If you’re familiar with the term “onboarding,” it’s likely in the context of software as a service (“SaaS”). It’s all the rage in the growth hacker world.
The term actually originates from the world of human resources. When large enterprises need to ramp a new employee into the processes, procedures, and culture of the organization, onboarding is critical.
When you think about it, taking on a new client is also inviting a new person into your processes, procedures, and culture. So a smart onboarding process can make for happier clients and less time and hassle for you.
Today we’re talking to Paul Jarvis, a guy with a lot of smart ideas for freelancers and anyone who takes clients. We’ll talk about identifying your onboarding elements, setting parameters that define client expectations, and automating key elements that make your life easier and more lucrative.
The Show Notes
How to Onboard New Clients the Smart Way with Paul Jarvis
Paul Jarvis: I’m Paul Jarvis and I help freelancers do business better. I’ve also got a lot of finger tattoos, and I am unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they’re just not inclined to take one — and that’s putting it gently. If you’re a freelancer or solopreneur, Unemployable is the place to get actionable advice for growing your business, improving your processes, and enjoying greater freedom day to day. To get the full experience, register at no charge at Unemployable.com. You’ll get access to upcoming webinars and more. That’s Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: Hey there, Everyone, welcome to Unemployable, the podcast for people for whom a job is just like wearing pants — totally optional.
Today, I’ve got another very special guest. He introduced himself to you there at the beginning in classic style. I like the finger tattoo angle. Paul Jarvis, how are you?
Paul Jarvis: Hey, I am good.
Brian Clark: Good. Thanks so much for coming on the show. I’ve followed your work over at creativeclass.io. It’s interesting how many of those domains you’re seeing lately. What’s the story with that? What country code is that?
Paul Jarvis: I don’t even know.
Brian Clark: It has to be tied to a country, but I don’t know. I have no idea. It’s not Iowa. I don’t think.
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, probably not. It’s some super techie sounding.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it does. It seems very futuristic.
So, today, we’re going to talk about something that I discovered over at your site and I was just immediately intrigued.
First of all, let me confess that when I hear the term “onboarding,” I think of software. I think of software as a service in particular. Because for the last year since the Rainmaker Platform launched, every release we are just frantically trying to make the onboarding or the access to the platform right — from zero to getting started using it better, more intuitive, all of that kind of good stuff. It can really make a huge difference in retention and trials and all that kind of thing.
I learned from you that onboarding is actually a human resources term for when new employees come into a company which, as we joked earlier, goes to show how long it’s been since I’ve had a job, which is the same amount of time as you — 17 years.
Paul Jarvis: Yeah. It’s amazing.
Brian Clark: Yeah, that’s a long time. Again, you know why I named the show this. It’s just not even a joke.
How Did You Develop This “Onboarding” System?
Brian Clark: Then the thing I learned from you is that you took this concept that is predominantly right now in the world of software and said, “This is how I need to deal — the moment marketing ends and the client relationship begins, I need to create a process there that makes my life easier and makes my clients happier. And you know what, I’m going to call this ‘onboarding.’ That’s what it is.”
And I think that’s genius. How did that get to you?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, thank you. I think it really came about, because like we just discussed, I’ve been doing this for so long, and I realized that taking a client from potentially interested in working with me to signing on the dotted line and moving forward with the project always involved the exact same steps. And each one of those steps required me to do some kind of work. It’s not that I don’t like work, I like work. But I like working smarter.
I figured out that because we have all this technology now, all of these little tools (and most of them are free) that you can make automation happen. And because I spend so much time in marketing and automation, and I make SaaS as well and I understand how all of that works, I was like, “This is just crazy enough to work.”
I started to figure out how I could automate the process of taking a client from interested to working with me and automate I think it’s about 80% of the process. So, I only really get involved in it right at the end when they’ve gone through things like looking at my portfolio, downloading Getting Started, a PDF that gives them a sense of what I do, who I work with, who I don’t work with.
