Before we talk about onboarding automation, let’s chat about some of the stages that business owners go through with our businesses.
From the initial “where am I going to get clients?” phase, where all your efforts are focused on trying to find your first few customers and projects, to the “I’m an imposter!” phase, where we start to doubt our ability to deliver results to our clients, running a business can be a rollercoaster ride of emotions.
One phase I see a lot is the “why don’t I have any time to work on my business?” phase, where all your time is spent answering emails and phone calls from clients and you never have the opportunity to move the needle forward on your business.
This can be particularly frustrating since it feels a bit like quicksand, where the more you move, the deeper you dig your hole.
So, in this post I’m going to share four steps to take yourself from overwhelmed to uber efficient, and you’ll learn how to use the power of client on-boarding automation to save time, improve results and increase revenue.
What is onboarding?
First let’s define “onboarding”, since it is different things to different people.
In the broadest sense it is the process of bringing someone (client, customer, employee) “on board” to a system, process, product or service. But at it’s core, onboarding is basically about education. You’re teaching someone how something works so they can get the best results from it.
A lot of people define this as an initial part of a relationship; the first steps that someone takes when they sign up, but once they are indoctrinated then they no longer require onboarding.
However, we at Akamai Websites like to think of onboarding as the entire life cycle of education, not just the first few steps.
Because education is often a constant process that someone goes through with your business. It might slow down or take a different shape, but it is still there and you’re still helping someone understand what you do and how you do it.
I suppose another term you could use is “continuing education”, but that has a slightly different meaning in business. Since we often using onboarding in terms of working with clients, we’ve also been known to use the term “client education”, but that comes off as being somewhat “academic”.
So, we use the term “client onboarding” because it has the connotation of being about discovery; about sharing processes and information to provide value to the client.
How do you create onboarding automation?
Now that we’ve defined onboarding as the client’s on-going education, how exactly is that automated?
You’ve probably already done some steps to automate your onboarding. You have a few canned email responses for when a client signs up. You might even have a video you send them, or some documentation. Or perhaps there are other tools and technologies you are using.
These are good first steps but often they are Frankenstein-ed together out of necessity, and not part of a cohesive system to educate new clients. It’s sort of like having half the ingredients for a good lasagna and then only cooking the dish halfway. Or like a puzzle where you’ve only worked out the corners but the rest of the pieces are missing.
If you want to create true onboarding automation, it requires a systematic approach to identifying your current work-flow, understanding your available tools and technologies, and prioritizing the implementation of those tools to significantly reduce the amount of time you have to spend helping each client, but at the same time providing a higher level of service.
Seem impossible? Not at all!
Those are the exact steps we recommend for building your own automated onboarding system and what we’re going to cover in this post.
Just a forewarning: this is not an easy process. If it was, everyone would have amazing automated systems in place. It takes time, introspection, analysis and effort. No quick fixes here.
But if you can actually do this, then you have the opportunity to free up an additional 4 months worth of work during the course of a year. That’s right. You can get back more than 950 hours worth of your time if you are effective in implementing these strategies.
Do I have your attention now?
I thought so. Let’s crank!
Step 1: Track your current system and workflow
If you want to know what to improve, you need to track your current system to find out where the holes are. The power of automation starts with tracking, and it isn’t something you can skim through.
It is vital.
To start, spend a week tracking everything you do. And I mean, everything.
There are a lot of tools you can use for something like this, and we’re going to cover them in more depth in a future blog post, but even if you’re just using a pen and paper to write down the start and stop times for each task you do in a day, that is good enough for now.
As you’re going through your week and tracking your tasks, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What tasks do you find yourself repeating? Keep a tally of how many times you do each task more than once in the week. The more you repeat a task, the better chance you have to benefit from its automation.
- What do you communicate with your clients? Is there information you always provide based on the status of a project? Identify those consistent communications.
- What questions do you answer? Are you answering a question more than once in a week? Do you answer the same question for every client? Keep track of the answers you have to give over and over again.
- As a bonus, keep track of questions you answer once but are a good insight into your process. For example, I was recently asked a question from a client, “what is a bounce rate?”. After writing out a detailed answer I copied it to a file where I keep ideas for client education materials so I can use it again. You can bet that if one person asked the question, it means other people are wondering it too.
- What schedule do you deliver? Are you providing a similar calendar of deliverables for each client? Do you often have the same milestones? Note those events that happen on a consistent basis.
- What materials do you provide? Are you sending out the same documentation to each client? Or do your clients have to provide the same type of information each time you work with them? Make a note of these as well.
At the end of the week take the list of tasks you’ve done and rank them based on frequency (how many times you had to do each task) and time (how much total time you spent on each task). We’ll use this information in Step 2.
You’ll also want to create a flow chart of your project workflow. Take your answers to the questions above to create a diagram that shows each step of your client relationship and how they work together.
