How Can Freelancers Build Better Onboarding Processes?

When I first started freelance writing, getting started with new clients required a lot of time and energy.

I didn’t have a good process in place, so there was lots of back and forth emailing and calling between clients and I — just so that we were both on the same page before jumping into the project.

What really sucked was when the project ended up falling through. The client would decide not to pull the trigger on the project, or I’d ultimately discover the project wasn’t a good fit for me. The time I’d spent learning about the project and getting them up to speed on my end of things was all for nothing.

Eventually, I decided I needed to make a change. I needed a process that better screened projects and clients, that was easily replicable, and that sped up the onboarding experience quite a bit.

We talk about onboarding and solid processes in detail within the Creative Class, and there are even templates for process-related materials that you can use and deploy right away. But today, I’m going to walk you through my things so you can see how I finally figured out to build a better onboarding process for my freelance writing business.

My Onboarding Process

Step One: Intake Survey

An intake survey is fundamental to getting the onboarding process started quickly. In the space of four or five general questions, you can get answers that will help you determine whether or not a client is a good fit for you and your services, if their goals are realistic, and a basic understanding of the project scope. Think of it as your screening tool.

This survey lives on my website, but some freelancers like to use external tools like Typeform to gather the information. Your call.

For my intake survey, I ask the following questions:

  • What type of copywriting do you need assistance with?

Question one helps me understand what the client specifically wants help with — blog content, website copy, email marketing, etc. A lot of requests I get fall outside my realm of services, so this helps me determine if it’s up my alley (or if I can make a good referral.)

  • What are your goals for this copy (in order of importance?)

Question two tells me what their objectives are — product sales, brand awareness, industry authority, etc. If they don’t have clear objectives, that’s a red flag for me. It’s much harder to help a client who doesn’t know what they want. I’m a writer, not a strategist. :)

  • Who is your target audience for this copy?

Question three tells me about the client’s ideal customer (i.e. who I should be writing to when creating copy) and if it’s an audience I know and understand. I specialize in SaaS and eCommerce, so I’d have a much harder time writing for the healthcare audience, for example. Again, this also helps me take a proactive approach to referral-making.

  • What type of writing styles do you admire? Provide a few examples.

Question four tells me what type of voice they’re going for (formal, quirky, fun, etc.) Again, this is another fit question that helps me determine whether or not this project will allow me to play to my strengths as a writer.

  • What is your projected budget for this project?

Question five tells me what I can deliver based on the financial resources they have available. This is the big one for pre-screening projects. If the ballpark range is way lower than I charge, it’s not going to be worth a major time investment in learning more.

The big benefit here is that with these five answers, I eliminate the need to schedule an initial phone call where I’d typically gather all of this information and can weed out the clients who just want a quick, low-cost copywriting solution.

Step Two: Schedule a Call to Talk Details

For the clients who make it through my pre-screening process, the next step is to get acquainted for real. Usually this means a phone call.

Using a tool like Doodle, the new client and I find a time that works for both of our schedules so we can have a call in which we go over the project in greater detail. This tool eliminate the need to go back and forth over several emails trying to find a time that works for both of us.

Once we find a time that works, I make it very clear that our call should last no longer than 20 minutes to ensure we keep the conversation focused and don’t get wrapped up in tangents.

Shortly before our call, I pull open my template for a working document that has all of the questions I need to ask — as well as space for writing down my notes. This helps me make sure I remember to ask all of the questions I need and gives me a reference point to work from if the client accepts my quote. Typically, my working document looks like this:

  • Tell me about your organization and your product/service.
  • Tell me about your ideal customer and his or her major pain points.
  • Tell me about this new project in detail.
  • What would you like to see happen as a result of this project?
  • What don’t you like about the existing solution you have?
  • How quickly do you need this turned around?

After our call wraps up, I start on the next step — sharing my process details and preparing the project quote. My template email includes the following information:

Writing Process

  • I write within Google Docs to help speed up the editing process.
  • You’ll first get a rough outline to approve before I start writing.
  • When a first draft is ready, I will send the appropriate permissions to you and whichever team members you want to have access. Leave comments within the doc.
  • One round of edits is included for each post.
  • Edits will be completed within 1–2 business days once they are submitted.
  • Happy to pitch ideas based on loose goals/general topics.

My rates

500–750 words: $X/post

751–1000 words: $X/post

1001–1250 words: $X/post

1251–1500 words: $X/post

1501–2000 words: $X/post

2001–2500 words: $X/post

Payment Process

  • For new clients, I ask for a 50% deposit on the first blog post. Remaining balance is due upon final approval.
  • After that, payment will be invoiced once per month and can be paid directly via credit card, PayPal, or bank transfer from the invoice. I work on a Net 0 payment schedule.
  • For tax purposes, I bill as ________ LLC — happy to provide the EIN or W-9 for this if you need it.
  • More details on rates.

Fun things

Step Three: Quoting the Project

Based on the conversation the client and I had about the project, I’ll work up a quote and proposal outlining the different services requested and their corresponding costs. I use Wave to create my quotes (as it’s then easy for me to transform the quote into an invoice if needed.)

When preparing the quote, I make sure to break each different service into its own line item, as the client may ask to pick and choose different items instead of going with the full project all at once. Then, with every quote, I make sure to include an email that explains the value behind each of the services I can provide.

Why? Because it’s not enough to say, “Here’s what it’s going to cost. Want to go for it?”

I want to be sure the client has a strong grasp on the ROI I’ll be providing, so I take the time to spell out what I plan to do, why I plan to do it that way, and what similar results I’ve been able to deliver to past clients. This simple step goes a long way, and lets your potential partner know that the investment in your work is a wise one.

Once I started adding this step into the onboarding process, I saw follow through jump from about 50% to 80%. That same year, my income grew by 284%. Not bad, right?

Last, but not least, I make sure to put a time limit on my quote. I give the client five business days to accept or reject my pricing offer.

Step Four: Quote Delivery and Follow-up

Finally, I send the quote over and wait for the client’s response. If I haven’t heard anything in four business days, I follow up 1–2 times and see if there are any additional questions I can answer. Boomerang is a great tool for automating these follow-up reminders.

With no response after seven business days, I move on to the next project quote.

And that’s it!

The bottom line

Having a more streamlined process in place for onboarding means you can spend less time chasing new clients and more time working on their projects. For many freelancers, time is money — so don’t let a sloppy process eat away at your bottom line.

Not only will a new process save you headaches, but it will show your clients you have your business in order and that you know exactly what you’re doing. Plus, it helps you be a better referral-giver: Which is good karma and helps strengthen your freelance friendships.