They fill out a project planner, which I use Typeform for, which is a free service. And then it takes them to a scheduling application, which is also free, Calendly or youcanbook.me, another free service. And that syncs with Google Calendar and they pick a date and time, so there’s not this “What day are you free?” “Well, I’m free this day.” “Well I’m not free this day,” and all the back and forth.
All of these things can happen without me getting involved. And then I only get involved at the end when I know the client is a good fit. They know how much it costs, they know what I do, what I don’t do. They filled in a project planner and everything like that.
I get involved when I need to get involved. But I don’t need to get involved in the first little bit, which is all completely automated, which is actually really fun to do, I think.
Brian Clark: Yeah, that is so smart. And a recurring theme on this show has been that once I figured out this thing we call “content marketing” back in ‘99, I never had the common problem, the marketing problem. What I always had was delegation, processes, automation. And it’s funny, because I was really good at automating anything related to lead generation or lead nurturing, but for some reason, my brain stopped right there.
What Is Your Story?
Brian Clark: Before we go any further, you have a wonderful video over at your site. I should mention, of course, the site we mentioned earlier, but there’s also pjrvs.com, which is kind of the home base, I guess. You have this great video over there that explains your evolution and it sounds like you had the same pain. I think we all go through the pain. You either quit or you figure out how to adapt.
Tell us a little bit of your story, like birth to now in two minutes. No, okay, you can skip over some of the child stuff.
Paul Jarvis: It all started with LEGO and having really bad asthma — no, just kidding.
Yeah, I became a freelancer by accident. I was working at an agency in Toronto in the ‘90s and I didn’t like the work environment, but I loved the clients. So, it’s like, “Okay, I’m just going to go find another agency, because I like this.”
Then I quit, and I got hired straight out of university. I didn’t finish university, I just went straight to working. So, I’d never written a resume. Because this was the ‘90s and the Internet wasn’t full of stuff like it is now, I was going to go to the library to look up how to write a resume. This is how long ago that was. I feel old saying that.
But before I got to the library, I started to get calls from the clients of that agency and they were like, “Hey, Paul, we know you were the one who was doing all the work. You’re the one we’d like to work with. Tell us what agency you’re going to. We’ll just go there.” And after I got three or four of those calls, the light bulb went off in my head. I was like, “Why don’t I just work with these people for myself?”
That was probably like ‘98 and since then, yeah, it just kind of went from there to now working with clients. Now, I do more products and books and courses and that sort of thing, but I still do quite a bit of web design, client work. And I’ve just kind of stuck with it. I’ve never wanted to grow it into an agency. I like doing it kind of on my own. And because I like doing that, I need to figure out ways to automate as much as possible so I’m not bogged down in the administravia, which is a word which I was talking to somebody who’s in their 20s that didn’t understand that word.
Brian Clark: That’s an old-school Internet word.
Paul Jarvis: It is, it is a super old word. But I don’t like to get bogged down and I can’t get bogged down in all of the little tasks. And that’s why I like onboarding so much. I always need to figure out ways that anything that doesn’t need to be on my plate can be automated off my plate.
Brian Clark: I love what you’ve done, because you don’t want to grow into an agency. I understand that. You enjoy doing design work on your own terms. You’ve created these automated processes to get unbogged, and yet, with excess time, I would imagine you’re doing these things that are really bringing you more somewhat permanent and passive income streams in the form of books and courses and all that kind of thing, which is what I really am trying to encourage people to do.
I say, “You don’t have to grow into a company the size of mine right now.” I didn’t even really want that. “You just kind of follow the path and you wake up and you’re like, ‘Here I am.’” But, anyway, I think you’ve got a fantastic model that balances all these different ambitions and revenue streams and your life, which I would imagine is important.
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, thank you. I still do client work, but I also have a ton of products, and there’s a way to do it. And a lot of it comes down to figuring out what you can take off your plate that doesn’t need to be there. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have time, because obviously time is finite. So, I have time to do client work and products, because I figured out ways to automate as much as possible.
The Three As to Onboarding
Brian Clark: Yeah, excellent. Okay. So, we now understand that onboarding is a human resources bit of terminology stolen by those pesky growth hackers and software developers. And now you’re owning it yourself in a new context.
