Are you aware of the steps it takes for a client to hire you? What’s involved on their end, and on your end?
You might be spending a lot of time doing and explaining the same things, over and over again, for each prospective client.
I know I was. And I’ve been working with clients for a long time (something like 100,044 Internet years). So I decided to change things up a few months back, and automated more than half of my process to get clients from interested to signed on with me for web design work.
Call me an experimenter. I’m never satisfied with how anything works, and am always trying to change things up to see if something else works better. Since I started freelancing, though, I hadn’t done anything with how I onboard clients.
Here’s what it typically looked like:
That’s 12 steps, and quite a bit of work for each step. When I wrote it out, it became obvious that I could automate the first seven steps. This would save me a ton of time and also get potential clients the information they needed quickly, to see if I would be a good fit for their project.
Onboarding is term from human resources for new hires, later taken by growth hackers and application developers to refer to taking on and orienting a new customer. The process is often broken into three parts: accommodation, assimilation, and acceleration.
Accommodation is giving new people the tools to use what they just signed up for. So when you sign up for Instagram and see their first few screens teaching you how to use their app—that’s their onboarding process. Samuel Hulick documented it here in 71 slides.
Assimilation is helping the new person feel like they belong—like they’re that person’s, that company’s, that app’s rat people. Zappos does this by taking their new hires through a course on company values, so they get not just what the company does, but what the company feels is important. They’re also given the choice at the end of the course to take $2,000 in cash to quit the company. Apparently only 1% of people take them up on it.
Acceleration is making the new person quickly enter the existing community. I do this on my mailing list by sending a very specific welcome email about tattoos. I’ve spent a lot of time on the process and wording that happens when someone signs up for my list, my tattoo welcome message, and it pays off in spades with engagement and retention of subscribers.
All of these things above seem kind of scientific or even a bit disingenuous, but at their core, they’re about making someone new feel welcome, giving them the tools they need to catch up, and making sure they’re in the right place.
If it’s done right, automating an onboarding process can save a bunch of time, but also strengthen the connection and commitment from the user side.
Here’s how I planned my own onboarding process, to make it as automated and helpful as possible:
Everything else is the same as the previous process. I do the call, if there’s a fit, I write up a statement of work, get a downpayment, and get started.
What I’ve found in the first few months of doing things this way, is that my initial fear that maybe people would be put off by not actually hearing from me at first, wasn’t valid.
Every person I asked —“Did you enjoy the process? Were you okay that I didn’t personally get involved until the call?”— were all completely happy that it was so quick, answered their questions, and felt really smooth.
Out of six people who went through the new process lately, five booked projects with me. The sixth didn’t read the part about me being booked four months out and couldn’t wait that long.
For those six people who went through the process, I saved hours and hours by not having to answer questions I’ve answered hundreds of times before or doing the “when are you free” dance.
Accommodating people with automation lets them get to know my business on their own time. I assimilate them by answering all the common questions I’ve heard through my handy (and well designed, if I do say so myself) “Getting Started” PDF. I accelerate the process by using free tools that let them go from curious to a confirmed sales call within a few minutes (that doesn’t require manual work on my end).