With one small exception, all of my client meetings in 2009 were conducted either by chat, video or phone. While it’s nice to fit in a phone meeting between deadlines or “commute” to a 6 a.m. conference call by way of stop in the kitchen for a huge cup of coffee, I’m not the type of freelancer to insist on working only by e-mail or phone. Since the majority of my connections were in Seattle and I was new to Denver, it just worked out that my gigs were primarily long distance.
My goal for 2010 is developing more local connections and clients, which I first wrote about when I announced with This Writer is Attempting to Step Away from the Keyboard. Only two sprained ankles (one of which was also fractured) promptly sidelined me. Still intent on infusing my client roster with local companies, I turned to LinkedIn groups and Twitter to help me break the ice.
And it worked—in breaking the ice, but not delivering the project. Each time I started discussing next steps with prospective local clients, they asked if I would be available for a 30-minute “meet and greet.” I immediately said yes. Why? We both benefit from meeting each other face-to-face.
How does a freelancer benefit from face-to-face meetings? I’d say this goes for entrepreneurs, too. So here goes.
- Trust. Many clients are asking me to help them break through to new audiences, to help them stand out from businesses considered “typical” in their industry. That’s a risky venture. By seeing how we interact with each other, it helps to know how the client might react to copy concepts. It also helps me to see their faces when I lightly bounce around ideas or share stories. Once that works starts, I’ll be able to better place feedback into context. And they will know that I listen to them because they’ve seen me do it.
- Closed doors. Offices with closing doors are a little less common these days, especially as the “open office” plan grows in popularity. Of course, the client (or potential client) can always book a conference room for a phone call, but spending time with others behind a closed door can help everyone roll up their sleeves. That’s when you may hear about what’s really holding back a project, or you may see the gal in the suit throw her head back in a belly laugh. It helps to break down barriers and creates the feeling that everyone is working towards the same goal.
- A smile. Depending on the project, you could represent a significant investment by your prospective client. Simply being able to see you smile could help erase any concerns your contact has about signing a check. And if you’re a business owner asking for financing, your brilliant smile could go a long way in helping to put a face with your business. When it comes to money that can be more important than a memorable logo. (Freelancers, this is also a good reason to have a photo of you smiling on your website.)
- Effort. One client I met recently offered to come to a coffee shop near me due to my ankle injuries (I disclosed it so she wasn’t shocked to see me on crutches). No way. I went to her office and I did it to show her that I thought her business is worth my effort. Believe me, it was definitely worth hauling myself (boot, crutches and all) to her office. It demonstrated that I valued our relationship and was investing in it, just as she is.
It all goes back to trust. There’s a lot of talk about what’s been lost in the economy the last year—jobs, houses, health insurance—but we don’t talk much about the loss of trust. I was working for a big corporation when it had to do its first round of layoffs. It shook people and the business to the very core. Co-workers were weary and fearful. And it just got worse with every budget cut and layoff.
While a down economy can certainly provide good opportunities for a freelance copywriter like myself, it doesn’t mean that my clients aren’t struggling with the aftermath of layoffs and severe cost-cutting. It takes a toll. And it’s to my advantage—and yours—to help build a little extra trust with new clients.
That’s my take on face-to-face meetings. You can find many differing opinions on FreelanceFolder’s post Should You Meet With Prospective Clients and the 50+ comments in response.
Your turn. Do you meet with prospective local clients in-person? If not, why? Do you target long-distance clients to avoid meetings? If you do meet with prospective clients, has it made a difference? Would you recommend it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.