iceberg. Because in reality? It’s what happens after the initial inquiry that matters.

Your booking and onboarding process is what makes the difference between you sealing the deal, or losing that prospective client. So today, we’re going to share a behind the scenes look at our very own onboarding process, while discussing how we’ve streamlined and automated things to better suit our needs! 

Our 10-step onboarding process for design clients

Now, a quick note before we dive in – remember that everyone’s business, and therefore their onboarding process, will be a bit different. What works for us may not necessarily be the best for you. So, take bits and pieces of what seems helpful to you, and use those to build out the perfect process for your brand, and your ideal client!

Step 01 – The potential client fills out our client application form.

Before any work gets done or initial conversations are had, we make sure all new inquiries fill out our client application form!

We’ve created this form through Dubsado*, and have embedded it on our website. Once the client fills out the application, Dubsado creates a new profile for them as a lead and notifies our team about the new inquiry. After filling out the form, the client receives an automatic confirmation email, which tells them that we’ve received their inquiry and will be in touch in the next few days.

This first step of the process gives us the ability to gain a ton of insight about the prospective client, their needs, and how we may or may not be able to address them. It’s also a huge time saver for both the client, and ourselves! They’re given the opportunity to share their goals before scheduling a meeting or call, and we have the chance to find out if we feel we may be a good fit. Which brings us to:

Step 02 – We review the application to see if the potential client will be a good fit.

Our creative director, Abbey, will review the client’s application to determine if they’ll be a good fit. Abbey will then send a message to our operations coordinator, Liz, to let her know if she’d like to meet with the potential client. From there, Liz will be able to respond to the client via email. 

Step 03 – Our operations coordinator sends an email to the potential client.

Our team has a set of canned email responses for different types of clients and inquiries. If we feel that the prospective client will be a good fit, we will send them a link to a welcome video with more information about our services, along with a link to schedule an intro call. 

One of the biggest benefits of starting the inquiry process with a client application is that it allows us to determine if the client won’t be a good fit for our brand, or the services we offer, without wasting any more of the client’s time (or our own). If we’ve determined that the inquiring brand won’t be a good fit, we kindly decline the project by including a brief explanation as to why. Then, we’ll refer them to some other studios who will better align with their needs.

We know that this portion of the process can feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable. Because of that, we’ve put together canned email responses for awkward client situations, which you can download here!

Step 04 – The potential client schedules an introductory call. 

At this stage, the potential client has the opportunity to schedule an intro call. Once they choose the time that works best for them, they’ll receive a few automated emails from our Dubsado scheduler to confirm the call, and remind them of the date, time and Zoom link for the meeting. 

On our end, our team will create a Google doc for the client, while using a template that already has questions we ask on intro calls written out. We’ll use this document to take notes during the call.

Step 05 – Our Creative Director has the introductory call with the potential client.

Abbey will meet with the potential client via a Zoom call, while spending time getting to know the client, and chatting through their goals, deliverables, timeline and budget. She’ll make sure to add her notes from the call to the team’s Google Doc.

Step 06 – Our Creative Director adds notes to a team folder for the prospective proposal.

Once the intro call has wrapped up, Abbey will add more notes into the team’s Google Doc on what needs to be included in the proposal. She’ll also include project goals, package options to present, and how those packages will be priced. Most importantly, those notes will include what kinds of deliverables will be included in each package.

Step 07 – Our Operations Coordinator sends a custom proposal to the client.

Using the Google Doc notes, our operations coordinator will set up a digital Dubsado proposal and send it to the client. Dubsado’s proposal feature allows us to present everything the client needs to know about working with us all on one page, while also giving them an option to select their package. Once they select their package, there’s an area for them to submit additional information we may need in order to finalize their booking! 

Not sure if your proposal template is covering all of your bases? Click here to grab our editable proposal template for designers.

Step 08 – Once the client selects their package, our Operations Coordinator sends the contract and payment link for their deposit. 

After the client selects their package, we’ll proceed with the final steps of the booking process: sending the contract and a link for the client to pay their deposit. All of which is done through Dubsado, of course! 

As a rule, we do not book or secure spots in our schedule without a signed contract or paid deposit – we’ve learned that this helps to cut down on situations where clients ghost, change their minds at the last minute, or wait until it’s too late to book.

Step 09 –We send the new client a welcome guide, and invite them to our Asana project board.  

The welcome guide walks the client through the “getting started” phase, while giving them an idea of what to expect while we work together. We’ve found that the welcome guide serves to answer those, “but what happens next?” moments, and allows the new client to feel taken care of, and like their initial needs are met.

Because so much of a successful onboarding process is dependent on setting the right expectations for your client, we invite them to join us on a shared Asana board so that they can see their full project timeline, access presentations and communicate with our team. Typically, the first task in Asana is to schedule our discovery call the week before our official start date!

Step 10 – Our Operations Coordinator sends the client a kick-off gift from Greetabl.

We always want our clients to feel excited as we are to start our project, so we’ll pick out a small, thoughtful gift and mail it to them. In the past, we’ve sent out fancy facemasks, candles, and gourmet hot sauce. It’s so easy to customize your gift to align with your client’s personality or things that they like! (Just to be safe, always ask your client first if they have any food allergies.)

Elevate your client onboarding experience with clear communication.

As you can see, we use Dubsado to streamline most of our client onboarding process. Dubsado has helped to simplify and clarify the booking process, while allowing our Operations Coordinator to easily manage all things onboarding. But if we’re honest, a great onboarding process requires clear communication. Here are a couple of tips to accomplish that! 

Send confirmation emails for EVERYTHING! They are super easy to set up through a CMS like Dubsado, and help give clients the peace of mind of knowing that everything they’ve sent us has been received. 

Make tutorial videos for anything that might be confusing. It always helps clients feel more comfortable if they need to use a new platform and it also gives them a preview of the way that you’ll be guiding them through the design process.

Curious about Dubsado?

Now that you’ve got all of the tools and tips to a successful client onboarding process in your back pocket, it’s time to put them to use! Try Dubsado* out for yourself by clicking the button below and get 20% off your first month of year! 

*Please note that this is an affiliate link. We receive an affiliate credit for all Dubsado sign ups made through this link. Thank you for your support! 

Want a BTS look at our entire design process?

If you’d like some help perfecting your own design process, we’re here to share a full and detailed behind the scenes of ours. Click here to learn more about our online course + community, The Designer Essentials Club.

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