When you first set up your freelance business, there’s a lot to add to your to do list. Designing business cards, building a website, sourcing new clients and getting your name out there into the world. So by the time it rolls around to your first ever client meeting, it can be a little intimidating knowing where to start.
Do you go in with a handshake or a hug? (Hint…never go in with a hug). Which coffee shop should you recommend? Do you bring a laptop or a notebook? What on earth should you wear? These are all questions I faced at the very start of my freelance career, and I’m proud to say I misjudged so many things when I first started out. Luckily, I soon figured out how to get my act together, and I wanted to share that today. So here are my tips to remember in your first ever client meeting!
Focus on the purpose of the meeting.
What is this meeting for? Are you looking to gain work from them, are they looking to hire you straight away? Do they want you to put together a proposal of work before they even begin to think about working with you? Make sure you know what the purpose of the meeting is before agreeing to it, and let that guide the rest of your decisions in the build up to.
In the initial client meeting, often there are several secondary points being established. The client will want to know that you are competent, capable and reliable, so make sure you show up on time (or even better, early) and be ready to start the meeting from the second they sit down. Where possible, pick a place you know and have visited often so you feel comfortable being able to locate the toilets, ordering a drink you enjoy and determining which seats are the best for a quiet chat.
If you’re meeting in a coffee shop or a cafe, you don’t need to dress too formally. However, you are putting on your best front, so make sure you look presentable and smart. Avoid sweatshirts or t-shirts, and focus on your best outerwear and smart shoes. Often, the client will be dressed up in informal wear, but as the potential supplier of work, you need to look your best.
Prepare for everything.
You never really know what you might be asked during an initial client meeting. So, where possible, try to prepare for every eventuality. Grab the wifi code beforehand, so you’re not waiting around in awkward silence for it later. Make sure your laptop and phone are fully charged, in case the meeting runs on longer than expected. Turn your phone on silent and your notifications off, to ensure no embarrassing messages pop up mid-conversation.
If in doubt, bring a notebook, pen and laptop to make the necessary notes. It’s important that you appear naturally prepared, to make the best impression on your client, so they know you can handle anything they might throw at you.
Listen and engage.
When a potential client approaches a freelancer, there’s a certain element of trust that is at the core of the transaction. For many businesses, their company or their product is their baby and putting it in the hands of strangers is a big decision to make. You need to reassure them that you will handle it with care, and that you have just as much passion about the project as they do.
Keep your focus on the conversation at all times, and avoid being distracted by outside noises. Allow yourself to be impressed by the company’s success and try not to pass any strong judgement on any comments you don’t agree with. Remember, you’re only there to talk about the work you can do, rather than reorganise the company and it’s structure.
Make brief, but smart notes.
It’s important to remember, during your first client meeting, that you’re not interviewing them and that a lot of the information they might be sharing can be found through a quick Google search. It can off-putting for the client if you sit writing notes throughout the entirety of the meeting. You need to look engaged in the conversation and be an equal participant in the meeting, rather than a scribe.
Try to take notes in the following three categories: Context, Your Tasks, Their Tasks. For Context, this is where you write down any details that are ‘need to know’ for your work, i.e. login details, usernames, URLs, brief, services, etc… Anything that will help you deliver a better, more exact quality of work. Your Tasks are the jobs that you need to carry out, including typing up meeting notes, setting up any platforms, sharing email addresses, etc… Their Tasks are the responsibilities they have, i.e. connect you to the right people, setting up meetings, scheduling in calls, send over guidelines.
These are the only notes you need to make, to help you look back and reflect on the meeting at a quick glance.
Be coherent and positive
As a freelancer, your responsibility is to perform services for your clients and deliver high quality work. Your ability to do this needs to be transmitted to the client from your very first interaction. Reinforce your skills, experience and success rate through positive and confident language. Recommend additional services the client could utilise, express your expectations for the positive outcome of the project.
Make sure that you are clear about what you can offer, what you are going to deliver and what you anticipate the results to be. Answer their questions honestly, coherently and proudly. Let them know that you are excited to work on their project, that you enjoy the work you do and that you look forward to further communication with them. It’s important to remember that you can be professional, yet still have passion and emotion too.
Your first client meeting will always be a little bit nerve-wracking, and it’s ok to feel unsure of yourself to start with. But remember, you know your skills, you know your abilities. All you’re doing now is telling your client: ‘yes, I can do that’.