Client intake forms are important. Most coaches and consultants should have them and be using them – and using them effectively.
First, a definition: a client intake form is a standard set of questions that you ask to new clients. These questions can be presented literally as a written form for them to fill out, or they can be asked in an initial conversation. Either way, the intake form provides a structured approach to getting key information from the client before the engagement begins.
Along with your client contract, the intake form can set the tone for your relationship with the client.
We interviewed experts from both inside and outside the awarenow community of coaches to come up with these 4 best practices for how to use a client intake form.
Client Intake Form Tip #1: Get the Basics
Many coaches are so eager to get started with a new client that they dive right into the client’s situation, history, and goals. These are important – and we’ll cover them in the very next section – but coaches also need to make sure that they cover the boring, logistical questions too. After all, it’s hard to lead a client to long-term, lasting change if their phone is off and you don’t have another way to get in contact.
Karlin Sloan of Sloan Group International suggests that coaches “make any pre-coaching forms simple and focused on gathering mission-critical information for your records like names and billing information.” In addition, these forms should cover other mundane but important details such as backup contact information, preferred methods of communication, optimal working times, and other communication preferences.
At the same time, be thoughtful about the information you are requesting. Make sure that you have a clear need for every piece of information on your form. If you appear to be asking for an endless amount of information that does appear to be directly relevant to your engagement, the client may begin to doubt your methods – at the very least you will have gotten off on the wrong foot. Some irrelevant questions that we have seen on forms include asking for residential address, marital status, or salary information.
Client Intake Form Tip #2: Get a Baseline
Another mistake that many coaches make with their client intake forms is that they can be so eager to start thinking about where the client can go that they neglect to define where the client is now, at the beginning. As such, a great client intake form will include structured self-assessment questions. These will not only help you as the coach to personalize their training program as appropriate, but will also allow you to have a record to look back on when measuring progress. Change is often incremental. To use an analogy, it’s easier to see how much a plant has grown by looking at a photograph a month ago than it is when observing it every day.
In eliciting the client’s current state, Joe Wilson from MintResume.com recommends “open-ended questions that cover their current status as well as their goals”. Building on this, career coach Luisa Zhou recommends asking clients: “What have you done so far? Why didn’t it work? What has prevented you from being successful thus far?” Questions like these provide a snapshot of where the client is right now, so you can better structure their journey forward.
Lydia Loizides of Talently similarly recommends using open-ended questions, and structures her topics around “current life and professional satisfaction, goals that are top of mind, barriers to those goals, and concerns that the client may have about coaching”.
As is apparent from the above, experts agree on using open-ended questions that allow the client to express themselves and to proactively address topics such as the reasons why they haven’t had success with their specific issues in the past. As Lynell Ross of Test Prep Insight concludes, “once you and the client can see the areas that they would like to improve, this determines the path for change.”
Client Intake Form Tip #3: Look Forward
Now that you understand the client’s history, the next step is to determine what they expect from your relationship.
One of the most effective questions you can ask to find this is, “How will you know when the coaching process is working and providing value for you?” (credit to Jamie Gelbtuch of Cultural Mixology). Not only do questions like these give you insight into the client’s psyche, but also allows them to picture their goal – and be motivated by it.
Similarly, Dr. Amanda Chay, a naturopathic physician with The Natural Path Clinic advises that: “You need to be crystal clear on the expected outcome so you can help get them there and shift gears if you are not seeing the results you both expect. This will also give you a clear idea of their deeper why and desire. This is helping for both motivation for any bumps in the road and also for future marketing.”
Coaches can also use the intake form to find out more about how their clients operate and get insight into the type of coaching strategies that are most likely to yield results.
In addition, your intake form can help identify the best approach with the client to ensure efficacy, and thus help you in planning your curriculum.
Gelbtuch recommends questions to prompt this such as: “What’s the hardest thing that you’ve had to overcome? How did you do it?” or “How do you learn best? Please share some examples.”
However, just like with the logistical questions we discussed in the first section, coaches and consultants need to be careful not to frustrate or exhaust the client. For example, Alicia Hough of The Product Analyst emphasizes the importance of establishing trust before asking questions that might be interpreted as overly provocative or intimate: “forcing our clients to educate us on their history and what affected what in their life, might be too much for them to handle.”
Client Intake Form Tip #4: Use What You Learned
A great client intake form is not meant to be wheeled out and admired; it is designed to be used. This sounds obvious, but far too many coaches simply look at it once, perhaps use it to inform their first consultation, and then put it aside. This is a missed opportunity when the intake form can play a crucial role in understanding the client’s issues, goals, obstacles, methods of learning, and starting point and can allow you to tailor your services as appropriate. As per William Taylor of VelvetJobs.com, regularly consulting the intake form in the early stages of an engagement allows you to “get more insights about your client, and this helps you determine the best way to coach and mentor them.”
Some ways in which a form can help you personalize your coaching, as appropriate, are obvious and/or covered above. Jordin Rubin, life coach at Enhance Coaching & Mentoring provides some an additional use that coaches might not initially consider: “Your intake form can help you determine whether a client is motivated enough to work with you as a coach. If a potential client is not willing to fully complete your intake form, chances are they may not be motivated enough to take action on the goals you set each week for coaching. It can also help you determine if the client is a good fit for coaching. While the client may be motivated to work with a coach, and is dedicated to improving their life, the results on your client intake form may determine otherwise.”
Client intake forms need not be a burdensome bit of record keeping; done correctly, they can serve as a powerful tool to launch a great engagement. They can help you understand your client better, provide them with motivation and accountability around their goals, and create a point-in-time snapshot that can help them later see how much they’ve progressed while working with you.