Best news ever! A potential client has scheduled an in-person meeting with you to discuss their needs and how you might be able to help them. (Got a phone conversation? Learn how to overcome fear and win the account.)
Eeeeek! That means you actually have to go and talk face to face with them. What will you say? How will you convey how perfect you are for the job?
Don’t let your phobias kill your chances before you get there. Follow this guide to rocking your first client meeting: from preparation to follow-through and nail your meeting to win the account. (If there’s anything that helps you rock client meetings and we’ve left it out below, leave a comment and add to the list!)
Before the meeting takes place, organize yourself and your thoughts to make the meeting run smoothly and keep your nerves in check.
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Double-check the details
The best way to get off on the wrong foot is to arrive late. Always check and recheck when and where your meeting will be and how to get there – you may want to scope out the location ahead of time.
Send an email reminder to your client confirming the location, time, and date, or call them the morning of and tell them how much you’re looking forward to talking with them later that day.
Don’t forget to address how you’ll find one another if you don’t know what each other looks like.
Dress for success
Your appearance sets the tone for the entire meeting. Think about how you want your client to perceive you and wear clothing appropriate to that look, keeping in mind that your clothing can affect your paycheck. Clients are less likely to haggle over pricing if you look like a professional.
Ladies (and sometimes men): choose jewelry and accessories that complement your look. Your everyday purse, sunglasses, or smart phone case might not be appropriate.
Prepare your materials
Snafus during meetings can fluster even the most seasoned designers and make clients concerned about your organizational skills.
- Preload your website or digital portfolio on your laptop or tablet.
- Make sure you have paper and a working writing utensil to take notes.
- Put your business cards in location where you’ll naturally see them so you remember to give them to your client (e.g. in the same pocket as your writing utensil or in a small pocket of your laptop bag).
Practice your pitch
It sounds obvious, but know what you’re going to say and practice it! You should have an idea of what kind of work your client needs. Tailor your pitch to their project while suggesting additional services that complement it.
- Write an outline of the meeting, practicing what you’ll cover for each part.
- Have a mock meeting with your spouse, pet, mirror, or best friend.
Meeting your potential client
The big day has arrived, and you’re walking into your location, 5-10 minutes early if possible. Now what? (PS – Run and hide isn’t an option.)
- Walk in with good posture and a confident air.
- Leave your right hand available for shaking hands in case your client is already there.
- Find a table with room for your belongings, portfolio, and food/beverages. Quieter and out of the way is better so you don’t have to yell or deal with distractions.
Getting settled and introductions
First impressions are important, so make sure you create the one you want. Be friendly, professional, and personable, but most important, be yourself!
Take a few minutes to make small talk before launching into your spiel; you don’t want to come off as too eager to make the sale. Incorporate local events to appear connected and in-touch with your area.
Hi Jerry, it’s nice to meet you. How is your day going? Isn’t the weather lovely (or awful) – are you going to the festival/sports event/exposition this weekend?
Discussing their needs
Transition from small talk into why they’ve asked you to meet. Listen to what they have to say, ask questions, and take notes – even if you don’t need them, it makes you look like you value their information and are focused on what they’re saying.
So you mentioned needing some help with your upcoming presentation. Can you tell me a little bit more about it? Can you describe your audience (age, gender, interests, income level, etc.)? What is the most important thing they need to remember the day after your presentation?
Once you have a better grasp on their project, show them (through your digital and printed portfolios) why you are the perfect person for the job. Talk about how your solutions will exceed their expectations, citing similar projects for other clients or adding value through complementary services.
You’ve found the right person – my specialty is information presentation. Let me show you some of the presentations I’ve created.
This particular client was also presenting to potential members. Not only did we create a digital presentation, we created an infographic poster summarizing membership benefits and placed it next to one of the email sign-up forms. The form next to the infographic received three times the emails as the other two forms placed around the presentation.
Refocusing on their needs
As you wrap up your portfolio show-and-tell and sales pitch, refocus the conversation on their needs. Feel out their interest level in your services. Discuss their time line and broach the ever-dreaded subject: budget. Most importantly, define your next contact with them.
Jerry, with your presentation, we’ll want to focus not only on how your membership provides value, but also how members can easily attain that value.
When is your presentation? Great, we’ve got about a month – that should be plenty of time. I can have a quote prepared for you by Friday. What sort of budget do you have in mind?
Once you’ve secured your next contact with the potential client (providing a quote, touching base with them once they’ve talked to their bosses, etc.), it’s time to wrap up the meeting. Thank them for their time, reconfirm your next action, and be sure to hand out your business card, reminding them to visit your website.
Thank you for taking the time to share your project with me today, Jerry. You’ll receive my quote no later than Friday. Here’s my business card in case you need to contact me, and feel free to visit my website – I post marketing and design advice on my blog. Have a great day!
Make sure to clean up after yourself – put your garbage/recycling/dirty dishes in the proper receptacles.
Also, refrain from immediately using your phone – checking your email seconds after you say goodbye sends the message that you’ve been desperate to end the meeting to get back to your life. Instead, gather your belongings and head out the door. Once you’re back to your car or on the subway, you’ll have plenty of time to check your messages.
For example, I recently met with a potential client who is looking to move to my area. After our meeting, I sent him information on a local real estate agent (also a client of mine). Then I emailed my real estate agent and let her know I passed her information on. Win-win!
Final client first meeting tips
Here are a few solid tips for any designer (or freelancer for that matter) meeting a client for the first time.
- Pretend like you’ve done this 1000 times. If you act the part, you’ll look more confident even if this is your very first meeting.
- Smile. Look like you’re enjoying talking with them.
- If something embarrassing happens to you, apologize, laugh it off, and refocus on your meeting. A true professional overcomes adversity and realizes they aren’t perfect.
- If something embarrassing happens to your client, wave it off and get back to business. Put yourself in their shoes and make them as comfortable as you can.
- Order food/beverages ideal for business meetings. Messy foods like spaghetti or finger foods like chicken strips might create embarrassing situations or a less-than-professional perception.
- Be kind to the help. How you treat your waitress says a lot about your character.
- Use their first name throughout your meeting. It personalizes the meeting for your client and helps you remember their name.
How do you prepare for, and execute, your client first meetings? Do you have any tips to share?
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