I was told this years ago by my Program Manager when I was working as a DoD contractor. A retired Commander in the US Navy, he told me how the Navy had conducted extensive studies and found that communications was at the heart of the majority of the problems encountered.

I’ve carried that concept forward ever since.

We’ve spent a lot of time on our client on-boarding process, and much of that time we’ve focused on properly communicating with our new client. On-boarding a perilous time; things can go very well or very wrong. Properly setting expectations and communicating often, we’ve found, it what typically results in on-boarding going very well.

In the past we struggled with the initial 2–3 week period of an engagement. There are many tasks, configurations, and steps that need to be accomplished before we can actually start publishing the marketing collateral that our clients hired us to produce.

For a long time we were not sure how we should handle this 2–3 week period from a billing standpoint. We weren’t producing social media posts, advertising, etc, but we were doing a lot of preparatory work.

We came to the realization that we were spending a good portion of time and energy during this period that was clearly billable work. Although you may not see public evidence of our work, our onboarding process is real work, producing real deliverables. We wouldn’t do this work unless it was for this new client.

If we billed by the hour like most agencies, this time would certainly result in an invoice. But we don’t nickel and dime our clients — we bill a flat monthly rate for all of our work.

After we realized that onboarding was billable work, we wanted to make it clear to the client that they should not expect to see any overt evidence of the work during this on-boarding period.

During the sales process we explain to clients that the first 2–3 weeks is full of internal work that must be done in order to ensure success. It’s also in our contract. The key is to explain this before they sign the contract, and in a clear manner. We then reinforce this expectation at our kickoff meeting at during the first digital marketing report we provide them.

You cannot simply tell a client once what they should expect and think that it’ll sink in. When you sign a new client, you are best served by setting expectations for your on-boarding period in order to prevent confusion and chaos in the future.

Then remind them of those expectations often.