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The onboarding process takes place after you’ve vetted a prospect and before you begin working on a new project. In this post, we’ll cover the 6 steps to include in your process along with a client onboarding template you can use.

How would you feel if you were about to board a plane and there was no one at the gate to take your ticket and usher everyone onto the flight in an orderly fashion? Or no pilot or flight attendants to welcome you as you got on board? It would feel weird, right? It might even raise some questions about who’s running things and whether there’ll be anyone around to get you what you need or to address issues later.

The process of onboarding web design clients might seem like a waste of time, but it serves a similar purpose as onboarding people onto a flight. 

For starters, it gives you an opportunity to get things in order and to control the pace of a project before you officially kick it off. Secondly, it enables you to build trust and positive relationships with clients right from the start.

What Are the Benefits of Client Onboarding?

Client onboarding refers to the part of the design process that starts immediately after landing a new client up until you begin working on the project. It’s all the stuff you do to get everything in order so you can work efficiently and get your client the best results.

Here are some of the benefits of adding a client onboarding phase to your web design process:

  • Impress clients with your organization and preparedness. 
  • Set clear expectations for what’s to come and reduce your client’s stress and doubts in the process.
  • Tackle your projects with a proactive instead of a reactive approach and mindset.
  • Reduce scope creep by getting on the same page with your client first thing.
  • Streamline your process so you’re not having to work without required assets or stopping and starting as your client gets around to sending you what you need.
  • Make communication and feedback gathering easier later on.
  • Keep this job from going off the rails and disrupting everything else you have going on — at work as well as in your personal life.

The onboarding process sets the tone for how things will go throughout the remainder of the project. So taking the time to refine this process and ensure that it covers all the bases is crucial.

Client Onboarding for Web Designers

Let’s take a look at the key steps in the onboarding process. I’ll give you some to-dos that go along with each step as well as tools you can use to automate each process. Then, down below, you’ll find the full client onboarding checklist.

Jump to content in this section:

Step 1: Sign the Contract


  • Update and customize your contract template.
  • Send the contract.
  • Received the signed contract.
  • Sign and send a copy of the contract to your client.
  • Save a copy of the contract to your cloud.

Recommended tools:

What this step entails:

You’ve vetted a prospective client and decided that you’d like to take on the job. You’ve hashed out some basic details about the scope, cost, etc. Now it’s time to seal the deal with a contract. 

The contract should include information on things like:

  • Scope
  • Agreements and responsibilities
  • Costs and payment schedule
  • Proposed project timeline
  • Project abandonment and kill fee
  • Feedback and approval
  • Copyright/ownership
  • Legal disputes and jurisdiction

A contract will allow you to formally spell out the terms of your relationship. In the end, it will protect both you and your client from any broken agreements, project abandonment, or other types of disruption or damage to your respective businesses. 

Before you move onto the next step, make sure the client has reviewed and signed the contract. You should also sign it and send the completed agreement to your client so they have a record of it.

Step 2: Set up the Payment Schedule


  • Send the first invoice to your client.
  • Receive the payment for the first invoice.
  • Create and/or schedule subsequent invoices.

Recommended tools: 

If you can, use a contract management software that also has an invoicing feature (like the ones I recommended above). You can always use Wave or PayPal to manage your invoicing, too.

What this step entails:

Once your client has agreed to the terms of the job, it’s time to secure that first payment. How much you charge to build a website and on what schedule depends on what you’re contracted to do. 

For instance, let’s say you’re building a website for a small business. The cost of the entire project is $5,000. 

It doesn’t matter how nice the client seems. It’s too risky to wait until the project ends to claim that $5,000. 

What if the client ghosts you about a quarter of the way through? Can you afford to lose that time and money? 

Or what if they don’t abandon the project, but they put it on hold? Are you supposed to wait until later this year to get paid the money you had expected to earn this year?

This is why it’s important to set up a schedule of payments.

