When you’re still trying to figure out how to run your business or even just how to run it better, one of the scariest things can be getting design inquiries, right? It’s one thing to get people interested in working with you, but it’s something else to actually figure out how to take them from interested to booked without seeming like you’re totally disorganized.
Aside from that, it can be confusing to figure out exactly what to do to figure out what kind of project your client needs. You have your inquiry from, but sometimes we find ourselves going back and forth for weeks just to get a clear answer on the project needs so you can come up with a quote that you cross your fingers as you send off hoping that the client will agree to that investment.
Instead of starting off a new design project all disorganized, stressed, and frustrated, today I’m giving you 4 must-have steps to include in your system for onboarding new design clients to make things smoother for both you and your client, which will help you book more projects in the coming months!
1. Discovery call
I know that a lot of people aren’t that comfortable getting on the phone or Skype with their clients, but I believe in the power of the discovery call because it’s much easier for both you and your client to discuss the project and what’s needed. It’s been my experience that trying to communicate about the exact details of a project via email can lead to a lot more back and forth than necessary. I have had several potential projects require multiple quotes because the client was forgetting different aspects that they wanted, and this is just as frustrating to them as it is to us. This is why you should include a discovery call in your client process.
When you’re onboarding design clients, this step will likely be one of the first points of contact that a potential client has with you, either the very first time you’re hearing about the project or the second time so you can get more information about it. I know some people don’t mind if this is their very first point of contact, but I like it to be the second so that if the project isn’t going to be a good fit for me, I don’t feel like I’ve wasted time on the phone for a project that I didn’t want to take.
2. A formal proposal
Once you’ve had your discovery call with your potential client, then you’ll create a proposal for the project. I have to admit that it wasn’t until last year that I started creating more formal proposals instead of just sending an email with a quote, but it’s definitely helped me book more clients in the long run. Sending an email with a quote seems less personal, and it’s not going to do you a lot of favors in terms of really selling your process to potential clients who may be nervous about the investment of working with you. This is why it’s so beneficial to send a more formal proposal to your potential clients.
The key to creating an awesome proposal is to remind your clients what their problem is and offer a solution to it. Don’t just throw up some sort of number and hope they like it enough to book the project. For example, if your client has told you that they want a website design because their current one isn’t doing their brand justice, then you need to let them know that your solution is to create a brand new website that will encourage their audience to stay longer and start booking their services. Then you let them know the details of your design package that will create that solution for them.
3. Contract + Invoice
The next step when you’re onboarding design clients may seem totally obvious, but I wanted to include it since I know a lot of designers do things differently. After you’ve sent the proposal and your potential client agrees to move forward with the project, now is the time to send over the contract and invoice. I like to send over my contract first so the potential client can take a look at my terms and get a clear understanding of what they’re getting in terms of support, revisions, etc first to clear up any confusion before that first payment is made.
This may seem obvious as well, but you want to send over a contract and invoice and get them signed and paid for before moving forward with any work for your client. Having a contract is sort of scary the first couple of times you use it, but it’s there to protect both you and your client in the case that something goes wrong. I’ve seen and heard about too many instances where the client’s expectations are totally off or they’re making the project really difficult but there’s nothing the designer can do because they either a) didn’t have a contract or b) didn’t have the right terms in their contract, and that’s not a position that you want to be in.
4. Project management system
Last but not least, after the contract has been signed by both of you and the invoice has been paid it’s time to get your client into your project management system. For the first couple of years of my business I ran things straight out of my inbox, and I can tell you that things were so much more chaotic during that time. It’s all too easy to lose content, feedback, passwords, and anything else you may be getting from your client when you have a variety of threads and dozens of emails back and forth. This is why it’s so important to work with your clients on a project management system.
Having the project management system will help you create a streamlined workflow that let’s both you and the client know what stage the project is at. If you’ve ever accidentally forgotten a step in your own workflow or had a client email you wondering what’s going on, then it’s definitely time to start using a project management system. This offers an easy place for clients to see what you’re working on in the project or what you need from them as well as helps you avoid forgetting a vital step during a busy week. I have tried several different systems with my clients, and Asana seems to be the prettiest, cheapest, and all around best tool to use!
Bonus tip: Automate as much as you can
This may seem like a lot of steps to take with clients before you even get to working on the project with them, so to make it easier on yourself, I recommend automating as much of this process as you can. I love using Dubsado (affiliate link) to automate every single step possible so I can spend as much of my time doing design work instead of a lot of admin tasks.
If you’re not ready for a whole client management system yet, you can still automate your process for onboarding design clients. For example, instead of creating your contracts and invoices in InDesign or Illustrator, create them digitally in things like HelloSign and Harvest so all you have to do is input the information and send them on their way.
How do you onboard new design clients?
Do you have any steps in your system that are different? Will you be adding one of these to your process? Let me know in the comments below!
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