Want a simple client intake process? Check this out.

Lots of clients say my onboarding process is easy-peasy and super straightforward. They want to do the same thing for their businesses instead of 55 emails containing estimates, contracts, and questionnaires—and a big giant dose of back-and-forth. So today, I’m pulling back the curtain! Want a client intake process like mine? Here’s how:

You’ll notice my intake process relies on FreshBooks. I’m sure you could do this through another online estimating and invoicing program—but I’ve been using FreshBooks since 2008 and freaking love them.

Step 1: Create estimate

The first thing I do when I get off the phone with a prospective client is send an estimate via FreshBooks. Since I have my packages pretty well established, I have frequently-used items saved as templates. I open FreshBooks, tailor the estimate a bit, and then…Not so fast! Here’s where the streamlining comes in…

Step 2: Set up a customized email

In FreshBooks, I have this custom email that I refer to as my getting started checklist. It’s basically 4 steps—and it lays out everything a client needs to do to get started. It’s all right here, with a link to their estimate. And it’s totally branded (because FreshBooks lets you do that too). The email message says:

Hey (first name) - great chatting with you today!

Here's how we can get started together:

1. Review + accept this estimate (and I’ll send you an invoice for the first installment of the project fee):
(estimate link)

2. Pay the first installment.

3. Sign and return these Basic Terms + Conditions showing you how we'll work together:

In the meantime (first name), here's my questionnaire which will get you much clearer and help us maximize our time together during our Kick-Off/Strategy session:

Let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to working together!

Step 3: Include link to contract in the email

Every client gets same contract. Mine is set up through Adobe EchoSign (which is free because I’m a Creative Cloud subscriber). It enables clients to sign online. I simply uploaded a PDF of my contract and told EchoSign where the signatures go. Then, I was able to generate a widget to add to my Terms & Conditions page on my website.

Update August 2016: I moved away from EchoSign/Adobe Document Cloud as they would no longer allow me to edit the signing widget on my site without upgrading to a paid plan at $50/month. No thank you, Adobe. I already pay you $50/month for my Creative Cloud subscription. Now I’m using HelloSign which is only $13/month and is quite snazzy. It doesn’t have the ability to add a signing widget to my Terms & Conditions page, so I just added a link to the contract instead.

That’s it!

This whole client intake process is a breeze to set up. It saves you time—and it’s clear and direct for clients. I do my part, they do theirs. Then, we can schedule our kickoff call and start the fun part.

Does your client onboarding process need a reboot? My Client Onboarding Toolkit is a simple, 4-step digital course that walks you through my time-tested process for onboarding clients. Jam-packed with advice, tools, and templates designed for creative professionals, it’ll save you time, stress and frustration while making you look like the creative rockstar you are. You’ll convert prospects into paying clients with more clarity, sanity, and confidence than ever before. Learn more »

About Jill Anderson

Hi, I’m Jill, a WordPress WordPress designer/developer who partners with talented designers, copywriters, and agencies on their websites, and their client’s sites. I’m passionate about crafting beautiful and innovative WordPress websites focused on clear positioning and positive user experiences. Get my free report, Get Your Website Done: 12 Actionable Steps for Designers, and check out my Client Onboarding Toolkit, a simple 4-step digital course for converting prospects into a paying clients.


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11 thoughts on “Want a simple client intake process? Check this out.

  1. Jill,

    This is great, thanks for sharing! A couple questions for you (feel free to just email back if you prefer).

    1. Once the client accepts the estimate in Freshbooks do you convert it into an invoice for the deposit? Then do you have a separate invoice for the other installments, or just update the one invoice as you go? I haven’t used the estimates feature – I just create one invoice for the deposit then update the invoice and resend at the end of the project. Curious about your thoughts on the estimate functionality.

    2. Do you ever send out a proposal with the details/scope of the project, or is that just defined in the estimate/invoice? I typically send out one proposal document (PDF) with the scope, cost, terms for them to sign manually, and then send a Freshbooks invoice separately. Wondering if I could simplify my process like you, but for me it seems crucial to detail out the project scope in my proposal.

    Thanks for your thoughts, and congrats on your pregnancy!

    1. Hey Megan – thanks so much!

      Yes, once the client accepts the estimate, I convert it into an invoice. I then add installments as line items on the invoice in negative amounts so the invoice totals the amount of the deposit.

      For example, if the total project fee is $3,000 and I’m splitting it into thirds, it would look like this:

      Project = $3,000
      2nd installment = –$1,000
      3rd installment = –$1,000
      Total due = $1,000

      As we complete milestones, then I simply remove the installments and send out the invoice. Sounds very similar to how you are doing yours.

      As far as proposals go, I haven’t created one in years. Since I offer packages, which are pretty well defined and most projects fit within those parameters, I just use the estimate. It lists all the details of the package and I modify as needed.

  2. Yes, that’s exactly how I do invoices!

    Ok, the packages sound like they make it easier. I guess I get a bit more specific in my proposals though. Maybe there is another way around it…

    Thanks for all the tips! It’s really helpful to see someone else’s process.