Here’s a rough sketch of what that might look like:
You’re also going to use your diagram and task analysis in Step 2 so keep it handy.
If you made it through Step 1 then you’re farther along than 95% of the people out there. Most business owners can’t do this for a whole day, let alone a whole week. And I get it … tracking tasks is annoying, cumbersome and distracting.
But if you can track yourself consistently then you create a habit that will pay big dividends and allow you to scale your business like you wouldn’t believe. Persevere and the data you mine from your day is invaluable.
Okay, so with that completed, what is next?
Step 2: Create a priority list for implementation
This is where the task analysis from Step 1 comes in handy. In order to prioritize the tasks you’re going to automate, you will need to have tracked the tasks.
There are actually three methods that are effective in creating a task priority list. They are:
- Sequential Tasks
- Highest Impact
- Lowest Hanging Fruit
We’ll go through each one and explain the pro’s and con’s so you can figure out which is best for your situation.
Method 1: Sequential Tasks
The first method is to implement the tools of automation in the order the tasks show up in your workflow. So, if the very first thing you do is to send a welcome email to you client, then that is the first thing you’re going to automate. Then, once you’ve automated that process, you go to the next step — scheduling a discovery meeting, for example — and automate that process.
This method works best for those who weren’t able to effectively analyze their tasks back in Step 1, since it is less about prioritizing tasks based on how quickly you’ll be able to scale, and more about letting your process dictate the priority for you.
In this method, whenever you start a process with a client, you first work on the automation of that process before you deliver it. And only after you have automated the task do you send the information to the client.
The downside of this method is that it doesn’t prioritize tasks based on their importance or the effectiveness of their implementation. It is being done in response to the current status of your projects. But if you can handle the haphazard nature of this method, then it might work well for you.
Truth be told, this is the method we use in setting up our own automation, but, ironically, it isn’t the method we actually recommend to most of our clients. What is? Well, that is method number two …
Method 2: Highest Impact
This method is about prioritizing the tasks that provide the biggest results first.
If you were to use the analogy of paying off debts, then this would be like paying off your highest interest debts first, and then working down from there.
With your tasks, you identify those tasks from the analysis in Step 1 that take the longest to do, or that suck up the majority of your time. You work on the most “expensive” task first and then go down the list based on that analysis.
The benefit of this process is that it can create huge results for you after just one or two automation systems are set up. If you pick a task that sucks up 6 hours a day or your time and bring it down to under an hour (or even less), then you immediately receive a huge benefit of time, energy and cost savings.
The negative side is that, since you’re picking the biggest task first, it is often rather daunting. One way around this is to break up the task into smaller sub-tasks and work on those.
This method works well for those with a bit more patience who don’t mind front-loading their efforts for long term gain down the line.
Method 3: Lowest Hanging Fruit
This method is about prioritizing the tasks that are the easiest to automate.
Revisiting the analogy of debt payment, it is like taking the smallest debt and paying that off first. Then moving to the next biggest debt amount.
Of course, “easiest” is a relative terms. What might be easier for you to automate might not be for someone else, and vice versa. For example, we find setting up a website pretty easy, but for most people that isn’t the case. Or, if you are an active YouTuber, then you probably find video production a breeze, but it may not be for someone else.
But how do you know which tools are available for you to use? Well, for that we’ll look at the next step …
Step 3: Determine the right tools to use for automation
We mentioned in a previous blog post about five types of tools that help when building onboarding automation systems. Here is quick breakdown, along with the type of tasks for which they work well (and our recommendation on some specific technologies that we like to use).
- Websites: Good as a repository / home base for client information (WordPress)
- Video: Good for showing your processes (YouTube)
- Email: Good to communicate idea, information and reminders (ConvertKit)
- Documentation: Good for worksheets, tasks and reference materials (Google Docs)
- Teleconferencing: Good for in-person meetings and distributed communication (Zoom)
Honestly, to properly explain effective implementation strategies, each of these deserves a post of their own. And, believe it or not, these are not the only tools — just some of the most effective ones. Here are some others that are worth mentioning:
- Podcasting / Audio: Good to share thoughts, ideas and conversations
- Slideshows: Good for providing visuals for a process
- Webinars: Good for team education and answering questions (Zoom)
- Meetups: Good for hand’s-on processes
- Infographics: Good for providing bird’s eye views of data-drive information (Visme.co)
As I mentioned before, the power of a good onboarding system comes from being able to take each of these tools and implement them in a cohesive system. Doing this is an extensive and detailed process that we don’t have time for right now, but if you want to learn more about how to implement these tools for your own business, just contact us and we’ll chat you up.
I’ve also noticed that a lot of people don’t view many of these tools as something they would use in their on-boarding process, or even to educate clients. For example, many have a specific idea of what a podcast or audio file can be used for (usually marketing), but the truth is that all of the ten tools listed above can be effective in educating your clients. You just have to know how to use them in the right way.
