How to completely rock your first client meeting

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!)

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Pre-meeting preparation

Before the meeting takes place, organize yourself and your thoughts to make the meeting run smoothly and keep your nerves in check.

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.

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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?

Selling yourself

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?

Wrapping up

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.

Post-meeting follow-through

Now you have to be true to your word. Follow through with whatever you promised to do, and remember to proof-read. If you can connect with them over a mutual interest or personal need, do so.

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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  1. WOW there was not a shred of usable information in this article. Nothing here indicates you have ever dealt with web design or have any information to offer on how to organize information for an initial meeting. You should title this article “How to use soft skills for an interview”.

  2. Hi April, good day to you.
    I’m Ellie, 34 years old and switching a job from mechanical engineer to sales designer. I have no ideas for a very first meeting with client, to build a confidence between us, and to sell the design package to him. As I am so technical girl in the past eleven years, I guess I need to learn a lot for marketing now. Looking forward to your advise..

  3. Super helpful. Just got off the phone with a client eagerly awaiting a quote. I used to just think in terms of what I needed to know to understand the project and shoot a bunch of specific questions at them. I used this article to ask more open ended questions in the beginning which got the ball rolling, then touched on all my relevant experience, and came back to their needs and how we could potentially fill them. The result was a more natural conversation flow and it helped me to understand when to start selling myself.

  4. Thanks a mill, Greer.
    I own and run a growing self publishing (book) company here in Africa (Ghana) and will be meeting a potential client tomorrow….You’ve answered quite all of my lingering questions about meeting with him tomorrow.

    And hey, thanks Cheli, your point is well noted.

  5. I have started new business of designing even by using this tips my clients are showing less interest , as if everyone hv tieup with some other designers it’s really affecting my business. What should I do in such situations.

  6. Very helpful tips as i need guidance to teach my students for the business conversation, “meeting new client” as the topic.. Tks so much

  7. Thanks for the blog April ! Being confident and polite helps me to establish good relationship with my clients. Being prompt and sincere in my job gives me the strength and confidence. Immediate response to them and constant communication with them has helped me a lot too !

  8. I would keep myself calm and confident on the day of the meeting ! A polite and smiling appearance always gives me a best impression. I would practice a lot before hand and that gives me enough confidence . A confident and polite gesture makes me appealing before them !

  9. What about remote work? I operate a small business from home, (my clients do not know that) and I was wondering when I call my potential clients or what we call leads, Is there a great web app to take all notes, comments, answers, prepare questions before hand on that web app, and add pretty much all that is necesary while the call is happening and then convert that into a draft of a Design or Creative Brief? If there is a web app, I would love to try it, if not I would love to create it, anyone interested?

  10. I run a financial business, I fully focus on online marketing alone. The main reason is that I am not comfortable at meeting people. This article is an eye opener for people like me.

    Thank you so much..


  11. OMG you just made my day, thank you very much
    You won’t believe how much help you’ve given me right now. You’re truly a life saver
    My hero

  12. I just want to say that I can’t get enough of the graphic design blender blog! Literally, every time I have an issue or question pop up in my freelance business, I know exactly where to turn to get expert advice. Thank you for the excellent tips. Consider me one of your biggest fans.

    1. Kristin,
      Wow. Thank you so much for your kind words! You can now consider the Millo team your biggest fans too. 🙂 Good luck in everything. Let us know how we can continue to help!

  13. “Being new to the Web/Graphics/Design World – and I may well have to attend a client meeting with my boss … Thanks for the tips.”

  14. When you first meet, on your approach to shake hands, extend your hand, look them in the eye, smile and tilt your head to the side slightly as you say hello. Universal body language.

    1. Bob,

      Great tips for we design nerds who don’t feel comfortable meeting new people!

      Thanks for sharing!

  15. Great article with classic business tips! I learned brushing off an error in a presentation with a laugh also adds that human element and makes everyone more at ease. One thing I try and do is remember no one is forcing me to do this. I do it because I love it. So I try and keep that element of fun in everything I do. With design or even my blogging.

    I appreciate the advice and look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

    1. Sophia,

      So true – sometimes a hiccup in the meeting makes everyone relax a bit. When you can gain that “human” edge instead of being a nice stranger, you have a much better chance of winning the account.

      Thanks for sharing!

  16. Thanks so much for sharing. This is my worst nightmare (well, just below public speaking). So many of us lead solitary lives with our only contact through email and facebook. Meeting REAL PEOPLE!? AHHHH! I love the sample conversations you included. That’s so helpful.

    A contact I admired through networking once said “At any event you attend, act like you are the hostess.” That has always stuck with me. I’ve had a few Martha Stewart like parties in my day, and hey… no problem! I’m a great hostess (IMHO). So I try to attack networking, business meetings and even social gatherings with that thought in my head.

    I’m hoping you’ll do a similar oh-so-helpful blog post (with examples) on writing a query/cover letter when sending your samples via snail mail…. PLEASE? I’m a great hostess, not such a great writer…

    1. Tamian,

      You’re welcome! Thanks for your kind words.