  3. I see that Adobe sign is now a paid service about 120 bucks a year. Do you still use it? Is it worth that price?

    1. I believe it’s part of the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. So, it doesn’t cost any extra. But I would pay for it because it makes signing contracts so easy :)

  4. Hi, Jill. I just came across this post, which I had saved for quite some time! :)

    This past summer, I spent several weeks diving into Pancake, Dubsado, Zoho, Perfex, Trello, Asana, Harvest, FreshBooks and a few other tools. I narrowed it down to Pancake and Dubsado (links below). Here’s why…

    I was looking to replace my custom-built FileMaker Pro system with relational databases that kept track of client details, job specs, time, invoicing/payments, estimates, etc. (I’ve exhausted my FM knowledge since creating them almost 20 years ago, so I had a good idea of what I had to have.)

    • Manage clients

    • Manage projects, including creating project templates (GAME CHANGER, eliminates the need for Asana, if you use that). If you have a list of tasks for a website job, you can create a job based on that template, then they appear in a list (and you can make tasks be subitems too), you can track time for them and assign them to someone else, if needed. You never have to type them in again! I created a template project for each type of project: website, book design and layout, logo design, etc.

    • Time tracking, including showing total time for grouped tasks and for other users to log in and track their time

    • Invoicing, including recurring invoices/automatic payments, reminders, flat or hourly rate, notification when invoice was viewed and paid

    • Reports

    • Expense tracking: This is manual right now, meaning Pancake doesn’t currently integrate with other tools and automatically pull in expenses, but I know Zapier integration is coming soon to make this possible

    • Full customization of front and back end, so it matches your existing brand (no other tool I’ve found does this, and this was big for me, since I could do this with my FileMaker system)

    Not only can you customize the look of the dashboard but also all client-facing materials (invoices, their client portal, etc.) to match you branding.

    • Support tickets can be submitted by the client and automatically assigned to a team member

    • Proposals: you get notification when one is viewed. I haven’t used this yet, as I’m using Better Proposals at the moment https://betterproposals.io?rf=2417873 (affiliate link)

    • Estimates: you can convert them to a project, which is so awesome. It takes in all the client info and work items and then converts the work items to their own tasks.

    • Integrations: PayPal, Stripe, Authorize.net (Zapier coming soon)

    • Canned e-mails for a plethora of situations, such as a past due payment reminder, when a support ticket is submitted, an invoice sent out, etc.

    • Multiple users: You can assign people to certain tasks or to support tickets.

    • Client portal: allows for private comments between you and team members or public ones that the client can see. Either party can also upload files or insert links. I actually customized my client portal template to include helpful resources. The client logs in, sees any account balance, projects, support tickets and the resources. If you want, you can have them view a timesheet for project tasks or support work.

    • Custom fields (another biggie for me since i could do this in FileMaker): you can add extra info about a client, say, how they found out about you, their FTP login, their WordPress login, their brand colors, etc.

    • You can view time, estimates, proposals, invoices in one area or with each job. This was non-negotiable for me. I looked at other tools, and most had all estimates in one place, all timesheets in one place, and so forth. I think it’s crucial to go to a particular project and see everything for that job in one spot.

    • You can BCC yourself on all e-mails sent out through Pancake, and Pancake keeps track of any e-mail you send through it such as an invoice, estimate, etc.

    • The developers told me e-signature capability is coming soon.

    • Cost: You can’t beat $149 flat out, one time!

    • Support: They offer free support, but you can opt for priority support if you want. They reply quickly though. (On the order page, just be sure to change the number to 0 for priority support unless you intend to get that.)

    • It doesn’t auto-number a job when you create it (like I had created my system to do), but it’s not a big deal to enter numbers manually.

    • It doesn’t automatically change the status of a lead to a client upon payment or contract signing, like Dubsado does.

    • You must manually enter expenses. Perhaps Zapier integration, once available, will negate that.

    • It doesn’t automatically add late fees but you can add them. I believe the devs told me this was coming soon as well.

    • Payment reminders at the moment are not automatically sent when the invoice becomes past due but they are working on that. In the meantime, it’s easy: you just go and click on it and send the reminder you want to send to them (you can have multiple types, say, for 1 day past due vs 30 or 60).

    They have an online demo, but keep in mind that it’s the same public demo for everyone, so others can see info you add.

    If you want to check out Pancake: https://www.pancakeapp.com/ref/utGaz9
    (That’s an affiliate link, BTW.)


    Now, Dubsado has a lot of bells and whistles such as:

    • Automatically converting leads to clients when they pay or sign a contract, so it’s more of a CRM than Pancake currently is

    • Zapier integration

    • Timesheet (but I don’t like how it works or how it’s not with the project)

    • It allows for you to send canned (automated) emails in a variety of situations such as sending an invoice upon acceptance of a contract.

    If you want to check out Dubsado: https://dubsado.com?c=gratzer (affiliate link)

    I hope someone finds this helpful.

    1. Thanks Colleen for the detailed review! I just upgraded to the New FreshBooks and have had to alter my process just a bit. Now I’m using a combination of FreshBooks (for invoicing, estimating, expenses, and reporting) and Toggl (for time tracking). I’ll be writing up a post about this in the near future :)

      1. You’re welcome, Jill. If you ever try out Pancake or want to see how much I’ve customized it, etc., I’d be happy to show you in a Skype call. Just shoot me over an e-mail. Looking forward to your post.

  5. Your blog is a gold mine, I’m so glad I clicked on the Millo article and found you!

    Thank you x1000000

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