We sat around the sad IKEA conference room table in uncomfortable wheely chairs while fluorescent lights flickered above us.

“How was everyone’s weekend?” my boss would chirp, bright and early on Monday morning, entirely too excited to be at work.

We’d all glare, hanging our heads down, desperately trying to get through the next 10 minutes.

Finally, we’d hear about so-so’s BBQ, or how someone’s kid did this-n’-that.

Clearly, I was riveted in between bouts of full body eye rolls.

“What’s everyone working on today?” my boss would ask.

We’d then each go around the table and talk about the 2-3 things we were going to work on that day, which, for some people were the same 2-3 things they’d say every day.

At the end, we’d all part ways, skulk back to our desks, trying to pretend the last 10 minutes didn’t happen.

And this, ladies and gentleman, are why I’ve hated, and I mean HATED, “meetings” at every single job I’ve ever had.

Well, wait, let me back up.

I hate small talk disguised as meetings.

I believe meetings need to have a point.

They need to be actionable.

They need to not be one person rattling off their list of “to-do’s”, that doesn’t affect anyone else, while we all pretend to care.

Or, in my case, obviously and visibly not-at-all care.

On a related note, who else doesn’t miss their day jobs? Anyone? Show of hands…?

The same goes for you as you onboard potential new design clients with an introductory meeting. That is the time to set the stage that you’re the pro you are, an expert, and a leader, so your first meeting isn’t about discussing kid-related pleasantries or BBQ tangents for an hour.

During that first meeting, you’ll be gauging if you’re a right fit to work together.

That includes asking meaty, relevant questions about your potential client’s business, their goals, and the scope of the project, and taking notes to show you’re hanging on their every word.

As a Designer for more than 13 years now, I’ve developed a list of questions that I use when I onboard any new website design client.

First, the questions on my contact form help to narrow things down just enough that some basic questions get answered, like:

  • Name/E-mail/URL: Because, duh… 
  • What services they’re interested in: I also have an introductory price listed next to each service in my drop-down menu so they’re aware of my pricing ahead of time in case they missed it on my services pages. Having this listed saves us both from any surprises and potential time being wasted on both of our parts if they can’t afford to work with me.
  • What business they’re in: This ensures there are no conflicts of interest between us, and that I know a little something about their field before we speak.
  • What their project is: This gives some initial indicators about the scope of the project they want me to work on, which usually gives me just enough information to determine if we’re a right fit or not to even have a consult call, where we’d really dive head-first into the nitty-gritty details.
  • What they’re deadline is: This helps me to see what kind of expectations they have ahead of time and if I’m available to take on their work at all.
  • Why they’d like to work with me, specifically: This question is here to help me gauge if they’re truly looking for a partner or a pixel-pushing “design monkey.” I only work with the former.
  • How they heard about me: This helps me to see what’s working in my marketing funnels, or who I can thank for the referral.
  • If they’d like to join my e-mail list: Even if we end up not working together, at least we can keep in touch and maybe connect later down the line.

If everything above meets my criteria of a client I’d like to work with, I send them an introductory e-mail inviting them to a totally free 60-minute Skype call, complete with a link to Calendly.

This makes sure we don’t have to engage in any back-and-forth e-mails regarding time, day, time zone, etc., of when we’re meeting, which streamlines our communication and provides an easy onboarding experience. Calendly also gets their Skype name for me so we have everything we need to begin our call without any delays.

Note: I use Skype for all my meetings because, for me, I really like being able to see someone’s face when I’m talking with them, especially a new client that I’d be potentially working with upwards of 3 months. My hands are free to type and take notes, we can share each other’s screens if we need to, and the program is also free to use. But the biggest benefit to using Skype (or any video-based communication tool like Zoom or Google Hangouts) is you can tell if the potential client is really focused on the conversation or not. You can tell pretty quickly if they’re super distracted, if they’re engaged, or if they actually understand what’s happening during the call. If you’re on the phone, you can’t see from their body language or face that they don’t have a clue about what you just said, or if they’re super distracted with a dog, a kid, or worse… if they’re driving. I find all of those things to be red flags for me.

Right before our meeting, I open my Onboarding Questions Checklist Google Doc, save it as the potential client’s name, and BAM. We’re ready to roll.