      I love that quote, “at any event you attend, act like you are the hostess.” When you appear in control, people naturally will come to trust you and look to you for direction. You become a natural leader before the meeting!

      I would love to post on writing a cover letter via snail mail. Give me a couple of weeks to get it in the schedule.

      Thanks for sharing!

  17. When you dress for success, it should be to the accepted norms of the industry for your client. Show up for a meeting with a web designer wearing a suit, they might not feel you “get them.” Show up for a meeting with a lawyer without a tie and you might not command their respect.

    1. Mike,

      Couldn’t say it better myself. Stick with industry norms.*

      *Even if my client says “totally casual,” I still wear jeans and a nice shirt, tho. I’d rather be slightly – but not completely – overdressed than underdressed. If it seems like an issue to the client, I can always say I have a meeting after this one that’s a bit dressier and I won’t be going home to change.

      Thanks for sharing!

  18. This is awesome! A lot of suggestions are common sense, however several people do not think about being punctual. I find it very useful to arrive at a cafe before my client meets me there. I have time to set up my computer, pad, paper, pens, contracts, price list, business card, etc…(I like to have everything out and ready to go) I’ve only had to make a pitch once or twice so far. Most of my clients are referrals, social media buddies, or have seen my work online and contacted me right away. However, I always have my portfolio handy.

    I wonder if you have any suggestions for a designer dealing with a unprepared client. I tend to run into a lot of new and existing business owners who are not prepared.

    1. Siedah,

      Some of the best advice I give seems like common sense, but a lot of people don’t think about it until someone else says it. Then they go, “well, duh. I thought you had some big secret.” There is no secret, but these tips definitely help keep the meeting on the positive side.

      Thanks for the post idea! If you don’t mind, I’d love to write a post about unprepared (and unorganized) clients.

  19. I’d one more step to your preparation notes – research the client. If they have a website, check it out. If they don’t, find a few websites of companies that are in their industry so you understand what their business is. Not only will it impress your client that you already know a little about them and their unique challenges, but that initial meeting is a great opportunity to ask questions that arise from your research which will help you avoid problems later on as well as present the client with a much more accurate quote.

    Also – I try to avoid lunch meetings and stick to just coffee/tea. I find you spend too much of your time distracted by plates in the way of notes, and jumpy conversation because one or both of you have food in your mouth!

    1. Cheli,

      So true! Know who you’re talking to, look at their website, and understand some of their challenges. Be prepared to discuss them and their needs because if you can tie in something you can do for them that will help them in other ways you’ve researched, they’ll be totally impressed.

      I prefer coffee/tea over lunch, too. Less mess and less in the way of your conversation.

      1. I too believe that the listening (or research), and even asking some structural questions (clientele, client preferences,…) prior to the meeting (during the initial phone call) are important. The listening during the conversation will give important clues to what they expect. To ignore this can lead to time (and money) wasted on both sides.
        Most of my client meetings don’t happen over coffee, but in their offices (and within a time limit). To set up your pitch, it becomes important that you address some of their issues with examples in the portfolio or a quick list of possible approaches to their problem – showing you have familiarised yourself with the client and their reactions to your ideas give a good clue which direction to take with the work (or not). Meeting in their office also means you should have all your items prepared beforehand, so you can just open relevant docs after your introductions and concentrate on the meeting and the person (make eye contact when listening!).
        Definitely send a follow-up email and briefly list your understanding of the project – they may add something to this.
        Once you do the work, make sure you have addressed main issues and know how you dealt with them. Often the next meeting is to the whole board or department heads (depending on the size of the organisation) and because they weren’t at the initial meeting, it’s important to restate aims and preferences gained from initial brief. Handle new suggestions or negative reactions calmly (power play between departments can surface here) and question if the preferences or aims have changed or are broader than addressed. Suggest adjustments to accommodate other peoples ideas.
        Oh, and if you are nervous at times (like me), remember to breathe deeply – this is quite calming 😉

  20. This will definitely help me as I continue in the freelance industry of design. I would get a little nervous about talking to potential clients but not so much any more. Thank you for always posting helpful articles for us.

    1. Go get ’em, Josten!

      By being prepared, some of those nerves will go away, but truthfully I get a little nervous about meetings still, too.

  21. I would also send a follow up email with how nice it was to meet them and outline the promised deliverables and timescale discussed and when to next be in touch so they don’t feel like they’ve just been left cold.

  22. I am currently new to the freelance industry and developing my website so that its presentable for clientele meetings. These tips are handy and useful. Being yourself is important and has won me several small jobs. Thank you for posting this, first impression is key.

    1. Alastair,

      Often times it’s your personality and your character that win you the client…because a lot of designers have really great portfolios. It’s the human element that sets you apart.

      If they don’t value that? Maybe you don’t want to work with them anyway.

      Thanks for sharing!

      1. I think you’re right. There are awesome designers everywhere, you need to show a client why they should work with you and not another person. One’s design skills are not just enough. They also need to sense you really care about them and their business.
        Thanks for these tips (though I learnt some if them late)

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