When it comes to running a business, processes have—without a doubt—been my biggest Achilles’ heel. I’m pretty sure the free spirit designer deep in my soul cringes at the thought of being too organized or having my workflow too streamlined. Not having a clear, defined process made each client interaction totally unique and tailored to the client, which part of me always loved. On the other hand, doing the same general workflow in a different way multiple times a month got to be a mega time waster.

I’ve learned a lot about what works for me and my business over the last handful of years, trying to create a process that leaves my clients feeling confident that I’m a legit business owner who has her stuff together, while maintaining that personal touch I know helps draw my clients to me in the first place.

Today, I’m going to walk you through exactly how I get the ball rolling with new clients, and the tools that have become an integral part of my process.

My Client Intake Process and Favorite Tools

Step 1: The prospective client fills out my contact form or sends a direct email

(Yep, I’m one of those people who doesn’t really do phone calls anymore!) The first way a prospective client will get in touch is either by the contact form on my website or directly through email. Either way is totally fine by me! I use Gravity Forms for WordPress on my site (and MANY client sites throughout the years) and it’s by far my contact form tool of choice.

Step 2: I send a personal email to the prospect requesting that they complete a design questionnaire

I want to gather the finer details of their project so I can go into our conversation prepared and not wasting a moment of either of our time. I started using Typeform about a year ago for these intake questionnaires and I’m OBSESSED with this tool. It makes my lengthier form super simple and easily steps my prospective client through the process. It’s been a serious game changer.

I will note that it’s a little on the pricier side, so you could also consider starting simple with either a free Google form, or you could also create your questionnaire using Gravity Forms on your website (or a similar WordPress contact form plugin).

Step 3: Once the questionnaire is complete, we schedule a time to video chat

My dream team for making this happen is Calendly for scheduling meeting times and Zoom for the video call (I also no longer do in-person meetings). I’m currently able to get away with free versions of both of these tools but will be more than glad to fork over the cash whenever I need to upgrade. I love that Calendly integrates directly with my Outlook calendar and it’s so darn easy for clients to figure out a time that works best for them (so no more back and forth of “do these dates work for you?” emails). And Zoom is by far the most reliable video conferencing software I’ve come across, after trying tons of other options (Hangouts, Skype, you name it).

Step 4: After our chat, I create a project proposal

I’ve tried Dubsado, I’ve tried Proposify, but in the end I’ve found that creating my proposals in Pages works totally fine for me, so I’ve decided not to overcomplicate or use a tool with a bunch of bells and whistles I don’t currently need. Why Pages? It’s quicker than InDesign and it’s way more user friendly than Microsoft Word (in my opinion!). But trust me: any word processor will totally do!

Step 5: Once the proposal is accepted, I create and send a project agreement and request a deposit

I send my agreements with Adobe Sign so there’s none of that obnoxious printing, signing, and scanning going on—it’s all handled SUPER easily right from a browser window. And I request deposits using my invoicing software, Freshbooks. I’ve been obsessed with Freshbooks since the very beginning; it’s the one tool that I’ve been using for as long as I’ve been in business (so if you’re in the market for accounting/invoicing software, definitely check it out!).

Step 6: I round out the intake with a welcome email containing next steps and choosing a kickoff date for our project

I finish up the intake by sending an email welcoming my brand new official client and outlining the next steps for our project. This includes things like sending assets I’ll need to begin working on their project (which I collect via a OneDrive folder for the client) and choosing the kickoff date for our project (which needs to be a date after all of their assets are made available).

While it’s not perfect and I’m still finessing this process all the time, I’ve found that having a streamlined checklist for onboarding a new client has been a huge time saver and I’m pretty sure it’s helped my clients to have an extra boost in confidence that, hey, I really do know what I’m doing!