The first one is a good-faith payment the client makes at the start of the job — usually 10% to 25% of the project’s total cost. You can then divide the remaining costs up and have the client pay them as you reach specific milestones (like finishing the mockups, writing the copy, etc.).

Not only does this ensure that you get paid for your work, but it encourages clients to stay committed to the agreement. If their money is on the line, they won’t be as likely to flake on it.

Step 3: Set Up Your Project Hub


  • Create a new project folder in your task management system.
  • Save the prospect’s intake form and project brief in the folder.
  • Load the onboarding checklist template (if it’s not already saved in the system).
  • Create and customize all the to-dos for this specific project.
  • Send the welcome email to your client.
  • Invite the client to schedule a kickoff call.

Recommended tools: 

Some of the aforementioned contract management tools also come with client portal/project management tools. The more you can consolidate your business management with a single software, the better off you’ll be. 

That said, there’s some great project management tools out there that are free. Asana and Trello are my top picks.

It’s also a good idea to have an online meeting scheduler like Calendly or Doodle so clients can schedule kickoff calls on their own.

What this step entails:

Your project hub should help you accomplish a number of objectives.

For starters, it’s where you’ll store all the information you’ve gathered on your client and the project you’re working on. So the project folder should include copies of the following:

  • Proposal (if you created one)
  • Contract
  • Project brief
  • Prospect intake form
  • Client onboarding form (which we’ll cover in Step 5)
  • Login information
  • Digital assets

In addition, you’ll use this project hub to share info and files with your client. So when you have assets to review with them and, later, assets to officially hand off, this is the platform you’ll use to do it. 

All communication should take place here as well. That way, you won’t have to worry about checking every possible channel — like email, text, Slack, etc. — for messages from your client.

Lastly, you’ll lay out all the to-dos for your web design project here. This includes your to-dos, the to-dos of anyone collaborating with you internally or externally, as well as to-dos for your client.

This will help you keep things organized right from the get-go. It will also give everyone full transparency into what’s coming down the line. Your client doesn’t need to see each individual step, but they should at least be aware of what the timeline is and when they’re expected to participate.

Step 4: Have the Client Kickoff Call


  • Host a video call.
  • If you haven’t already, introduce yourself and the team to your client.
  • Ask your client to choose one (or two max) decision-maker/liaison.
  • Review the project brief and goals with the client.
  • Give a high-level overview of how your process works.
  • Set expectations regarding the timeline.
  • Discuss what to do if anything needs to change.
  • Walk the client through the project hub.
  • Set expectations for when and how the client can communicate with you.
  • Lay out the next steps.

Recommended tools: 

What this step entails:

The onboarding call is your chance to kick the project off on a high note. But you have to be the one to control the conversation and set the tone for what’s to come. If your client hijacks the meeting, you can expect a whole lot more of that to happen throughout the job.

Before you get on the call, create an agenda for it. Use this as an opportunity to set clear expectations about what’s to come. The to-dos above are a good place to start as they break down the key points to cover with your client. 

Also, make sure your client recognizes that they are part of this process. That they’ll be asked to provide you important information and feedback along the way and that your ability to stay on schedule and budget is contingent on that.

If you’re dealing with a larger organization and lots of people who want to speak their minds during this call, stress the importance of them choosing a single decision-maker. It’s not just to make things easier and less stressful for you, it’ll ensure that they present a united front. If they want great results from the digital product you build, you can’t be receiving mixed and contradictory feedback. So it’s in their best interests to do this as well.

One last thing: Make sure you record the kickoff call. That way, if the client later says they don’t remember discussing something (like the cost for stopping the job midway through), you’ll have a way to remind them of what you agreed to.

Step 5: Send the Onboarding Questionnaire


  • Create the onboarding questionnaire from your template and customize if needed.
  • Send it to your client’s main decision-maker.
  • Set a deadline and assign it to the decision-maker in your project management system.
  • Receive the completed questionnaire.
  • Review the questionnaire along with the delivered assets; confirm you got everything you needed.

