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9 Ways to Make a GREAT First Impression on your New Freelance Client

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Last year, I got my first freelance web design client. I looked at code for the very first time at the end of 2013, and, by January 2014, a brand new customer was trusting me with his website. It was a success story!

I was excited, of course, but mostly I was terrified – of accidentally deleting everything, of ruining his website and tanking his business, of exposing myself as a fraud (imposter syndrome), etc., etc.

But most of all, I was petrified of my first meeting with the client. I know, it doesn’t make sense. If you think about all the skills it takes to build a website from scratch, you wouldn’t think that “talking to a human” would be the most intimidating item on the list.

I think that this exaggerated fear of the first client meeting is the coding equivalent to those studies that show that people are more terrified of public speaking than of actual life-threatening events.

Talking to people is hard. Especially when your burgeoning freelance career is on the line. In fact, the stakes might be higher than in a lot of public speaking situations. In a meeting with a freelance client, you’re not risking public embarrassment so much as the possibility that the client won’t trust you (and won’t hire you). Eek!

And on top of that, it doesn’t just FEEL like an audition – it is one. This meeting might be your one shot to convince your client that:

  • You are capable. Do you have the skills you need? Can you complete the project?
  • You are trustworthy. You’ll meet deadlines. You won’t steal their identity or commit copyright infringement.
  • You are a normal person. It’s easy to talk to you. You are relatable and reasonable.
  • You can solve their problem. You have the skills it takes to deal with the issues that are stressing them out (so they don’t have to).
  • They should pay you. Ahem. Most important?

Right now you might be thinking, “Who needs first meetings with clients?!?! Hello, Internet! Let’s Gchat.” Unfortunately, avoiding “the talk” never really works out. If you don’t get on the same page at the beginning of your relationship, you’ll spend the whole project crossing signals. First meetings, I’ve found, are crucial to keeping the client (and YOU) happy and productive.

It sounds like a lot to accomplish, I know. But I find that, like most things, some preparation takes care of at least 80% of the stress. Here are my top tips for making a great first impression with your client (even if you’ve been told you don’t make a good first impression!). Whether you’re meeting in person or in a video chat, these tips can help you dominate the first rodeo with your new client and get on your way to building a site:

1. Be 2 humans.

Your goal is to get the client to trust you and hire you, but that doesn’t mean you should get right down to business. Before you dive into the tech talk, take a few minutes to get to know your client. If you’re on a video call, ask about where they live or comment on something you love in the background. If you’re together in person, ask them how they like the taco place across the street.

In short, make small talk. It might seem beside the point, but really relating to your client in a human way helps smooth out potential conflicts in the first meeting and throughout the whole project. Don’t be “the tech expert” and “the customer.” Be two humans working together.

2. Use an agenda.

You can strike a casual tone at the beginning of the meeting without throwing your plans out the window. Use an agenda to make sure you cover everything you need to, and run the agenda by your client before you get started. An agenda shows you have a plan and gives the client a reason to trust you: you’re in control of this ship.

3. Ask a bazillion questions.

Like I said, first meetings with clients can feel like auditions (and they kind of are). To keep the meeting from feeling like a trial, ask the client a lot of questions. There’s so much information you need to get from your client at the first meeting, but for starters, think about asking:
What do you already love about your site? What other sites do you love? What are your business goals? Do you need to be able to edit the site?

4. Do research on the client or the client’s business.

Even though you’re going to ask your client a ton of clarifying questions, the meeting shouldn’t be the first time you think about them. Clients will find you trustworthy and capable if you can show that you know a little something about their business or project.

5. Do research on the client’s competitors and peers.

Researching your client’s competitors and peers immerses you in their world. The more knowledge you bring to the table about industry standards, common issues, or new changes in the client’s field, the more your client will trust you to make good decisions throughout the freelance project.

6. Take notes and say their words back to them.

There are a couple reasons to take notes – the first is practical, the second is to build trust. Taking notes throughout the meeting means you won’t leave anything out or forget anything you talked about, but it also shows the client that you’re engaged and focused, and that you take their words seriously.

It also means you can employ my favorite client tip ever: say their words back to them. To make sure you and your client are on the same page, take a few moments throughout your meeting to repeat words back to your client.

Example) “So I’m hearing you say that the Twitter feed is more important to you than the social media links because it’s gotten you more user engagement in the past. Did I get that right?”

7. Say “Yes,” but qualify it.

I’m the first one to tell new coders to always say “yes” and learn how to do the skill later. That works to an extent. But if you just learned HTML and CSS, it’s probably not a good idea to exclaim with glee that you will code a Rails app. I like this approach: say “yes,” but qualify it.

Example) That sounds doable; I’ll look into it and get back to you.
Example) I don’t have experience with image sliders, but I have colleagues who do. I’ll get the scoop on that for you so I can make it work on your site.

When you agree while also conceding that the idea is new to you, the client won’t be shocked if you find that the extra little thing you agreed to is WAY outside of the project scope.

8. Body language.

This is one is easy to forget about. Sure, this meeting is all about exchanging information, but your body language can set the tone (and play a part in the outcome). If you shrink your shoulders and crouch down, for example, the client might leave feeling uneasy. Sit with your shoulders broad and your chin level, and make lots of eye contact.

9. Dress professionally, but not out of character.

You want to look capable of course, but, if you don’t normally wear a blazer, don’t come decked out in a business suit. Dress in a way that makes you feel competent AND comfortable. If you FEEL at ease and presentable, you will seem “in control” of the situation.

And remember, clients just want you to be able to solve their problems. The most important thing that can happen at this is meeting is that your client leaves feeling like you got this.

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10 comments

  1. martin Replied

    Am trying webdesign this semester break and i think this is really helpful , thanks a lot

  2. Alfred Mwamba Replied

    Share your thoughts…very educative.Great
    staff

  3. Imran Replied

    Nice article definitely going to help the new bees

  4. Stephen Replied

    Great tips. I’m a developer too, getting ready for my first client meeting. I’ve been thier webmaster for a few years, but this is the first time face to face on  new project. Using agendas and asking questions are spot on, but I always worry about losing them when I talk about technical stuff. Any tips there?

  5. Pingback: How to Stop Second Guessing Yourself Immediately

  6. Pingback: 9 Emails You Need to Make Money Freelancing

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