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How to Onboard New Clients: A Powerful 3-Phase Process for Freelancers

You’re ready to land your dream clients. 

You already know that filling your calendar with discovery calls is one of the fastest ways to get more clients. But how do you get more people to book discovery calls with you?

If you want a fully-booked calendar, it’s all about wowing clients with your onboarding process! 

In freelancing, we usually don’t think about how to onboard new clients until we actually land the client. But the truth is, the onboarding process starts the moment a potential new client lands on your scheduling page.

In this post, I’ll walk you through exactly how to use my proven “Know, Like, Trust” 3-phase onboarding process, so you can start landing more discovery calls, more clients, and have referrals flooding into your business every month.

First, I want to tell you a story about me in my early freelancing days.

How to Successfully Onboard a New Client

When I started freelancing as a virtual assistant, I was doing everything on a budget. So I only used free software tools to run my business:

  • Calendly for scheduling calls
  • Wave for invoicing clients 
  • Google Docs for creating proposals

At first, every time a client would message me to book a call, there was a lot of back and forth happening. I would tell clients, “Okay, I have Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon available. What works for you?”

That was getting messy, so I signed up for a scheduler to book calls. The only problem? Since I was using the free plans, none of my tools were connected, which meant things were slipping through the cracks and prospects weren’t getting all the info they needed from me.

After I finally got clients on a discovery call, I had to manually create the proposal in Google Docs, export it as a PDF, and then email it to the client. When it was time to send the invoice, my expenses and reports were all over the place. 

This process not only took a really long time, but it also quickly became overwhelming. 

And this is how I started my business y’all. There was no efficient new onboarding process and there was no “wow” factor. Let me tell you, it made it that much harder to land clients in my business.

But when I streamlined my process, it changed everything. Suddenly, I had created that “wow” factor onboarding and the clients just started flooding into my business over the next few months.

If this all sounds too good to be true, I get it. 

However, it’s truly incredible what can happen when you start systematizing your business. But getting systems in place means releasing some control and letting technology and automation do the work for you. 

This might seem scary, but it lets you create a WOW experience for clients. And it’s never early to start setting up those systems, my friend. That’s why your onboarding process is one of the most important processes to have in place.

Now, let’s walk through my 3-phase onboarding process.

1. The “Know” Phase of Onboarding New Clients 

In this first step of your new client process, your clients are just getting to know you and it happens all before you even hop on a call.

To begin with, you’ll want to use a meeting scheduler tool (my favorites are Dubsado or Honeybook). And there are two ways I recommend a client lands on your scheduler—through your social media or your website.

If you don’t have a website yet, that’s totally okay! You can still streamline your client onboarding process. Just link straight to your scheduling page from your business social media account, like your Facebook page or LinkedIn. 

From there, it should be super easy for clients to pick a date and time. That doesn’t mean you leave your calendar wide open so they can pick any time, but you want to make it simple for clients to find options. 

Next, it’s super important to have an intake form connected to your booking page. If you’re using a client management system like Dubsado or Honeybook, you can quickly attach your intake form as step two in the booking phase.

You might be wondering why an intake form is so important. 

Here’s the thing—you want to know something about this person before they book a call with you. Ideally, you should have a good idea of whether or not this client is a good fit before your discovery call. 

Plus, an intake form also shows people that you mean business. 

Clients aren’t just booking with anyone, they’re booking with someone who takes freelancing seriously. This is not just a 15-minute coffee chat—this is a serious business owner who needs to know the details before they jump on a call with someone. 

Not to mention, attaching your intake form to your scheduler shows clients that you want to make working with you as convenient as possible. They’re not having to dig through emails or jump through hoops to answer questions. You’re here to make their life easier!

Lastly, you need reminder emails set up for discovery calls. You should have the confirmation email (they’ll get this as soon as they book), but also a reminder email for 24 hours before the call and a second reminder that’s sent one hour beforehand.  

And this entire thing should be automated. All of these emails need to be going out without you even thinking about them. Why? 

Just imagine waking up with new bookings on your calendar. How amazing would it feel to get up in the morning and read an email that says a dream client has booked a discovery call with you?!

That’s exactly what happens when we have systems in place that don’t require us to do anything on the back end. 

The “Know” phase is what happens before the discovery call. This is the first impression someone has of you. Because even if it’s not an impression of you as a person, it’s based on an interaction with your business and page. 

So, phase one is figuring out what it looks like to schedule an appointment with you. 

Let’s cover phase two of how to onboard clients!

2. The “Like” Phase of Client Onboarding

The next step in my process is the “Like” phase. This is the point in your onboarding journey where clients are going to decide if they like you or not. 

In this phase, you’re getting on a discovery call with clients and sending them your proposal. 

You might hear some freelancers refer to discovery calls as sales calls, but essentially, they’re the same thing. These calls can take place over the phone, Zoom, or even FaceTime—it’s up to you.

