This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclaimer here.
If you’re looking to uplevel your business as an online service provider (and save a bunch of time while doing it), introducing a client onboarding system is one of the best ways to do this.
Not only is it super helpful for you to have some type of CRM (client relationship management) system set up in your business, it can also go a long way to project your professionalism to the client.
Over time, once you have a good client onboarding system in place, you can make it even better by automating the process! And when I say automating, I mean that you can make it run completely on autopilot from start to finish.
For the past couple months, I’ve been working to develop an automated client onboarding system for my own business, and I’ve finally figured out exactly how to do this in the best and easiest way possible! So now it’s time for me to share.
Even my clients often come out and say “Oh my gosh, I love your onboarding process!” Has a client ever said that to you before? If not, it’s time to wow them! And maybe, just like me, your clients will even start to ask you to set up a client onboarding system for them.
What’s a Client Onboarding System?
Before I go into the nitty gritty how-tos of setting up something like this for yourself, I first want to talk about what the heck it actually is.
Basically, onboarding your clients means taking them from Point A (not a client, possibly a stranger) to Point B (active client that you are doing work for).
There are quite a few steps in between those points, which is exactly why I’ve created this Client Onboarding Checklist for you, so that you can make sure you have all the pieces in place.
What’s a CRM and How Does it Fit In?
CRM stands for client relationship management, and it pretty much refers to any type of system you have set up that keeps your clients on track and helps you onboard them.
Examples of CRM systems include: Streak, 17Hats, Dubsado, and Satori.
17Hats and Dubsado are softwares that assist in the client onboarding process, and which are pretty popular in the online service provider niche, so you may have heard of them before.
My main goal for this blog post is to show you how to replace 17Hats or Dubsado completely for free.
Dubsado starts at $25 per month, which can add up to quite a bit of money over time (up to $240 per year), especially if you are just getting started out!
17Hats actually has a free plan, but it’s very misleading. If you have their free plan, they charge a 2.9% credit card processing fee (which is the industry standard) plus 3% on top of that. It may sound like nothing, but trust me — it adds up! If your goal is to do $5k each month, that’s an extra $150 17Hats is taking away from you every 30 days. (That adds up to $1,800 per year!)
If you move up to 17Hats’ Lite plan, it’s $25 per month plus 2% of each transaction (on top of the regular processing fee). Having $5k months? That’s an extra $125 you will be spending on your CRM each month ($1,500 per year).
17Hats’ Unlimited plan doesn’t take any extra percentage from your transactions, but it’s either $39 per month or $25 per month paid annually. Still an extra unnecessary cost of $300-$468 per year!
If you follow my directions for setting up an automated client onboarding system instead, you will save that money and be able to onboard clients completely for free! (Plus, it runs on autopilot, just like Dubsado or 17Hats.)
How to Automate Your Client Onboarding System for Free
Step #1: Creating Your Client Onboarding Workflow
The first step is to get all the actual pieces of your client onboarding system ready to go. Download my checklist to make sure that you have all of the necessary elements!
Once you have all of those pieces ready, it’s time to create a workflow! This will help you conceptualize exactly how your new clients are going to get from Point A to Point B (which we talked about earlier).
I like to use the online tool Draw.io to help me envision any new process that I’m about to create. It allows you to design workflows and funnels using circles/boxes, arrows, and text.
Here’s an example of a client onboarding workflow that I created using Draw.io:
Basically, you just want to outline for yourself all the steps that are part of your client onboarding process. Here’s what all of those steps look like written out:
- Client finds my “Work With Us” page.
- Client decides to book a discovery call.
- Client books an appointment using my scheduling software.
- Client gets a confirmation email.
- 15 minutes later, client gets a welcome email from me.
- Client gets an appointment reminder email.
- Discovery call.
- Client is sent a follow-up email with link to my welcome kit.
- Client is sent a contract and signs.
- Client is added as a “customer” in my bookkeeping software.
- Client is sent their first invoice and pays.