Regardless of the context, there are three As that define onboarding. Can we talk about that for a bit?
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, definitely. It’s accommodation, assimilation and acceleration.
What they mean in simple terms is accommodation is really just giving people the tools they need to use what they just signed up for. So, if somebody signs up for Rainmaker, you show them, you accommodate them by telling them, “These are all of the tools at your disposal now because you are a member of the Rainmaker Platform.”
Assimilation, it always just makes me such a nerd. It always makes me think of the Borg on Star Trek.
Brian Clark: Yeah, first thing.
Paul Jarvis: But for other people, and in terms of onboarding, assimilation is really making somebody feel like they’re instantly part of that community. Actually Zappos, I don’t know if they still do this, but there was an article on Forbes or something saying how Zappos hires new people, puts them in a course for a week, and the course teaches them company values. At the end of that course, the person’s given a chance to take $2,000 and quit the company or not take $2,000 and become a full time member of the Zappos family. And, apparently, only 1% of people take them up on the cash.
Assimilating people, making them feel like they belong, is really showing what the community is and how that person fits in. It’s not just, “Here’s us and you.” It’s now “We.” So that’s the same, just like the Borg.
Then acceleration is making people feel like they’re part of a community faster. This is done through things, like for my own mailing list, I send people a PDF of the greatest hits of the articles that I’ve written, so they can kind of catch up. Acceleration is getting people up to speed as quickly as possible with the community that they just joined.
And that’s really what onboarding is. So, as you can see, that applies to SaaSes. That applies to, I assume, human resources. I don’t know, it’s been forever since I worked for anybody.
But then, it can also apply to client service work, making clients feel like they have the tools that they just paid you for. They feel like they’re part of the community, that you and them are going to be working on a project.
And then accelerating them and getting them into how you work with clients as quickly as possible is going to make them feel comfortable. It’s going to make them see that you are an expert and not just some, “Here’s $5 on Fiverr” sort of freelancer. They see that you are an expert and somebody who has an opinion that has weight instead of just somebody that they give tasks to, which is really, really important when you work for yourself.
Brian Clark: Yeah, there’s a lot to unpack there. I think that’s why I was so impressed by the application of onboarding in this context, because I don’t know that most people would make that mental leap, but it makes perfect sense. Of course, I always talk during the attraction and the lead generation and nurturing process about demonstrating authority, as opposed to claiming it, through education, through content.
What you’re doing is something that we also preach, but because we don’t take clients, it’s just so interesting to hear it in this context. You’re continuing that experience of authority, but also belonging, and “You made the right choice.” All these psychological factors that are right there under the surface, and yet, you’re not telling them, “You’re going to be all right,” you’re making them feel that they’re going to be all right.
Paul Jarvis: Exactly. What I’ve seen with myself and with a lot of other freelancers is that the more a client understands every step of the way, one, they feel comfortable that they hired that person instead of the gazillion other freelancers. And two, they feel comfortable that they know where in the project they are. Because a lot of times, a client may not have paid a web designer to do their website more than once or twice. Whereas a web designer, this is what we do for a living.
The client understanding where they are in relation to the outcome is so important, because then the client feels more comfortable. Then you don’t get those 3:00 a.m. emails in all caps like, “I don’t know what’s happening next,” because they know.
How Does Onboarding Work with Web Design Clients?
Brian Clark: Yeah, that’s excellent. A few weeks back on an episode, I answered a listener question who was a web designer about advertising and that’s when I went into, “Okay, yes, you can advertise, but you have to have a system in place or you’re throwing your money away.”
You’re a web designer, and of course, you apply this to the web design aspect of your business. So, how would an onboarding process work for you with web design clients?
Paul Jarvis: The first thing is that clients find me. I’m super, super niche and small audience focused. So, if you’re in the audience that I serve, you probably know who I am. If you’re not, then you don’t. And that’s intentional, because I only like to work with very specific types of clients that do specific types of things, because that really helps, like we were saying, build authority.
Brian Clark: How did you define that? Because that’s so important. People struggle with that.