Think of this like a car engine: you have a tool — a screwdriver, let’s say — but you wouldn’t use a screwdriver to tighten a lug nut, right? It’s the wrong tool for the job.
But beyond that, you need to understand how tightening that lug nut will affect the rest of the car engine. Is it solving a problem or adding a new one? How is it being used as part of the greater system of that engine?
The key is to both know which tool to use, and know how the tools can work together. We’ll cover those details in later blog posts.
Naturally, implementing each of these tools have differing degrees of difficulty. For example, it takes longer to create a video than it does to create an email template. (Interesting side note: often the harder-to-implement tools are more effective. For example, video is way more effective than email.)
If you’re following the 3rd method from Step 2, then you’ll want to have an idea of the general ease-of-implementation for each tasks. Here is a quick breakdown of the tools that we’ve found are easiest to implement, with the easiest being first:
- Podcasting / Audio
As we mentioned above, “easiest” is a relative term, but this is what we’ve found to be the case for the majority of people.
So, now we know which tools we can use to automate our tasks, how do we actually implement them to create an onboarding system? For that, we’ll look at step 4.
Step 4: Implement and Track your progress
It probably seems daunting to implement what we’ve talked about so far. There are so many moving pieces to your workflow, so many different tasks to automate, and so many tools to use, that you might not even want to start in the first place.
But stay with me here, because the benefits you’ll receive will be totally worth the time investment. You’ll see why in a second.
To schedule your implementation we recommend a quarterly and weekly rotation. This means, each quarter you run through each of these 4 steps, and each week you automate a different task. Here’s what that looks like:
A schedule for implementation
Let’s say you’re going to implement this system during the 3rd quarter of the year (July – September), which is typically about 12 weeks.
During the first week of the quarter you go through Step 1. You track all of your tasks and how much time and the frequency you spend. You do this for one week (just 5 days) and when you’re done you analyze the results.
At the end of that first week prioritize the top 10 tasks (using one of the three methods from Step 2). Those are the tasks you’ll be focused on automating during the rest of the quarter.
Weeks 2 – 11
Each week, for the next 10 weeks, select the next task from your priority list and work on automating it, implementing the right tool for the job (Step 3). Your goal should be to get each task to under 20% of the amount of time it would normally take. For example, if it normally takes you one hour to meet with a client to describe your process, then the system of automation you come up with should reduce that to under 12 minutes.
If you really want to “go pro”, then aim for 5 minutes for all automated tasks.
It is also important to maintain tracking of your tasks. There are a lot of tracking tools you can use to make this process easier, and we’ll get to those another time, but whatever you use, just keep at it.
During the last week of the quarter compile the tracking information to see how much time you’re now saving using the automated systems. Compare it to the time spent during that first week and see if there are any other holes you could patch up to make things even more efficient.
By knowing your time savings, you’ll have a good idea of how much more bandwidth you can handle, which means more clients you can help, and more revenue you can generate.
So, that is implementation on a macro scale; the bird’s eye view. But what exactly does the implementation look like on a practical level? How do you automate this stuff?
Next we’ll look at an example of how we used one of the methods to automate our processes at Akamai Websites.
An example of onboarding task automation
Back when I was automating our web design service, specifically the sitemap design, I looked at the first task that took place, which was meeting with our client to explain what a sitemap is and how to provide feedback for them. Normally that is something that would take about 15 – 30 minutes on the phone or in person.
To automate that process, here are the steps I took:
- Figure out what I would say in a sitemap meeting, and write a short, succinct script that explains the same ideas.
- Record a video, perhaps with a slideshow or images of different sitemaps as examples. In the video I would explain sitemaps, how to provide feedback for them, and answer a few of the most common questions that I am asked from clients about sitemaps.
- Set up a private page on my website that has some copy and details on sitemaps where I can embed the video.
- Write an email template that I can use, and customize, for each client. It will include a link to the private page and an explanation of what they’re going to see.
- Set up a trigger in my CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) and email marketing software that sends out that email to the client at the right part of the project.
That probably seems like a lot of work. And it is. In fact, all five of those steps would probably take around 3 hours to set up. Maybe more.
But now that I have set up the system, how much time will it take me to onboard a client into the Sitemap process? About 2 minutes. Maybe less.
So, I took a task that took an average of 22 minutes, and reduced it down to 2 minutes for a savings of 20 minutes. After 9 client projects I’ve already made up the lost time and from there it’s just icing on the cake.
But here’s the thing: you only have to set up that automated sequence one time. Once you’ve done it, you never have to do that specific task ever again. That is the power of automation. By spending a few extra minutes to create the automated version of the task, you’ve saved hours of time down the line.
Just a note about this whole process: the first time you do it will be the hardest. In fact it’s going to seem almost impossible. It is strange, difficult and you should go into it expecting that to be the case.
