client intake form

Small business basics

Creating an effective client intake form for your small business

Learn all about intake forms for small businesses and how you can create effective online forms that can deliver tangible results.

April 12 · 9 min read

Creating a client intake form might sound like one of those trivial tasks that you can just put together in five minutes or so. While it is indeed possible to quickly create the form, the primary focus should be on getting it right.

The client intake form is fundamental to the new client onboarding process. Without it, you might end up going through a lengthy spell of back and forths, which your prospective client might not appreciate. So how then do you go about it?

At the end of this post, you’ll know all about intake forms for small businesses and how you can create effective online forms that can deliver tangible results. Let’s dive in.

Overview of the client intake form

A client intake form is simply a questionnaire that you share with new clients to kickstart your working relationship with them officially. Sure, you might have covered some stuff during the intake process, but this form helps officially document this important client information, such as who they are and what service or product they require from your business.

The information in these client intake forms lays the foundation for whatever strategy you will use to achieve their end goals.

You also gain a better understanding of whether you and your potential client can enjoy a productive relationship or whether it’s likely to be short-lived. For example, if you offered web design services, but the new client only signed up for web maintenance, the relationship is likely to terminate if their main website management company decides to offer maintenance services too.

No doubt all small businesses need one. Unsurprisingly, they’re used by startups, corporations, and even individual contractors. Healthcare and wellness institutions, real estate agencies, law firms, and marketing companies are among the top users of client intake forms.

Of course, the type of client information requested from prospective clients will differ based on their industries, but the main goal is pretty much the same — to obtain all necessary information about the client and their needs.

Why does your small business need an intake form?

From the definition above, it’s already clear why small businesses need to utilize client intake forms in their onboarding processes. Being able to garner relevant information from your new client allows you to deliver personalized solutions and optimize workflow, which in turn further cement your working relationship.

It’s a data-driven world we live in, and leveraging useful client information to craft tailored solutions is simply the smart way to do business. Who knows, you might even identify other services that the client might need, allowing you to offer more value along with higher returns.

Another benefit is that it allows you to streamline the process of onboarding new customers. And it’s not just when you land a new client. You could also use the form to streamline your marketing funnel. For instance, you could direct potential clients from your landing page to a simple intake form to prequalify whether they are the right fit for your business.

Client intake forms also make for an excellent reference document. Perhaps there’s a bit of miscommunication down the line, the intake form serves as a record of information provided by the client.

Lastly, a client intake form can give your business more prestige. Clients are often impressed by simple, streamlined onboarding processes, which sets the tone for positive interaction.

How intake forms can simplify your client intake process

The client intake process marks the commencement of the client’s journey with your business. Obviously, you want to get as much relevant information as possible so you can identify pain points and tackle them squarely. The mistake many small business owners make is that they request this information in an unstructured manner.

Today, they want some info, and so they send an email to the client. The following week, they need more information, but the client hasn’t responded to the first email yet, so they call or try to initiate a quick chat…and on it goes. This haphazard approach can make the entire client intake process messy and probably even piss off the client.

Each business’s new customer onboarding process will typically differ, but in the end, one of three things will usually happen:

  • You’ve got the right client, meaning you both agree it’s a good fit
  • You decide that the client isn’t a good fit
  • The client decides that your business isn’t a good fit

The makings of an effective client intake form

The most important thing to remember here is to keep your questionnaire short and your questions simple to answer. It’s also a good idea to put some thought into what kinds of answers you are expecting — long answers, multiple-choice, yes/no, etc.

In any case, an effective client intake form is the one that delivers all the necessary information to allow you to provide the best possible solutions. Here are the most important components to include when creating a new client intake form:

Brief intro

Start with something personal and gently ease the client into the body of the form. Nothing too lengthy — a brief background information about our business and a quick explanation of why you’re requesting this info from the client will suffice.

The intro should also include relevant branding information, such as the client’s name (or business name), what they do, their phone number, and other contact information.

Preliminary questions

Once you’ve covered the basics, you can begin asking your questions. Start by letting the client describe their business in their own words. You want to be able to capture how the client sees their business. When describing their products or services, business owners are often more articulate and provide deeper insight into why that business exists in the first place.

This personal information is extremely important because it allows you to pick out the company’s unique value propositions. By identifying what sets them apart, you gain a better understanding of what kind of solutions to offer. For example, marketing agencies often ask clients about how and why they got into the business. This info then allows them to craft unique content and promote certain selling points over others.

Questions about the client’s current challenges and long-term goals

Ask straightforward questions. Your business client already knows why you need this information, so go right ahead and ask them. What are they currently struggling with? How much impact is it making on their bottom line? What solutions have they implemented so far? What are their projections for the company’s future? Is there anything holding them back?

