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In my many years of running my own PR agency, I’ve experienced a lot of hiccups when it comes to onboarding. And if I’m being honest, I must admit I caused most of those hiccups. I’m just not particularly good at it — it’s not one of my strong suits.
Though fine-tuning my onboarding techniques is a work in progress, it doesn’t come naturally to me. Once I find a potential team member I like or I’ve got a hot lead on a potential client, my tendency is just to jump into the deep end, all enthusiasm and “we’ll figure it out as we go along” and very little step-by-step processing that would pave the way for a mutually beneficial and lasting connection.
On occasion, the “winging it” approach might work. But usually, it doesn’t. So I recently looked closely at my firm’s onboarding procedures from the inside out, which yielded some interesting insights. Before I share them, it’s important to note that the objectives here could not be more straightforward: Regarding internal onboarding, the goal is incorporating a new staffer into a welcoming and positive work environment. When it comes to external onboarding, the goal is as simple as keeping the client happy. That’s it. That’s the end game. Here’s how to win it.
Winning steps for internal onboarding
- Immediately upon bringing a new staffer on board, express gratitude for their contribution. Acknowledge the skills that led you to hire them, tell them how those skills will bolster team efforts and make them feel like you’re lucky to have them, not vice versa. Everybody wants to feel valued at work, even from the very first day.
- Pay on time and pay above-market rates. This one may sound like a no-brainer, but small businesses sometimes don’t have automated payroll in place to ensure timely payment. Landlords and banks don’t accept delays, so don’t chase promising new hires away with delays of your own making. As for salary, a higher-than-market rate will often secure you better-than-average talent, but if you can’t afford that right now, other forms of compensation work equally well to solidify employee buy-in, like half-day Fridays, remote work options, the use of company equipment, and a results-based bonus plan.
- Provide an overview of the organizational structure, preferably in the form of an org chart. This is essential. People need to know where they fit in to feel like they fit in.
- Allow the individual’s abilities to shine bright by supplementing and supporting their output. Here at RPR, every piece of content that is written for our clients passes my desk and is copyedited/proofed by our editorial support people. At first, my content writers sometimes balk at being reviewed, but it’s a win-win for everybody when our customer reviews come back glowing about error-free and accurate assets. Teach your team to, lead your team to and support one another in their roles, not just fulfill their own.
- Check in with your people for no reason. For no reason at all. Just send a text, write an email or call to regularly reach out to them to (a) ask how things are going — do they need any support and (b) reinforce continual messaging of how fortunate you feel to have them on board.
Winning steps for customer/client onboarding:
- Send a warm introductory email detailing what the client can expect for your initial engagement. Having this in writing can avoid many explanatory phone calls, provide a tangible form of your commitment, and assure the client that they’ve entered a functional, efficient workflow.
- Continue to send a chain of emails to follow up; first, to ask the client to confirm that they received the last communiqué you sent them; second, to always open a window for them to write back with questions or concerns.
- Go beyond the to-do list. It may be enough just to do your job or what you were hired to do. But to retain long-term B2B clients, why stop there? Be exceptional by exceeding expectations with unanticipated gestures, like forwarding an article of interest, sending the client something that reminded you of them, providing them with referrals or having flowers or lunch delivered for a special occasion.
- Speaking of which, recall step #1 for your internal onboarding: Showing gratitude to your client base, as well, is a little action that generates a big reaction. Sending a thank-you note is the simplest but tremendously significant way to let someone know how much you appreciate their business.
- Finally, another repeat: Check-in for no reason. You can never go wrong with any contact in the business world by being reliably present, open-eared, and always interested in how they’re feeling about your relationship status. Some people are afraid to initiate unnecessary contact if they receive negative feedback. Better to catch any lapses that are occurring so you can attend to and remedy them than to lose the client based on a lack of authentic communication.
As I see it, onboarding is the “honeymoon phase” of any business relationship. Once you’re united with this business partner under mutually agreed-upon terms, you want to have fun with them, go places with them in a favorable climate and create and sustain a memorable impression that will fuel and ground your future interactions. Basically, you want to start things off on the best possible footing to point the way toward a smooth and successful venture ahead together.
So put some effort into planning every onboarding process per new contact, just like you would map out your honeymoon destination and activities. The advanced planning and customized blueprint will lay a strong, solid foundation on which the relationship can continue to grow and expand in positive, productive, and fruitful ways for years to come.