Here’s how I format our 60-minute Skype call meeting for potential website design clients:

  1. Greeting: “Hi! So great to meet you today, and thanks for your time!”
  2. Acknowledge of referral (if applicable): “That’s so awesome ____ referred you to me! How do you know them?”
  3. Explain how the meeting is going to go so they know how this’ll work and what to expect: “So, I’ve got a list of questions to help guide our call which will cover things like your business, goals, marketing strategy, and project scope because all that good foundational stuff comes before aesthetics to ensure we craft a memorable brand built for you, where you want to go, and how you’re defining success. After all, who cares how pretty your materials are if they don’t serve you, get you results, or get you the business you want to have, amiright?! Now, you’ll hear me typing during this call, and it’s because I’m taking notes, not goofing off on Facebook. So, without further adieu, here we go!”
  4. We have the meeting, and I take notes feverishly: If you’re not much of a note-taker, or if you get distracted easily, you may consider recording the call on your phone, or using Quicktime, since both are free to use.
  5. At the end of my questions, I explain what’s going to happen next: “Since all my questions are answered, I’ll go ahead and create a proposal for you based on what we’ve discussed. It will cover the scope of your project, deliverables included, timeframes, costs, what my process looks like, and FAQs like how many revisions are included, and when my business hours are. I’ll be getting that over to you by ____. Do you happen to have any questions for me?
  6. Last, I thank them for their time and for sharing all that they did with me: I express my enthusiasm for the project as if we’re already working together, and remind them of when I’ll be in touch with the proposal. Then, we hang up the call.

This format helps me to guide the conversation with my potential website design client, letting them know exactly what’s going to happen and why so they trust me right away and know that I know what I’m doing. It also ensures we don’t spend 60-minutes talking about colors and fonts they like when they haven’t even committed to working with me yet, and we don’t even know what the scope of the project is.

So, what are the Onboarding Questions Checklist I spoke of earlier? Well, here they are, MadLibs-style, and some notes about why I ask these in the first place:

  • You’re a ________ — tell me more about that, and the products/services you offer? Oftentimes, when I do some client research before the call, I find their websites are either non-existent or horribly out of date, which is why they’re contacting me in the first place. Because of that, they may or may not have a relevant list of products/services on their website, so it’s best to clarify.
  • What kinds of problems are you experiencing in your business right now? This question will answer 80% of the rest of the questions below, so as you let your client speak, fill in the blanks below accordingly.
  • How much of your product/service do you sell monthly/yearly? Are there times where you sell a lot or very little? It can be tough and kinda awkward to ask how much money people are making in their businesses, so this question asks that, without, ya know, asking that. It also lets you know if there are certain times for big marketing pushes or not.
  • What is your main product/service money-maker? What would you like the money-maker to be? This lets you know how to position and emphasize different products/services based on the clients’ needs and wants. 
  • How often do you create new products/services? Are there any plans to add future products/services in the coming months/years? This question gives you an idea if this client could be a retainer client, where you can work with them on an ongoing basis or not, and what that may look like.
  • What are the goals you have for your business in the next 2+ years? Where do you want to go? This helps you design a site that works based on where the client wants to be, versus where they are right now. This also lets you generate marketing and digital strategy ideas to help your prospect get to where they want to go.

If this is a website design client, here are my web-specific questions I ask:

  • What is the #1 goal of your site? List building? Selling the product? Booking a service? This question helps you to know how the prospect is defining success, and what the site should be built around, like people joining an e-mail list, or filling out a contact form.
  • What would be your navigation on your new website? How many pages should be designed? This helps you figure out the prospect’s sitemap, and make recommendations around what they need, how to streamline pages, and to get an idea of how big the project is going to be.
  • What kinds of functionally would your website need? This is the time to clarify all the things their site might need, like an e-commerce system, a membership platform, etc…
  • How do people find you online? Are they one-time clients or repeat clients? Do you rely on referrals, reviews? This question gives you an idea about the health of your prospect’s business and allows you to make marketing suggestions.
  • What is your marketing strategy with the new website? Blogging? Guest Blog posting? E-mail marketing? Facebook ads? Podcasting? Interviews? This helps you to gauge how dedicated they are to their business’s future success and gives you an opportunity to chime in with any ideas you have about marketing and digital strategy. It also provides an opportunity to educate your client that it takes much more than just a website to succeed online.
  • Do you have text written and images ready? Here, you can talk about the client’s content, copy writer recommendations, new photography, and/or photographer recommendations. This question allows you to educate your prospect on any pieces of content they’ll need to have ready ahead of time, and/or what you’ll be able to help them with.
  • Are there any other services you’re looking for? This lets you upsell any other services or products this client needs now that you fully understand the scope of their needs.

FREE Bonus!

Web Design Client Onboarding Skype QuestionsIf you’ve made it all the way to the bottom of this page, you can start using these onboarding questions in your business now by simply clicking this link and getting the exact Google Doc I use when I have meetings with potential clients. No e-mail address of opt-ing in required!

Next, I wanna hear from you.

Head on over to my Facebook page and tell me what questions you have about onboarding your design clients, or if you have any PTSD around useless meetings you’ve had at jobs you’d rather forget.

Natalie McGuire is a Web Designer + Digital Strategist for purpose-driven solopreneurs because she believes the world is a prettier place when people make money doing what they love. If you’re ready to look legit, go pro, and take your biz to the next level, let’s talk!

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