A Digital Designer's Guide to a Smooth Onboarding Process

Landing a new client is exciting but it can also be a very intimidating and challenging task to develop a smooth onboarding process. There’s the initial scoping of the project, sending the proposal, waiting for feedback and comments, getting the contract signed, invoicing, sending out upcoming calendar invitations (e.g. kickoff meeting), and all the setup that comes after that. Phew!

It sounds like there’s a lot to do, and there is! That’s why it’s important to have an onboarding process planned for web or mobile design clients. In this article, I’m going to break down the onboarding process at RogueUX.

Step 1: Create an Outline for your Plan

Taking the first step is always the most challenging part. To start, take a few minutes to outline your current onboarding process or brainstorm ideas of what your ideal onboarding process might look like.

Here is an outline of the onboarding process at RogueUX:
  • Determine client fit and project needs
  • Send proposal
  • Send contract, invoices, and upcoming calendar invitations
  • Collect deposit
  • Establish communication channels

Step 2: Determine Fit

Every project is different. Every client is different. You need to be able to break down a project's requirements in order to determine whether or not it’s going to fit within your teams’ wheelhouse of skills. You also need to figure out whether or not you can manage working with the client. If you’re noticing red flags at the start, trust your gut and move on to the next project. No client is better than having a bad one; It’s just not worth it.

“The way clients behave at the beginning of the project is the best they will ever behave,”

- Mike Monteiro, Co-founder of Mule Design

Step 3: Send Proposal

A proposal for a digital product should include an introduction of your company, team, relevant past projects, problem statement, and your proposed solution. Make sure your proposal is informative, engaging, and as short as possible. Chances are the people deciding on which vendor to move forward with won’t all be technical stakeholders. Make sure that anyone can read and clearly understand your proposal.

Proposal Deck - Intro Slide

you submit your proposal, don’t stress! Sometimes things get lost in the shuffle and a friendly reminder can help move things along. We usually wait 3 business days, from the date of submission, before following up with a client to see if they have any questions or concerns with our proposal. Some things are easier said than typed out. If an email is taking longer than an hour to type out, consider jumping on a call or Zoom instead.

Above all, be patient, objective, and don’t be afraid to communicate your excitement for the project! Once you’ve discussed the proposal with your client and addressed any concerns, you are now ready to move forward with the contract. Gulp!

Step 4: Send Contract, Invoices, and Upcoming Calendar Invitations

The next phase of your onboarding experience should include the following:

1. The Contract. You can expect some revisions here but shouldn’t be too many, if you’ve covered most points in the proposal. A web design contract is a legally binding agreement between two parties; the client and the contractor. It contains pricing, the scope of the work, a timeline of deliverables (like wireframes or CMS development), a budget, a payment schedule, intellectual property rights, and other legal terms. It’s important to have things written down so that both parties are aware of their responsibilities and what to do if something goes wrong. Luckly, there are lots of helpful resources that can assist you on your contract drafting journey!

Here are two of my favourites:

Contract Killer by Stuff & Nonsense. If you are working with smaller clients, like those who aren’t fortune 500 companies, then Contract Killer is a great place to start. It’s simple, easy to understand, and avoids lots of legal jargon without affecting the document's legal integrity.

Stuff & Nonsense Homepage

Docracy. If you are looking for something a bit more iron clad, then consider browsing through the endless stream of excellent legal resources and templates on Docracy.

Docracy Homepage

Both options are great places to start, but remember you want to write your own custom contract that meets your specific needs.

2. Invoice(s). Once you are ready to send the contract, you should also be ready to send all of the associated invoices at the same time. You don’t want to be chasing down clients for payments later down the line. Try and automate your invoicing process as much as possible. Waveapp is a great tool for keeping track of your books, it also includes a handy invoicing feature, and best part … It’s free!

3. Send Upcoming Calendar Invitations. When you send out the contract and invoices, make sure to also send out any upcoming calendar invites. We like to have most project activities (e.g. kickoff, design workshops, check-ins, review sessions, etc.) planned before we sign on any new client. Calendly can help you find a suitable time slot for all team members and will automatically send out a calendar invite once a slot is confirmed.

Step 5: Collect Deposit

I know you must be eager to start the project by now, but don’t let your excitement get the best of you! One of the most common mistakes that new contractors make is starting to produce work before receiving the initial payment. A project should only be initialized once the contract is signed and the deposit has been paid.

Step 6: Establish Communication Channels

The rise of remote working conditions has reinforced the importance of establishing strong communication channels. Most project development issues arise as a result of poor communication strategies. In order to ensure the success of your project, it is crucial to set up multiple communication channels between your team and your client’s team. Here are a few tools that we use at RogueUX to help keep our teams aligned:

Slack: Slack is an instant messaging system, with lots of plugins for other workplace tools, that can manage your team’s day-to-day communication. You can use Slack to invite external team members (e.g. client) to your workspace and host them in dedicated channels (e.g. #otter-website).

Mural: Mural is a digital workspace for visual collaboration; it’s where RogueUX hosts all their online design workshops. Creating an outstanding User Experience (UX) isn’t about a single designer’s efforts. UX design is a collaborative endeavour and your job as a designer is to manage all the different viewpoints between your users, client, and team members. Mural is a great tool to help you do just that.

Figma: Figma is a design, prototyping, and feedback collection tool. Because it is a cloud-based tool, Figma gives you the ability to share designs with anyone with just a link! Want to get feedback from your client on a certain user flow? Simple, just share your project link. You can share your project link with as many people as you want. At RogueUX, to collect feedback from the audience at large, we often duplicate the Figma project and share it with the product’s user base.

The tone you set at the beginning of a project is extremely important to developing a healthy client relationship. Onboarding a client takes patience, organization, and effective time management skills. To ensure the success of your project, you must be hyper focused on customer service, communication, and open collaboration. Think of your onboarding strategy as yet another design challenge. How Might We: Optimize a client’s onboarding experience.

EST

Ahmed Mahrakawy

Sr. Product Manager

I'm a collaborator, designer, moderator, problem solver, systems thinker, and patterns researcher.