Recommended tools: 

You can also create a questionnaire using something like Google Forms or Zoho Forms. Then share the link via your project management system.

What this step entails:

Your client should be primed and ready to receive the onboarding questionnaire after the kickoff call. That said, it’s still a good idea to include a brief note about the importance of the client fully completing the questionnaire and submitting all of the assets they’ve agreed to deliver to you.

For web design projects, this form will ask for things related to: 

  • The company/brand
  • The competition
  • Goals for the website
  • Aesthetic preferences
  • Brand voice and personality

You should also have uploadable areas where clients can submit assets like:

  • Company style guide
  • Logos
  • Brand imagery
  • Custom fonts or icons
  • Theme or plugin files
  • Web page copy

It all depends on what the terms of the project are. You may be producing the copy in-house, so you wouldn’t need to ask for that, for instance. 

One other thing your questionnaire should cover is login credentials. If the client has already set themselves up with web hosting, a CMS, or any other platforms or software you need to build the website (like a payment gateway), they should give you all of them upfront.

Make sure to review all the information to ensure it’s fully filled in and makes sense. Review any files you receive to confirm that they are in the right format and open without issue. Also, test any logins you receive. 

Step 6: Do an Internal Kickoff Meeting


  • Invite your team or collaborators to the project hub. 
  • Share the onboarding questionnaire and all client assets with them.
  • Schedule an internal kickoff meeting (or set aside time for a solo review).
  • Review the project brief and scope once more.
  • Assign dates and team members to their respective to-dos in the project hub.
  • Get started.

Recommended tools: 

If you can’t do the meeting in person, use the same ones as you used in the client kickoff step.

What this step entails:

Whether you work solo or with others, this step is a must. It’s one final review of everything you have to work with before officially starting the job. It’s also the step in which you’ll formalize the timeline by inputting deadlines into the project management system.

If you are working with others, this is your chance to set expectations for everyone contributing to the project (even if they were on the client kickoff call). 

By getting everyone on the same page about what you’re working on and even what to expect from this particular client, things will go more smoothly. You’ll also be able to more effectively hold everyone to account if you’ve taken the time to discuss the job at the start.

A Client Onboarding Template for Web Designers

There you have it. Six steps that will allow you to make a solid first impression with clients, set the tone for the project, and to get things organized before you begin. 

Feel free to take the following onboarding template and make it your own. You may find that some of the steps don’t fit with your particular workflow or clientele. Or that more is needed. So, edit it as needed.

Step 1: The Contract

Create contract


Send contract


Received signed contract


Sign and send copy of contract to client


Save copy of contract to your cloud

Step 2: Get Paid

Send first invoice


Receive payment for first invoice


Create and/or schedule subsequent invoices

Step 3: Get Organized

Create new project in task management system


Save prospect intake form and project brief


Load the onboarding checklist template


Create to-dos


Send welcome email to client


Invite client to schedule kickoff call

Step 4: Client Kickoff Meeting

Host a video call


Introduce yourself and the team


Ask client to choose a decision-maker


Review project brief and goals with client


Explain how your process works


Set expectations regarding timeline


Discuss what to do if anything needs to change


Walk the client through the project hub


Set expectations for when and how client can communicate with you


Lay out next steps

Step 5: Collect Necessary Info

Customize your questionnaire template if needed


Send questionnaire to client decision-maker


Set deadline and assign to decision-maker in project management system


Receive completed questionnaire


Review questionnaire and delivered assets; confirm you got everything you needed

Step 6: Internal Kickoff Meeting

Invite your team or collaborators to the project hub


Share the onboarding questionnaire and all received assets with them


Schedule kickoff call with team (or set aside time for solo review)


Review project brief and scope once more


Assign dates and team members to to-dos in project hub


Get started

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