Interior Design Client Onboarding Checklist

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and why it's good to have one

You have to know I’m a sucker for well planned systems and processes. I probably don’t have to tell you that with so much work required in our field, systems and processes might save you lots of precious time. And what goes perfectly with systems and processes? Yes, you got it - checklists! They help keep our creative brains free for what we really like to do, instead of having to always remember all-the-important-stuff.

Before you make an interior design client onboarding checklist, however, you need to have the actual onboarding process in place first. Have one already? Great! If not (or if you’d like to compare yours to mine), read further to see the steps I take when onboarding my clients. At the end you’ll be able to download a ready made checklist so that you can save even more time!

Here are the steps I go through in my client onboarding process.

Oh, wait, did I just assume you know what an onboarding process is? How unthoughtful of me… Let me dive into that real quick. 

An interior design client onboarding process is everything that leads from having a potential client contact you, to actually starting the project for them. Usually there are a bunch of actions that you have to perform before you start working on a project. Now tell me this - have you established and automated those steps? Or do you just go with the flow every time someone reaches you?

A proper interior design onboarding process will give you and your clients lots of benefits:

  • it saves you time as you don’t have to reinvent the wheel over and over again 
  • it tells the client that you know what you’re doing (and confirms that they made the right choice)
  • it makes sure you never forget about anything important

and more. Trust me, you’ll wish you’d automated your onboarding process sooner.

From my experience, there are two possible ways to deal with the client onboarding. 

  1. You might want to give as much information as possible via back and forth emails right at the first inquiry. I used to do it this way in the beginning. The problem is - it takes lots of time and might lead to nowhere. And who’s gonna pay for those hours? 
  2. In the beginning, give only the indispensable minimum. Only do the more demanding things once the client decides to work with you. I suggest this one.

You can put the indispensable minimum on the website - a list of your services, your rates, your portfolio (sooooo indispensable!), perhaps create a FAQ page to answer some of the questions you usually get from prospects when they first contact you. This will help you get rid of the people fishing for the lowest offer or browsing for ideas. While ensuring that the ones that actually contact you, are the ones willing to get your services.

If they haven't seen all the information on your website - send them back there before you start the conversation.

Now that you know what an onboarding process is, let me show you an example.

1. The first step in the interior design client onboarding process is - client initial inquiry

Once the prospect decides to contact you, you can start the evaluation to decide if it is a project that you’d actually want to work on. To be able to do so, you need to have a proper contact form on your website. It should prompt people to give you all the information you need. Ask about the type of the project, the surface to design, the deadlines, the budget… You get the gist.

2. If you decide it’s the right fit, schedule a discovery call.

Discovery calls are useful to get the feeling of the client (we know that emails can be impersonal) and go over the last details that you and your potential client might want to clarify before signing the contract. To automate this step, you can provide them with a link to your Calendly to make the scheduling faster. Calendly lets them pick the date that works best for them, based on your availability. No more back and forth emails to set the date.

calendar to schedule interior design onboarding discovery call
Calendly scheduling overview

3. The most important part of the design client onboarding process is the signing of the contract.

A short disclaimer - I’m not a lawyer so this is by no means a legal advice. But it is safe to say that a contract is crucial when you provide any kind of service. It doesn’t matter if you’re only starting or if you’re designing for family. NEVER START A PROJECT WITHOUT A SIGNED CONTRACT. A contract determines the rules, boundaries, expectations and all the requirements that both you and the client have to fulfill. It also serves as a reference in any conflict that might appear on the way.

4. With the contract comes the down payment.

Treat it as a ‘booking fee’ to ensure that you’ll keep the decided-upon starting date for them. It’s important especially if you book clients in advance. It will also guarantee that all your initial steps are getting paid for. Like taking the measurements, or preparing yourself for the design process.

5. Once the contract is signed, it’s time to show them how you work

They already know a bit about you, but now you can get more into detail. You’ve probably heard about a welcome packet - it’s usually a PDF containing all the important information:

  • a presentation of the studio, the team (or just you)
  • the step-by-step of the design process you’re about to undertake
  • the list of rules and boundaries
  • and, of course, the client questionnaire.

Although most people still send it as a PDF, I suggest creating a welcome page. A separate page on your website (can be password-protected if you wish). It’s easier to keep it up to date and might also be more convenient for your clients.

Let’s go back to the questionnaire real quick as it’s very important. Send an online form with all the questions you need to ask your clients to determine the design requirements. The more questions the better. You want to know their style, their preferences and their needs. Everything from favorite colors to the type of cooking range. The more information you get, the easier it will be to design the space they love.

To help you with that step, you can use Typeform or Google Forms. This way you will have all the answers at hand.

an example of interior design client onboarding questionnaire
My Google Forms questionnaire

6. The last step of the interior design client onboarding process - the on-site meeting

After you revise the client questionnaire, it’s time to schedule the on-site meeting. It can be an online meeting if you’re providing an e-design service. Make sure to come prepared - make a list of all the outstanding issues that came up from the questionnaire. If there are any doubts, this is the best moment to discuss them before you start working on the project. 

The on-site meeting will also give you a better idea of the space you will design. It's a chance to take some pictures and all the necessary measurements. 

An important thing to do during this meeting is to take notes. The client might give you some additional info, or you might notice that certain ideas will not be possible to realize because of the actual situation.

What if you don't start the project immediately?

You might ask yourself how an onboarding process looks like for a client that booked a starting date months from now. Well, I’d say that at least the first 5 steps are crucial right in the beginning. The client might want to get something straight away after the down payment (instant gratification). The welcome page, the questionnaire and the initial brief would do the trick, so that they know you care about them and their project already. 

The on-site meeting however might be scheduled closer to the starting date. This way you can all refresh your memories about the initial agreements.

I hope this gave you an idea of what an interior design client onboarding process is, why it is important and how to establish all the necessary steps to ensure a smooth start. It’s not the only process you might need in your company life but it’s definitely one that will position you as a professional and make your clients excited about working with you right from the start.

Below you’ll find the checklist I prepared based on the steps I showed you in this article. It’s interactive so you can use it without having to print it out every time (keeping our precious trees in mind!).

or click here

hi there!

I'm Aleksandra, an interior architect with multinational experience, on a mission to help beginning or self-taught designers gain confidence and create systems that will help them bring their businesses to the next level.

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hi, I'm Aleksandra!

I will help you create an organized interior design business with systems and processes, and to gain confidence to bring your career to the next level.

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