The answers to these questions will tell a story of how your business can best serve this client. Also, by understanding their long-term goals, you can spot opportunities for more business down the road. In any case, the key is to ask your questions in a way that the client can easily answer. Give them ample space to describe what they consider to be the main issues facing their organization.

Budget information

Questions here tend to be touchy as being able to fit your services within their budget is usually one of the biggest deal makers or breakers in the onboarding process. If their budget can’t quite cover what you’re offering, you may need to have a conversation with them about it (ideally, you should have covered this in the initial call stage).

There’s no reason to undersell your business. If you consider your pricing to be of commensurate value as what is being provided, then stick with it. Basically, it comes down to how much they are willing to pay to make this problem and subsequent challenges go away.

Competition info

It’s always a great idea to gain insight into your client’s position in the market. How stiff is the competition? Are there lots of indirect competitors? What percentage of market share does the client control?

This information allows you to create a baseline for how to approach the work to be done for the client. For instance, a marketing agency can look at the client’s keyword rankings in relation to the keywords that are ranking for their competitors. With this data, they can tweak the client’s keyword optimization strategy and position them to compete better in search engines.

Additional information or questions that might have been omitted

Is there any other useful information that you need to know about the client? Perhaps you didn’t ask for some information, but the client believes it will come in handy in getting your job done more efficiently. This section is where to get it. What you want is to get a well-rounded understanding of the client’s needs and how your business can address them, so be sure to glean as much info as you can.

Building your new client intake form

Because of all the customization involved, creating a new client intake form every time you want to onboard a new prospect is time-consuming. Plus, it might require some mastery of coding languages like HTML and CSS to create forms with unique designs and functionalities.

Thankfully, there are dozens of free intake form templates that can reduce the hassles. The first thing to note here is that an intake form is just a form — questions and fields for answers. If you had even a basic understanding of Microsoft Excel or Word, you could whip one up in a couple of minutes.

If you want something fancier with a more streamlined creation process, a client intake form template can get the job done in no time. You get a customizable form builder with drag-and-drop functionality. The good thing with using a template is that it saves you time, which you can otherwise use to craft your questions.

Some of the most popular tools for creating client intake forms include Google Forms, Wufoo, Lexicata, TypeForm, and SampleForms. Feel free to test them all out to decide on which one best fits your intake process requirements.

Our best tips for creating effective intake forms

  • Make sure you’re asking the right questions — You’ll want to avoid generic stuff and instead focus on asking specific questions that let you gain deeper insight into your client’s business.
  • Send follow-up forms only where necessary — Perhaps they didn’t provide a comprehensive answer to an important question. You could send follow-up questions to get that information.
  • Brand your intake form — Regardless of what tool you used to create it, your client intake form should be well-designed and contain elements of your brand identity (logo, company name, contact information, color selections, and so on). This builds credibility and trust.
  • Include an e-signature capability — This helps speed things up. Why should the client have to print out the form, append their signature, scan the document, and then send it back to you? E-signatures can streamline this tedious process, and the client can send you the completed form in no time.
  • Send forms from your business email address — This makes it easier for the recipient to immediately recognize who’s requesting information from them.

What next after creating your client intake form?

Well, first things first, proofread the entire document. It’s going to be a colossal embarrassment to your company to send out a questionnaire riddled with typos and grammar issues. After your final checks, the next step is figuring how you want to send the form.

Generally, there are two main methods: placing the form on your website, directing potential clients to the page, or sending the form directly to the client.

If you’re targeting a wide market, putting the form on your website and driving users to the landing page is a great approach. The main drawback, however, is that you can’t fully customize the form for each client. Also, because you’ve made the form public, you might get responses from prospects that don’t actually bring anything tangible to the table.

By sending the form directly to the client, you can make any necessary adjustments and provide a truly personalized questionnaire. Of course, it takes more time, but it could help you avoid time wasters and improve your working relationship with the client.

The bottom line

Client intake forms are powerful tools, and you should look to wield them whenever you’re onboarding new customers. Remember to keep your questions short and direct. Also, seek to gain as much relevant information as possible about the client so you can provide tailored solutions for them. This is what makes your business stand out and lays the foundation for a successful working relationship.

Stay up to date on small business basics with B12

The B12 Resource Center contains dozens of guides and articles for small businesses looking to stay ahead and drive up their profitability. You should definitely check it out for other great resources like What are the best online payment options for small businesses? and how to say ‘thank you’ in business.

B12 is a specialized web design and development agency that builds smart websites using AI technology. Want to learn more? Simply sign up for free, and we’ll get you started with a draft of your new web design in as little as five minutes.

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