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, and it’s scary, because people think that it’s limiting, when in fact it is the opposite, because it’s so much easier to get work when you’re focused. It’s like, “I want to market to the Internet.” How do you do that?
Brian Clark: I’ve always followed this principle, because if you engage with a small group strongly, you’ll get more overall than if you were just bland to the whole Internet. And yet, that seems to be the default position. They hear you say it, but they’re like, “Nah, I can’t do that. I’m turning away business.” “No, you’re not getting any business.”
Paul Jarvis: Exactly. It’s a bit of a tough nut to crack. But it’s funny, because you see all the people who do really well and they all do this. And then you see the people who don’t and want to be like them who are like, “I totally get that, but it’s not for me.” It’s like there’s some cognitive disconnect that I don’t really understand completely.
So, the way that my onboarding process works is the people in my audience hear about me, because I talk to that audience all the time. I’m also a content marketer, so I write a ton of content, books, articles. I put guest posts on sites that that audience reads and I do so much with — I have a podcast as well. So, I do so much with content and teaching to show that audience that, “Hey, if you’re in this audience and you need a website, you’re not thinking about hiring a web designer, you’re thinking about hiring Paul Jarvis.”
So, they find me and they come to my site, they click on and look at my portfolio. My portfolio is funny, because I’m a web designer, but there are no pictures in my portfolio. It’s just all text, because I understand through the work that I’ve done that people hire me, because they want their business to do better and the outcome is design. So, I don’t really need to pitch my design services, because they can see in my portfolio the types of sites that I design. Super minimal, super like Brian who’s at Copyblogger, as well. I’m a big fan of his work. My work is very minimal as well.
They see my portfolio. If they’re impressed, they fill in their name and email address to get my Getting Started Guide. That just ties into MailChimp. So, MailChimp just sends an automated email. As soon as they sign up for the list, they get this PDF. And the PDF says, “This is what I do. This is the type of projects that I do, the type of projects I don’t do, the type of clients I like to work with, where I provide the most value. It costs this much to work with me. I book this far in advance. If this is interesting, click the Continue button.” And then the Continue button takes them to a planner, which is hosted by Typeform.
Then they fill in, I think there are about 10 questions, and then that sends to me. At the end of the Typeform, they click Finish and that takes them to a scheduling program. In the scheduling program, I think I open up about two hours a week for client calls to see if a client’s a good fit. They get to pick a time in the calendar. And I know that time is free, because that time is blocked off as free in my calendar.
So, that scheduling app ties into that. There’s no back and forth like, “Hey, do you have this date free?” “I do, but only at this time.” “Oh, well, I can’t do it.” It’s all just set. And then at the end of that, they get my Skype username. We both get a confirmation email saying, “This call is on the calendar for both of us,” and then we have a call.
That’s the onboarding process. And the only step that I’m actively involved in is the very last step when I hop on the phone with them. Everything else happens automatically. They’re just clicking Continue a bunch of times.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s a beautiful thing. Really, again, like I said, it’s a continuation of what you do with your prolific writing and sharing out there. You are attracting a certain type of person, but it’s not like you’re knocking on doors or spamming people or cold calling or any of this kind of stuff. They come to you, they raise their hand, they go through a process. And if it works out from all the way to that time you wrote so and so article over at the many places you write, then you have a call. But all this invisible stuff was happening as they went on a journey.
I liked something you said earlier which echoes something I say, which is becoming the only logical choice. And when you said, “They’re looking to hire Paul Jarvis, not a web designer.” Exactly, yes, perfect.
All right, again, I appreciate you coming on the show. I am even more convinced that you truly have your act together here. I wanted to talk a little bit about the educational community you have for freelancers in just a second.
Hoverboards and Velvet Robes
Brian Clark: But before we do that, before we got on this interview together, you tweeted that, as usual, business interviews with me lead to conversations about hoverboards and velvet robes. And I don’t want to disappoint you, Paul, so tell me about hoverboards and velvet robes.
Paul Jarvis: I always get into tangents.