- Client is added as a new project in Asana.
- Client is added as a new project in Toggl.
- Client books a follow-up call.
- Follow-up call.
- Client is sent a follow-up email.
As you can see, there are quite a few steps involved! A software like 17Hats or Dubsado can automate almost all of this for you (which is why they are so popular!), but like I mentioned, you have to pay quite a bit of money for those features.
So, instead, I’m going to show you how to completely automated this entire process for free!
Step #2: Choosing Your Tools
The automation process that I’m going to outline for you in this post utilizes certain specific softwares. As a virtual assistant, I’ve tried out many many systems, tools, and programs. So trust me when I say that I’ve done the testing for you — and the ones I’m talking about today are the best.
But, if you are already using different tools than the ones I mention in this tutorial, there is a good chance that you can probably still automate your system if you follow my directions and simply sub in your tools instead of the ones I mention.
The tools that I will be using for this particular tutorial are:
Step #3: Automation Station
Now that you have all the pieces in place and you’ve chosen your tools, it’s time to integrate everything together using automation!
The tool that I use to automate everything in my client onboarding workflow is Zapier.
If you haven’t heard of Zapier before, it’s an online app that helps you connect different tools and programs together using developer API. It’s a little confusing to explain, but it’s SO COOL.
Basically, Zapier allows you to set up automations like: “If X app does Y action, then Z app should do A, B, and C.”
If you’ve heard of IFTTT, Zapier is very similar, but a little bit more robust.
Although personally I have a paid Zapier account so that I can use their premium apps, it’s not necessary for what we’re doing today.
Step #4: Hooking It All Up
Booking the Call
The first step is to hook up your Acuity scheduler with WordPress.
On my Work With Us page, instead of having someone fill out a form or email me, I have them book a discovery call right away. This limits the amount of correspondence I have to do before booking a new client and makes it much easier to automate the whole system. Plus, video is where I really shine, so I love talking to potential clients on Zoom.
You don’t have to do this, but if you don’t send them right to your scheduler, you’re adding an extra step into the process that can’t be automated, since it requires you to respond to each inquiry personally via email.
I also love that you can easily embed your Acuity scheduler into a page on your website (even on their free plan!) so that it looks even more professional. Here’s what mine looks like: www.mirandanahmias.com/appointment-scheduler
Confirmation & Email Response
Once that person books a call, Acuity automatically sends them a confirmation notice.
If you go into Acuity’s Email Settings, you can even edit the confirmation email to include certain information. This is where I let the client know that we’ll be meeting on Zoom, and I give them my URL.
After the client books a call, they also receive a personal email response from me. I used to individually reply to each person with a canned response, but now I have it set up to be even more automated than that!
To set up your automated reply, create a Zap that connects Acuity and Gmail together.
The Zap should start with Acuity and run every time someone books a call. Then add a Zapier “Filter” so that it knows to filter out only those people who have booked discovery calls (assuming you have multiple appointment types).
When my Zap runs under those circumstances, it then does three things:
- Creates a Gmail contact with the person’s name and email address.
- Creates a Gmail label for that person in my “Client Correspondence” folder.
- Sends them the automated response.
You can even set it up so that the email includes an attachment, which I make use of by including my “Virtual Assistant Needs Assessment.”
I also make use of Zapier’s “Delay” so that my canned response doesn’t send out at the same time as the Acuity confirmation, which makes the whole thing seem a bit more natural for the client.
Once it’s time for the call, a reminder email needs to get sent out to your new potential client. If you have the $10/month Acuity plan, those email reminders go out automatically.
But, like I said, this is a free tutorial! So here is a work-around.
In Zapier, set up a Zap that starts with Acuity. Choose the “Appointment Start” trigger, and then input the number of hours/days before the appointment you would like to send out your reminder.
Then, connect it with Gmail and create an automated response that just says something like:
“Hi [Client Name]! Just a friendly reminder that our appointment starts in [Amount of Time]. Remember, we’ll be meeting in my Zoom room. Here is the URL you’ll need to join when it’s time: [URL]. Can’t wait to chat with you!”
