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Are you ready for your next client meeting?

In part 2 of the Client Onboarding process I told you all about the intro packet and how it’s the foundation for setting expectations going forward with your client relationship. If the intro packet is the foundation, then the client meeting is the framing, or structure if you will.

Think of the client meeting like a job interview, which in a way it is. You are interviewing the client, and the client is interviewing you. This meeting is less about the design project and more about discovering if this client is someone with whom you want to have a working relationship. Both parties need to feel comfortable working with each other before anything else can proceed.

Don’t mistake this first client meeting for a discovery meeting. Don’t get me wrong, you'll get a lot of answers to your discovery questions during this first client meeting, but that’s not the purpose of this meeting. The real discovery process comes after you've received the signed contracts and deposits.

The client meeting is the part with the nitty gritty, the part when the client explains what it is they are looking for and why they reached out to you as a possible candidate for the project. It's not a deep dive into their design project. It’s a fact-finding mission. The client meeting is your chance to gather information so you can prepare a proposal for the project.

Remember, at this stage of the game, you and the client are not working together yet.

If you gave the client an intro packet as I talked about in the last episode, then you have the benefit of going into the client meeting with established ground rules and a potential client that knows how you work and wants to proceed to the next step. That’s always a good place to start.

Meeting with a potential client for the very first time can be both exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because it’s a fresh slate. They are presenting you, and possibly entrusting you with a brand new design project. At this stage the possibilities are endless. If this first meeting goes well, it can be the start of a long and lucrative relationship. It’s exciting.

However, it can also feel a bit Terrifying. The client is potentially entrusting you with the responsibility of finding a design solution that works for whatever problem they’re trying to solve. That can be a lot of weight on someone’s shoulders. If you don’t impress them during this first meeting, there’s a good possibility that your relationship will be over before it has a chance to start.

What can you do during this all-important client meeting part of the client onboarding process to sway things in your favour and convince the client that you’re the one for their job? That’s what this episode will teach you.

Every client meeting is different.

Of the entire client onboarding process, the client meeting is the one with the most variables. Every client is different, and no two design projects are the same. It only makes sense that every client meeting will be different as well. Here is a simple guideline that will hopefully give you the best chance of success. Because until the contract is signed, the client can always walk away. So let's do our best to prevent that outcome.

How to meet with a client.

There are many ways two individuals can communicate. But when it comes to an initial meeting with a potential client, there are only three methods that matter.

In order of importance they are:

  1. Meeting the client in person.
  2. Meeting the client over video.
  3. Talking to the client over the phone.

No matter how busy you are, or how busy the client is, your first meeting should never take place via text (email or any messaging service). Most meetings with your client even beyond this first one should be face-to-face in person or over video or on the phone.

The written word can be interpreted in different ways. It’s easy to take something out of context and inadvertently change the meaning of what the writer intended. Plus, personality seldom comes through in the written word. And personality plays a huge role in that ever important relationship building. Try to have at least your first client meeting face-to-face or over the phone.

Preparing for a client meeting.

Remember how I said the client meeting is like an interview? You wouldn’t go into an interview without doing some research on the company you were interviewing with, would you? The same goes for a client meeting. You want to know things about the client before meeting them. Google the client and their company. Read through their website if they have one. Quickly look up their competition. A little bit of time spent researching the client can go a long way in impressing them. The client will appreciate that.

Just like an interview, you do not want to be late for a client meeting. Make sure to double check where the meeting is taking place, the route to get there and how long it takes, and who exactly you are meeting.

Preparing yourself physically for a client meeting.

Have you ever heard the term “Dress for Success”? Unfortunately, when running a design business, your abilities and skills as a designer are not always enough to land you a client. In some cases, physical appearance can play a factor in whether or not a client hires you. It’s sad to say, but it’s true.

If you show up to a client meeting with a bank manager or a controlling partner of a law firm dressed in ripped jeans and a graphic T-shirt they probably won’t take you seriously. Before your meeting, try and get a feel for who the client is and dress appropriately. In a lot of cases a “business casual” look is all that’s required, but sometimes, to win the client you may have to clean up a bit more.

Always err on the side of caution, it’s better to be awkwardly overdressed than it is to create a wrong first impression by being underdressed. And unless you’re Chris Do or Aaron Draplin, leave the ball cap at home. Sure we creative types love the freedom to express ourselves. But save it for your other outings, not for client meetings.

Preparing yourself mentally for a client meeting.

Preparing yourself mentally before a client meeting is crucial to your success. You need to think positively about the outcome of the meeting.

Henry Ford is famous for his quote.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you're right,”

If you go into a client meeting thinking “I don’t have a chance of getting this project” then there’s a good chance you’ll fail.

Remind yourself that you are there for a reason. The client asked you to meet with them because they think you have what it takes to take on their project. You are capable. You know what you are doing. You have the skills needed to get the client’s job done. Skills that the client and everybody they work with don't have. So own it.

Make your first impression count.

When you first meet the client, you want to create the best first impression you can. Don’t slouch and try not to look nervous (no matter how nervous you are). Walk into the meeting with an air of confidence. Stand tall, look the client in the eye and smile.

Take the initiative and offer to shake their hand before they offer theirs. And please make sure you have a firm handshake. If you are not sure, find a practice partner. Nothing deflates an air of confidence like a limp handshake. Finally, just for etiquette allow the client to sit before taking a seat yourself.