I was doing an interview before this with CliffCentral, the biggest podcasting network in South Africa. And it always seems to lead to weird places. So, they were talking about like, “What’s your favorite part of freelancing?” And I was like, “I like that my dress code is horribly inappropriate for other people consumption, so I could be a nerd. It’s hot. Velvet robe, I feel would be really sweaty.” But I’m like, “If I wanted to, I could be wearing a velvet robe right now and it would be awesome and nobody would even know except for you listening to this.”
Then the hoverboard, people always ask me about the future of the Internet and the future of freelancing. And, I don’t know, I understand that online education is a massive thing and it’s growing. And I think that’s the coolest thing about the Internet right now is anybody can learn anything from specific people. They don’t have to go to six-figure institutions to get this knowledge. This knowledge is just available.
But then the other thing, as a child of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I was promised things like hoverboards and jet packs. That was not delivered. I’m bothered. The Lexus has that hoverboard, which I’ve only seen that little intro video. So, I don’t know how close they are with that being public. But, yeah.
Brian Clark: It’s funny how the things you think are going to happen in the future don’t seem to, but then all this other crazy stuff happens. I kind of feel like I need a hoverboard as well. But feel free to go on Twitter when we’re done here and say, “The streak continues with velvet robes and hoverboards.”
Tell Us About Your Educational Community
Brian Clark: Okay, online education. Absolutely agree. It’s an amazing thing for all of us who have to be lifelong learners. It’s an amazing thing for certain entrepreneurs with expertise to share, or production ability to bring the expertise of others to the right audience. It’s just all around an amazing thing.
So, let’s talk a little bit about, you have this great — I call it an educational community, because you have both aspects there. Tell us a little bit about that.
Paul Jarvis: I started the Creative Classes for freelancers who are good at their craft, their skills — like writers being good at writing, designers being good at designing developers, that sort of thing — but that don’t understand the business side of things. And I feel like, because I’ve been doing this, like you, for 17 plus years, I’ve got to learn the business side of working for yourself.
So, that’s really what I teach in the class — how to take the skills that you’ve got and are amazing at and turn that into things that generate consistent revenue. And I get, there’s a lot — I’m such a big fan of niching or niching… I think some of Americans say niching, I don’t know which way…
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s weird because in America it is niche. Traditionally, except for some people who say niche. And then, of course, if you’re in Texas, you get a dirty look because you’re an elitist Canadian or something.
Paul Jarvis: So, I’m really big on teaching. It really teaches freelancers how to go from start to finish. There’s a big component on onboarding as well. There’s a big component on finding your audience and reaching them where they’re at and becoming that indispensable person that they need to hire, instead of “insert freelancer with scale here.”
Then the community side of the course, which I only launched about six months ago. I knew I wanted to do a community, but I didn’t know how I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it in a way that helped people in the best way possible and super valuable. And then Slack came along, and I was like, “Where have you been all my life, Slack? I love you.”
I have a community for the course on Slack, and there are hundreds of freelancers in there outside of me participating all day every day, which would be really difficult for me. Freelancers connecting with each other, hiring each other, getting feedback on projects from each other. It’s just like I log in and every time I log in, I’m floored by how amazing everybody is interacting and how much value they’re getting from each other. Outside of me, outside of the course, freelancers talking to and working with other freelancers, helping other people deal with the problems that they go through is just phenomenal.
That to me is cool, like I would build a gazillion courses just to see this happen more and more, because I think it’s the coolest thing about my course, the community aspect of it.
Brian Clark: You know what we found over the years is that people will buy for the training or the education and they stay for the community. It’s an amazing thing. But you can’t convince someone, like never sell a community. It’s there. It’s an aspect, it’s a choice to participate. And it becomes not even Paul anymore, it becomes everyone else and Paul. But you get what I’m saying, it’s really a fascinating thing.
Paul, I want to thank you a lot for taking time out and talking to us today. We’re going to put links to a couple of Paul’s onboarding articles that you can take a closer look at, link to his main site, link to his course. And I don’t know, maybe you can come back in the future. We’ll talk about something else.
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, that sounds good, man.
Brian Clark: Awesome. Okay, Everyone, have a great week and keep going. I’ll talk to you soon.