Follow-Up Email After the Discovery Call
While you can’t automate this part completely, that’s okay, because you probably won’t want to!
To make sure that a follow-up email gets sent to each new potential client after their discovery call, I have a Zap that runs between Acuity and Asana that creates a new task to send a follow-up email to anyone who books a call with me. This automatically gets scheduled for the day of the call.
Once it’s time for me to send the follow-up email, I hop into my Gmail account, and send them one of two canned responses.
(Don’t know what canned responses are? Here’s a tutorial!)
I have one canned response set up for if the client did not book on the call, which is just your typical follow-up email. And then I also have a canned response for if the client did book on the call, which is a welcome email that includes a link to my welcome kit.
My “welcome kit” is actually a dedicated page I have set up on my WordPress website, which includes a welcome video, list of next steps, and my “How I Work” information.
Those next steps in my welcome kit let the client know that they will receive their contract and invoice soon.
Sending the Contract
Immediately after I send out my welcome email to a new client, I hop over to HelloSign to send out my contract.
Unfortunately, HelloSign doesn’t directly integrate with Zapier (unless you have HelloSign’s super fancy $99/month plan), so there’s no great way to automate this part of the process. It’s the one piece in this tutorial that doesn’t run as smoothly as I’d like it to!
But, still, HelloSign is awesome and makes the process super easy.
On their free plan, you’re allowed to send out 3 contracts per month. If you do more business than that, you’ll want to upgrade to their $10/month plan, which also lets you upload a reusable template.
Having that reusable template, although not free, is what can make this process super easy and fast. I have a contract template PDF that I created for my business, which I then uploaded as a reusable template in HelloSign.
The PDF that I designed leaves a space for the sign date, the client’s name, and our signatures, but the rest is pre-written and ready to go.
If you have the free account, all you need to do is upload your PDF template (with the blank spaces) into HelloSign, then edit the PDF to add the date, client’s name, and create signature boxes. Then sign and send off to the client.
Although not “automated” per say, the process on their free account is pretty easy and can be done fairly quickly (less than 5 minutes).
With the paid account and a reusable template already uploaded, the process runs even more smoothly. All you have to do is tell HelloSign the name of the client, and it fills out the rest for you. Then just click to sign and viola! Done.
After you prepare and sign your contract, HelloSign will automatically send out an email to the client requesting their signature, and then you will get a notification when they have signed it.
Sending the Invoice
Next up, it’s time to send your brand-new client their very first invoice.
I have a Zap set up so that whenever someone books a discovery call with me, their information automatically gets sent over to Wave and it creates a new Customer file for them.
With the customer information already inputted (and assuming you already have a product created for the packages you sell), sending out that new invoice can be done in seconds. Simply input the customer’s name, add the correct package, and click Send!
Asana & Toggl
During the same Zap that is set up to create a new Customer in Wave, I also have it create a new Project in Asana and a new Project in Toggl. This makes it super easy to begin on tasks for new clients as soon as I get my first assignment!
Since I rarely have clients who don’t book with me, this multi-step automation works well for me. But just in case, I also have a recurring task set up in Asana at the end of each month for me to go back and remove the people who did not end up booking.
After a client is onboarded, I consider it an important part of the process to set up a follow-up call with them, to make sure that we are on the same page, and go through some of the nitty gritty as far as my tasks go.
In my client welcome kit, I make sure to instruct them to book this call, and include another link to my scheduling page.
When they book their call, they get the same type of automatic confirmation email from Acuity that we talked about earlier (and you’ll want to make sure you make sure they get a reminder email, too).
My follow-up email Zap runs again and gives me a new task in Asana so that I remember to send them an edited canned response after that call, which breaks down everything that we went over.
And that’s it! The step-by-step tutorial of how to create a completely automated client onboarding system for free!
If you have any questions about my process or need more help with setting up Zapier, don’t hesitate to reach out.