4 rules of face to face meetings for a freelancer

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face to face freelanceI know what you’re thinking: “I hate meeting face to face.” And I also know why: Face-to-face meetings take time and energy. You need to get dressed up. They break up your day inconveniently, especially for a freelancer on deadline. You need to drive to the client’s office or agreed-upon offsite venue, and there will be traffic. Maybe you’re shy, or going to an office gives you nasty flashbacks to your corporate-cubicle days.

Last week, however, I was reminded twice why face to face beats a phone call or email conversation pretty much every time. The first occasion was a new client meeting—we had instant rapport, and I’m confident that an in-person appearance was essential to clinching the deal. The second was a meeting with a new contact at an existing client, and he remarked that he’s an old-school business guy and appreciated that I’d made the rather long trek across town. The additional freelance projects I’ve lined up will more than pay for my gas.

A study by Oxford Economics USA concluded that in-person meetings are far more effective than virtual meetings, particularly with prospective customers. My take? In addition to the power of a handshake, smile, and eye contact, it’s all about being able to read the client’s body language and adjust your presentation:

  • If you see their eyes start to glaze over, you can switch topics or ask a question to regain their focus.
  • If they’re confused, you’ll know right away and can address the issue.
  • You can gain a sense of where the power lies in the organization—which is next to impossible if you’re on a group call on speaker phone.
  • It’s far easier to identify a client that you don’t want to take on, if you don’t click or your gut instinct is making you suspicious.
  • Ultimately, you can forge stronger interpersonal bonds much more quickly.

The 4 Rules of Face to Face Meetings for a Freelancer

Inc. offers this solid 23 rules for face-to-face meetings, applicable to anyone, not just a freelancer. (Obviously you want to be on time, and you put your phone on silent before you walked in the door, right?) As a freelancer, however, there are a couple of other nuances that you also want to button up:

  1. Set boundaries. Because you’re not traveling on someone else’s dime or receiving a salary, you need to accurately assess and define how many times/how often you’ll need to meet. I recently broke my own rule here and regretted it. I assumed that the client would want to meet just once, for the project kickoff, and that assumption was…incorrect. They were inexperienced with working with freelancers, and feel more comfortable looking at the copy and designs as a team. My mistake was simply in not asking, “How often do you want to meet?” While that ate into my profitability on the initial job, I’ll plan for it in subsequent ones.
  2. Create an agenda. Particularly with new clients—and, as above, inexperienced ones—you will raise your professional profile, give yourself leverage, and keep the meeting on track by having the agenda down on paper. It’s a quick and easy way to establish that you’re a savvy businessperson as well as a creative talent.
  3. Bill for your time. Smart pricing practices dictate that you include travel and meeting time in your estimate and invoice at your full hourly rate, not discounted. Just because you’re behind the wheel part of the time doesn’t mean you’re not working. In some circumstances, you may want to build in a higher consulting rate for the live meeting.
  4. Respect your client’s or prospect’s preference. In light of the preceding three items, the final rule is that you’re best served by meeting the way the client or prospect wants to—as long as it also fits your business model.

Please don’t misread what I’m saying here. You don’t always have to meet face to face, and you can have a perfectly good business relationship without trudging from meeting to meeting. I’ve worked well with dozens of clients I’ve never met. Heck, a few years ago, I moved to Canada for 12 months and—thanks to VOIP phone service and email—some of my clients didn’t even know I wasn’t in Phoenix!

But the reality is that well-planned face-to-face meetings offer benefits that virtual confabs, phone calls, emails, and IMs generally can’t offer.

In the comments: When it comes to local clients and prospects, what are your reasons for choosing virtual vs. in-person meetings? Do you have any additional freelancer rules to add?

Photo courtesy of UnfinishedBusiness_StarStock, because why *wouldn’t* I want to use free cheesy stock images featuring Vince Vaughan?

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  1. Mike says

    Most of my clients are long-distance, but this makes sense for local businesses. I try to limit the number of meetings once we get the relationship established, especially for certain clients that don’t conduct efficient meetings.

  2. says

    Great minds, Jake. This was going to be my letter F in my alphabetic journey to better business communication. Guess I’ll be making an adjustment. LOL! 🙂

    Perhaps it’s because I spent so many years in the corporate world that I don’t hate face-to-face meetings. In fact, in my road warrior days, I always said how valuable they were.

    I do not have local clients; however, I have several in San Diego (where I started my freelance career). Every year when I go back for the 3-Day, 60-Mile Walk, I include time for client visits. If you’re able to do it with long-distance clients, I find face-to-face even more valuable for solidifying business relationships.

    I, for one, would hate to see a total loss of this valuable form of communication.

  3. says

    Terrific advice, Jake. I think we forget to charge for our time — big mistake, as our time is indeed money to us.

    The agenda is essential. In every face-to-face I’ve had, I make sure I go in with a script of sorts — here’s what I’m talking about, here are the questions I have for them, etc.

  4. says

    @Cathy, I think the same thing happened for me–while I don’t miss my corporate days, they were instructive in many respects, and watching skilled salespeople in meetings was among the most important. I do hope you’ll use face-to-face for the letter F! Let me know and I’ll update this post with a link.

    @Lori, thanks for commenting. If I don’t go into a meeting with an idea of where it needs to go, it could go just about anywhere.

    Have a great weekend!

  5. Kristen Hicks says

    While I agree with much of what you included here, I find offsite meetings terrible for my productivity. It’s just much harder getting back into focused “work” mode after leaving the house, dealing with traffic, etc.

    If I’m in a slow phase where I can pull it off, I’m more likely to say yes to driving somewhere to meet a client. But if I’ve already got a good amount of work on my schedule, fitting it in becomes a problem and I push for a phone call instead.

  6. says

    Thanks for the comment, Kristen–and you’re absolutely correct that you need to recognize and account for those factors when you estimate and invoice. Like you, my preference from a productivity standpoint (particularly with an existing client) will usually be a phone call.

    Conversely, I loathe IM, which is the most distracting of all for me!

  7. says

    In 18 years, I have never met a client. Until yesterday. I was in her (employer’s, a publisher) town, 300 km away from home, and asked if we could have lunch. I did so because she is my favourite person to work for. Well, one of two equal favourites. We talked about our profession for 2 hours, and she reassured me that the person she referred me to at another publisher would be good to work for. I don’t know if it matters (for business) that we met, but I’m sure glad we did.