But after the first quarter, when you see the amazing amount of time you’re saving, you will be hooked. You will have trained your brain to seek out opportunities for automation and will naturally start building automated processes into your future tasks without even thinking about it.
I just want to make sure I don’t sugar coat things. Know that it is going to be hard at first and take a lot of effort. But believe me that it will be totally worth the payoff if you can persevere. (And, of course, if you would like us to help you out and take some of the difficulty of implementing this off your hands, just let us know.) 🙂
Some tips to help you out
As you’re approaching the onboarding automation process, here are a few do’s and don’t’s to keep in mind:
- Don’t tackle all your tasks at once. It can be exciting to think about all the time savings and start going gang-busters. But you still have a business to run and automation is a secondary priority to serving your clients. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Take small steps. If you finish automating a task in three days instead of five, then take a couple days off and start the next task on Monday. Don’t get burned out before you even start.
- Snowball your time savings. I would allocate around 30 minutes / day towards automating a task. That gives you 3 hours during a typical business owner’s 6 day work week. But whenever you find a time savings that helps you free up your day, add that time savings to your automation efforts. For example, if you saved 10 minutes a day in repetitive tasks, then increase the time you spend on building automation sequences to 40 minutes / day. This snowball effect will allow you to implement onboarding at an even faster pace.
- Break up your systems or services into sub-sequences of tasks. For example, if I was going to work on automating our web design services, I would break the service into 4 parts (which we talk about on another blog post): Discovery, Design, Development and Deployment. Then, I would take each of those and create sub-sequences. For example, in Design I have Sitemap, Prototype, and Mockup. Then I might pick one of those sub-sequences to focus on for automation, possibly breaking it into smaller task sequences. This provides better focus and allows you to create a more effective system.
- Tracking is the key to automation. I can’t say this enough, but if you’re not tracking, then you’re not improving. Track, track track. (Did I mention you should track?) #track
Food for thought
Here are some numbers that you might find interesting.
In one year, if you follow the quarterly schedule, you will have automated 40 tasks. If we assume that a given task originally took anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes each, and if you’ve reduced them down to 5 minutes, then for each client you will have saved between 10 hours to 36.6 hours. Per project.
Here’s the math:
40 tasks x (15 ~ 55 minutes saved per task) = 10 ~ 36.6 hours saved).
To make this easier, I’m going to average that to 20 hours saved.
But then, let’s say you take on 4 new clients per month. That is 48 projects over 12 months. So, take the time savings of 20 hours per project and multiply it by 48 projects, you end up with 960 hours saved!
Of course, you don’t work 24 hours a day, so those 960 hours are equivalent to 96 ten hour work days. If you work six days a week like most business owners, then you have just opened up 16 weeks a year, or almost 4 months!
That is ⅓ of a year or a 30% increase in available time, or a 30% increase in potential revenue.
The added bonus of this is that your processes will be much more efficient and your ability to serve your clients vastly improved. That means happier clients, better referrals and more business.
So, what did we learn?
We covered a lot of information in this post, so let’s do a quick recap.
First, you learned to define onboarding as the entire process of educating a client, not just in the beginning of a project, but through the life of the client relationship.
Then you learned the importance of automation and the four steps to implement onboarding automation in your business:
Step 1: Track your current system and workflow
You learned the importance of tracking and methods for doing so. You also discovered several questions to ask yourself to analyze your workflow.
Step 2: Create a priority list for implementation
You learned three different methods for determining which tasks to prioritize: either based on the task sequence, the highest impact or the ease of implementation.
Step 3: Determine the right methods for automation
This is where you learned about ten different tools and technologies for on-boarding automation and how each can be used as part of an automation sequence.
Step 4: Implement and track your progress
Finally, you learned the quarterly and weekly schedule for implementation, and saw an example of how we implemented automation in Akamai Websites.
You also learned that you can gain back 30% of your productive time each year (or increase your revenue by 30%) by implementing onboarding automation in your business.
In future posts we’ll dive a bit deeper into the details of how each of these steps work, but the purpose of this post was to give you a bird’s eye view of how to implement onboarding automation to scale your business, save yourself time, and increase your revenue.
The Next Steps for Onboarding Automation
If you’re serious about setting up your own onboarding automation system, then be sure to pick up our free checklist on the eight ways to create onboarding automation systems. Just put your email in the field below to get instant access.
Of course, if you’re really serious, then pick up our video walkthrough of the eight steps, which includes a resource guide of over 70 different automation tools and technologies that you can use to create your own system.
Click here or on the button below to get your copy for just $9.
And it goes without saying that we’re always available to help you put these systems into place for your business. Just contact us to learn more.
Have any questions about what we’ve written here? Have some thoughts you’d like to share? Post your comments below and share it with the rest of the class. 😉