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Project Client On-Boarding

As a continuation to first post in the "How to Plan a large eCommerce project - Goals and Defining the Project" I will now get into the project on-boarding process that I typically go through when a contract has been signed and the scope/goals have been defined.  

This on-boarding process is designed to set the stage for a great working relationship through the next many months.  I will cover a few topics, which are not exhaustive, but if are reviewed and discussed will lead to a smooth implementation.

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How We Bill?

Typically you or your agency will submit a billing document to your client upon the signed agreement.  However, I find it a great reminder to the client if you
discuss how you handle billing.  If you run projects hourly, you can discuss your hourly rate, how you are tracking time (I've used Harvest App) and how you invoice (every two weeks, every month, etc.).  It is clear to assume that if you are running an hourly project that any hours you or your development team track is what they will be billed.  The client needs to understand that fact.

While the estimate serves as a benchmark to the average hours you think it will take to complete the scope, all the extra hours that you track will also be billed. The conversation to have with the client is an acceptable fudge ratio. Within the teams that I have worked with, it is typically a maximum of 15% overage that can be billed, after that, you have to eat the cost.

If you are completing a fixed price job, you will still want to track time for efficiency purposes, but you don't have to submit those hours to the client. The client will submit payment on a specified schedule. The important aspects to key in on within a fixed priced billing are how you will handle overages.  You will want to discuss change orders and what initiates a change order. Talk about an hour overage that will need a signed change order; this could be 10 hours, 15 hours, or 20 hours. If a task or request will be 10 hours over your agreed scope, then you need more hours.  

In my experience, the best way to go about this process is to allow changes through the project, log those change orders in a centralized system, and bill a large invoice at the end of the project. You can submit the change order invoice (which includes, C.O. #1-#12) and the client can get that approved at one time instead of nickel and diming each request as they come.

Remember you are in a working relationship, that will last for years to come, some things you just just have to let slide for the benefit of all. In my opinion, a fixed price job is the better option for billing. You can then focus on quality and effectiveness, and the client gets visibility in accounting and what they will be paying and when.

How We Communicate?

Communication will make or break your eCommerce (or digital) project, take that to the bank.   If you are waiting for correspondence or decision making for 48 hours simply to get a design approved you may have larger issues. The issue is that you didn't explain how important it was to communicate and the best channels.

While onboarding the client, create a quick reference process for how to communicate and when to communicate.

  • Step 1: Submit a request or communication via Basecamp (my PM software of choice).  You will receive a response in less than 24 hours.
  • Step 2: Submit a request via email if it is more logical to forward information to the project manager, OR if the original sender is not a major part of the project.  This could be an extension or plugin maker sending you credentials or a license for the added functionality.
  • Step 3: Skype or GoToMeeting.  There should be a weekly check-in but to communicate quicker you can have impromptu Skype calls to answer questions quickly and swiftly.
  • Step 4: Pick up the phone.  Yes, phones still exist, and yes, you can still use them.  If you haven't heard back from your client and you are losing project time, call them.

Within the project you need to have ways to escalate communication and following those 4 steps is a great start.

Who is your agency, who is Client X, and Project Goals?

During the kick-off time, You will want to reiterate your company, you're the client, and the ultimate project goals.  Review this post to find some questions to ask to get to this step.  You need a clear line of sight through each team to be successful.

Setup Kickoff Call & Weekly Meeting Day and Time

Your kickoff call will serve as the official start of your project.  If you are using an agile SCRUM approach this will be the week before your first sprint and sprint planning.  Schedule the kickoff ahead of time and try to get all stakeholders ON CAMERA and in front of each other. Developers, designers, PMs, overhead, and the client should all attend.

In my opinion, this call is not designed to talk about the project, rather this is a time to get people in one place and talk about the "STORY" of each team.  Talk about previous experience, talk about the predefined goals, talk about the 5-year plan, and talk about actual business growth goals from 10,000 feet.


As for the weekly call, it can be hard to nail down a call time that works for everyone.  I've found that the best way to do this is to create a Google Drive spreadsheet for the Project Plan and make a tab for "Client Communication".

Add the stakeholders first and last name and your hours of operation (for me it is the red shaded area, EST) and allow people to put an 'X' where they are NOT available. Then, once everyone has placed in their schedule you can make an informed decision for the weekly meeting.  Simple, right?

Collect Passwords/Credentials

The last piece of the onboarding process is to collect sensitive passwords and credentials to your client's operations and technologies. This can be tricky, but currently, there aren't a lot of great options for sharing passwords without sending them over the air. If they have a PassPack account (what I use for secure storage of passwords) they can share the proper entries with you, but if they don't you have to get creative.

My experience shows me that most clients aren't as secure with their passwords as one may like. I've seen spreadsheets, notepads, and even a chalkboard for password storage and it makes me shake my head.  Nonetheless, I typically try to separate the username from the password by asking for a spreadsheet of the Service (Gmail, social media, etc) numbered, 1, 2, 3, etc. via Basecamp.  

Next, I ask for a pdf or another spreadsheet file to be emailed directly to me, using the same 1,2,3 counting system but that only has the password field. This tends to work very well and it is simple enough for every client to be able to do it.

Summary Project On-boarding

In summation, this post "How to Plan a Large ecommerce Project - Part 2 - Project On-Boarding" is designed to cover the steps of how to onboard a client to your agency or individual LLC successfully.  

If there are things that you do within this process to make it a little more fun or to hit the "hot spots" feel free to comment below.  I would love to hear from you.

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By Michael Cristancho

I'm a Digital Commerce and Experience evangelist who enjoys engaging in thought-provoking conversation and mutual exploration. I am a strong believer that learning never ends, and each day brings another opportunity to grow as an individual and professional.