You’ve negotiated your contract, have it signed, and are ready to get started on your new project. A lot of the upfront hard work is over, but don’t jump in too quickly! Taking the time to onboard a new client is a key part of the initial process that can easily be overlooked. Think of onboarding as the opportunity to give your client a roadmap for the work that lies ahead.
Onboarding ensures everyone is on the same page when it comes to key project details and milestones, and provides an opportunity to outline a communication plan and answer any final questions. Follow the six steps to get your project started off on the right foot.
If possible, hold an onboarding meeting with a new client in-person. This can be a great opportunity to get to know one another better and establish a trusting relationship. If face-to-face isn’t an option, set up a virtual meeting well ahead of time and be sure to distribute an agenda and any project details you’ll be referencing to participants.
During the meeting, start by briefly reviewing project details, and answer or clarify any lingering questions. Ensure that your client, along with any relevant project stakeholders, are familiar with your work hours and how to get in touch with you. Vice versa, take some time to learn how they work best and their ideal contact method.
Once initial questions are out of the way, take time to review project goals, milestones, and processes. Walk through the roles of everyone involved with the project and talk about expectations for each person. Be sure to be transparent here; sugar-coating what you expect of a client on their end can lead to miscommunication down the road. If an expectation or responsibility you have in mind doesn’t seem to go over well with your client, take the time now to talk through it and figure out a solution so both parties are happy.
Onboarding meetings are a great opportunity to learn more about your client and how they operate—especially if you haven’t worked with them in the past. Take some time to talk generally about what success means to you. Ask your client the same question, and then engage in a conversation about what success means to both of you for this project and how you can work together to achieve it. Use this time to talk through project milestones and how they align with your plan for success.
If you haven’t established a communication plan yet, now is the time to do so. How do you plan to report progress to your client? What are their expectations? Write down a checklist of responsibilities or small deliverables that each of you will be responsible for at your next meeting.
If you need anything from your client in order to start such as access to internal systems or additional company information, let them know and create a plan so you can get to work. Lastly, take one more walk through the project timeline to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Give your client the opportunity to ask any remaining questions they have and be ready to listen. If you’re unable to answer a particular question right away, let your client know that you will follow up with a call or email as soon as you can.
Throughout your onboarding meeting, be sure to take detailed notes. If you are meeting in person, write notes down on a whiteboard, or project your computer screen. If you are meeting virtually, share a document in real time. It’s often helpful to visually see notes in the moment, because if your client happens to interpret something differently than you, you can get it straightened out right away. after the meeting, follow up with all participants by sending them a short summary of what was discussed, action items for your next meeting, and the meeting notes you took.
Use these six to help you build stronger consulting relationships with your clients.
Use a Scope of Work (SOW) to better manage client expectations for your next independent consulting project.