What do you talk about during your first client meeting?

Before diving into the reason for the meeting, it’s always a good idea to engage in a bit of small talk to get comfortable with each other. Remember, this is the first stage of building a relationship with the client. Keep the conversation about positive things. DO NOT complain about the weather or traffic or anything else that may make you sound easily annoyed. It could turn the client off.

Be confident, but not overbearing. Try to act the same way you would on a first date. Would you give a second chance to someone who sounded desperate? Of course not. You want the client to think that you don’t need the work, that you are busy, that you’re in demand, and it will make them want to work with you even more.

I’ve said it many times before on the podcast, but it merits repeating it. Clients prefer to work with a good designer they like, then an amazing designer they don’t like. Use this opportunity to show the client you are likeable.

Once the small talk is out of the way, it’s time to get down to business. You can start by asking the client what they thought of your intro packet and if they have any questions about it — following that you should ask about their project and their business. If the chance comes up, ask about their family, or anything else that presents itself. Use this opportunity to get to know the client. The idea here is to make the client comfortable in dealing with you. Make sure to tell them a bit about yourself as well if they ask, it’s a two-way streak after all.

Let the client talk as much as they want. They’re the ones that wanted to meet with you. You’re busy and in demand after all. Let them explain why they contacted you. Be attentive, focused, and interested in what they have to say. Throw in a few words or gestures to show them you understand and let them feel comfortable talking to you.

And take notes, even if you don’t need them. Clients like it when people take notes while listening to them. It makes them feel like you value their information more.

Once the client is done talking, and you have a better grasp of their project, it’s time for you to ask questions about their design project and show them why you are the perfect candidate for the job. Ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Talk about possible solutions without going into too much detail.

Use this opportunity to flesh out the details of what the client needs so you can write up your proposal. Also, use it as a chance to show them your experience and how much you care about their business. Make sure to use examples of past successes you’ve had. Clients love to hear case studies, especially those that closely match their situations.

Finally, ask the client for their budget. I know it’s a touchy subject, but it’s a necessary one before you can write your proposal. The client's budget will determine the solution you provide them. If they are looking for a website, a budget of $10,000 will get them a much different site than a budget of $3,000. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, but if you ask with confidence like it’s just another step in the process, they’ll feel more inclined to answer you.

Before wrapping up the meeting, make sure to ask if the client has any more questions. It’s a good sign when they do. It means they are considering hiring you. Clients who have decided you are not the right person will seldom ask followup questions. But don’t worry if they don’t have any more questions. It may be because you did such a thorough job during the meeting.

Keep in mind while answering their questions that it's ok to say “I don’t know” or “I can look into that”. Then take note of their questions, and follow through with an answer as soon as you can.

Key pointers to remember.

  1. Relax and enjoy your conversation with the client. Remember that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain since they are not your client yet.
  2. Be confident. Even if this is your first client meeting, pretend like you’ve done it countless times before. It will help you come across as a seasoned professional.
  3. Talk to the client like you are partners. Use terms like “We” and “Us” when talking about working together.
  4. Use the client’s first name when addressing them. Using their first name sounds more personal and creates that impression of a relationship.
  5. Act as if you’ve already won the contract. Say things like “this is how we’ll do it” or “I’ll do this” when discussing the project.
  6. If you are meeting with more than one person try to determine who in the group is in charge and present to them directly. Don’t ignore the others in the group but present mostly to the person in charge.
  7. Practice beforehand. Stand in front of a mirror, present to a friend or family member, practice in the shower. The more prepared you are before the meeting, the better the meeting will go.
  8. If you are meeting at a neutral location like a restaurant or coffee shop, insist on buying their meal or drink. Keep the receipt and deduct it as a business expense.

Ending the meeting.

Once all the questions have been asked and answered it’s time to end the meeting. Use this last opportunity to leave a positive impression on the client. Smile and be confident. Let them know how much you’ve enjoyed meeting them. Thank them for their time.

Leave your business card and any other material you want to leave behind, and let the client know that should they have any more questions they can contact you.

If the client asked for a proposal remind them when they can expect to receive it. If they didn’t ask for one, let them know they can contact you if they want to proceed any further. After the meeting, make sure you follow up on anything you said you would.

Followup

If you haven’t heard back from the client within a week or so, follow up with a phone call or email. Let them know you are available if they have any questions about their project.

The chances are that after such a successful meeting the client will decide to hire you, but if they choose to use a different designer, don’t take it personally and don’t let it hurt your confidence. Even the most experienced designers in our industry lose out on clients. Just chalk it up to a helpful learning experience and start preparing for the next client meeting.

How comfortable are you at client meetings?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Scott

As a full time local newspaper ad print designer for 23 years and freelance designer when the opportunity comes up what is the best way to boost my clients from social media or otherwise? Most of my jobs come from word of mouth. Any direction in form of podcast episodes or otherwise would be greatly appreciated.

To find out what I told Scott you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Resource of the week Focus Music

If you are someone who enjoys listening to music but finds it distracting while working you may want to try listing to what is called “Focus Music”. Focus Music is downbeat instrumental music with a soft, slow tone that is perfect for filling the silence. It's the type of music that will not distract you while you work.

Search for the term “focus” in your favourite music app and find a playlist that suits your tastes.

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Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

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