So, how do you successfully run a discovery call?

First of all, remember that you’re a business owner. This isn’t you getting interviewed by clients over a call. 

You’re running the show. So, keep your call 15-20 minutes long and just focus on showing clients how you’re going to make a bigger impact on their business. 

This means coming into the meeting prepared. On your discovery call, you want to have done all of your research beforehand because this shows clients you’re truly invested in their business. 

At the end of the day, your #1 goal is to help clients feel confident about hiring you (aka the “like” factor). 

Because this is the part where your offer comes in. If you don’t sell the client while you’re still on the call, you’re going to let them know you’ll send them a proposal afterward.

Keep in mind that it’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver than to overpromise and underdeliver.

That means if you promise a client you’ll get a proposal in the next hour, you better have that proposal submitted before the hour is up. 

Whether or not you follow through on your promise shows who you are as a person, and the integrity you share in your business. Because one thing I know is that life happens…

But if you tell someone they’ll be receiving a proposal in an hour and then two hours pass by, it shows clients what it’s like to work with you. 

So just a word of caution—be careful with your wording. If you think it’s going to take longer, try saying, “I’ll get you a proposal within the next 24 hours,” instead. And send it over as soon as possible!

Lastly, I want you to think about what your proposal looks like. 

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to have a fancy proposal. (My proposals were never fancy until I was making over six figures!)

But it does come down to what information is inside the proposal—and how quickly you get it to them. That first 24 hours after they talk to you on a discovery call is so crucial. 

This is really when clients are making their decision. 

In phase two, clients are deciding if they like you enough to work with you. And while it might sting when a client doesn’t hire us, try not to take it personally. 

It doesn’t mean the client didn’t actually like you as a person. 

It just means you two probably weren’t a good fit to work together right now.

So, here are some questions to keep in mind while you’re developing phase two of your client onboarding process:

  • What do your discovery calls look like? 
  • What do your proposals look like? Do you have templates for them?
  • How will you deliver proposals to clients? 
  • Are you actually delivering it when you say you’re going to deliver it? 

The “Like” phase, is the step of the onboarding process where clients are deciding whether or not they’re going to work with you. 

3. The “Trust” Phase: Automate Your Client Onboarding Process

The final phase of onboarding new clients is the “Trust” phase. 

This is when a client has decided they like you and they’re ready to work with you. Congrats!

Now it’s time to build their trust. The truth is those first 24 hours after someone hires you are the most crucial time in this whole onboarding process. 

As soon as your client tells you they’re ready to go, you want to send over the contract and invoice as soon as possible. (In Dubsado or Honeybook, you can attach these to your proposal and save yourself an extra step!)

Here’s the thing: once they sign the contract and pay the invoice, this is usually where panic sets in. They’re asking themselves, “Did I make the right decision? Was this hire a mistake?”

That’s why the first 24 hours are so important.

As a Facebook ads strategist, I made sure that as soon as the client paid their invoice and signed the contract, they got a client onboarding questionnaire. Now, clients didn’t always finish my questionnaire in the first 24 hours. 

Some did, and some didn’t. But the important thing is that I got it to them in the first 24 hours because that shows clients that their account is important to me. It’s not just something on the back burner. 

So after the questionnaire gets back to me, I’m sending a link for clients to book their strategy call at my earliest availability. The good news is you can get really creative and make phase three of this process all yours. 

For example, you could record a quick video for your client. I’m talking a 30-sec video just to calm their nerves and let them know that their account matters to you.

Here’s the point: there’s power in those first 24 hours. You might be thinking, “But Brandi, it’s the weekend,” and there’s a simple solution— automate your onboarding. 

Inside your client onboarding software, you can set up a workflow that has conditions set for when someone signs a contract and pays their invoice, they automatically get emailed a questionnaire.

Whichever software you choose can help you with the setup too. A lot of times, they’ll have pre-made workflows that you can customize to fit your business, but Dubsado and Honeybook also offer help docs and customer support that will walk you through the whole thing.

The “Trust” phase is the part where clients are deciding whether or not they made the right choice in hiring you.

Let’s Take Action

When you master the steps in this 3-phase client onboarding process, that’s when you become a client-winning machine. It all comes down to the “Know, Like, and Trust” factor of these three phases. 

So, I’ve given you a peek into how to onboard a client. Now I’d love for you to identify which phases you already have in place, which ones you need to add to your process, and what you can improve on.

The thing about systems is we can all improve somewhere. No matter how tight your systems are, there’s probably room to improve and add that personal touch to your onboarding.

All in all, these are simple, actionable steps that you can take today to make your business stand out from the rest. 

Because when you can make your freelancing business stand out from the rest of the freelancers out there, it becomes way easier to land dream clients. 

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