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Even under the most low-stakes circumstances, putting yourself out there and talking to new people can be hard. But when you’re trying to start a freelance business or side hustle and those “new people” are potential clients? Forget about it!
It’s totally natural for first meetings with freelance clients to spike your anxiety levels, but the good news is there are some simple, actionable steps you can to take to ensure that your first impression is a great one. Because the bottom line is this: if you can impress a client in that first meeting, you land a client, too.
Prepare Yourself With Positive Thinking
Before meeting with a potential client (or any client meetings, really), it’s critical to have a pre-meeting. . .with yourself. One of the biggest pitfalls when it comes to impressing clients (and potentially landing clients) is going in convinced of disaster. Instead, take a few minutes to remind yourself why your meeting will be a phenomenal success. Keep in mind that:
- You are capable. You’ve learned the skills you need to the client’s job done. And if you’re not there yet? Online programs like Skillcrush’s Blueprints can get you where you need to be in a matter of months. There’s no reason to feel like an imposter. You know what you’re doing!
- You are trustworthy. You’ll meet deadlines. You won’t steal a client’s identity, commit copyright infringement, or abuse their social media accounts. Clients can count on you, and can let them know with confidence.
- You are easy to communicate with. It’s easy to talk to you. You are relatable, reachable, and reasonable. Keep this in mind, and go into the meeting with the assumption that things will go well versus the conviction it will be a disaster.
- You can solve their problem. The client is actively looking for someone to deal with an issue so they don’t have to. You are the solution to their problem, so let that frame the meeting in a positive light. The client WANTS to meet and WANTS to like you, because they need your services.
- You deserve to get paid. Starting out as a freelancer, it can almost feel like an imposition to ask clients for money. But take a look again at the points above and remind yourself that you deserve to be compensated fairly for your skilled labor. And ultimately, if you want to find freelance work—whether that’s web design or development, copywriting, whatever—you need freelance work that pays, right? This is another chance to shed imposter syndrome and present your rates with confidence—something that will actually leave a better impression with clients than fumbling and stumbling over cost.
The 9 Step Guide to Impressing a New Freelance Client
As much as your pre-meeting self-check should have you feeling jazzed about success, you still need to take concrete steps during the meeting to bring that success to life. With just a little preparation, a huge amount of the initial stress around your first client meetings can be nipped in the bud. Here are my top 9 tips for making a great first impression and taking this process from nerve-wracking to “no big deal”, so you can start making money—fast!
1. Start Off With a Little Small Talk
Your end-game is to get your potential client to trust and hire you—but that doesn’t mean you should jump right to business. Before the business talk, take a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting to chat and 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! Relating to your potential client goes a long way toward smoothing out potential awkwardness in the first meeting and will pay dividends throughout the whole project. During your conversation, don’t focus on your roles as “subject expert” and “the customer.” Instead, think of yourselves as two people who are hoping to work together.
Small gestures of politeness and genuine interest in things that matter to your client are a great way to set yourself apart from the competition. They’ll remember the white glove service and you’ll gather information on some of the things that have influenced their business and personal brand.
2. Make an Agenda or Welcome Packet
After a little small talk, now it’s time to get down to business. Use an agenda or welcome packet (a few pages about your services, general procedures, and forms of payment) to make sure you cover everything you need to during this important initial meeting, and send it to your client before you get started.
In terms of choosing between an agenda or a welcome packet format, that’s up to you. It really depends on how busy your business is and what kinds of communication you prefer. But whatever form it takes, documentation is important in making a good impression. Besides helping you stay on track and cover all the important odds and ends—from your hourly rate to design ideas to a project timeline—an agenda or welcome packet shows you have a plan and you are good at communicating it to others.
This small way of showcasing your organization skills gives the client reason to trust you AND shows how reliable you are. And as an added bonus, both you and the client then leave with documentation of your first meeting, exactly what was covered, and—in the case of a welcome packet—documentation of all the finer points of your business. Paying attention to the details at all steps of a project is critical in building a strong reputation as a reliable freelancer who gets clients but also keeps them.
3. Ask Open-Ended Questions
First time client meetings can feel a lot like auditions—because they kind of ARE. But with that “song and dance” format comes a lot of unnecessary pressure to perform and impress in artificial ways. In order to diffuse some of that pressure and make things flow more authentically, a good tactic is to pepper the conversation with questions of your own and make your chat a more equal exchange.
Some questions can be totally practical and clarifying as you both learn how to best communicate with each other, but also include some open-ended questions that help you see the bigger picture. For starters, think about asking the following:
- What does the client already love about their business or product they’ll be hiring you to work with?
- What are some examples of other businesses and products they admire?
- What are the client’s long term business goals?
- How does the client see your services contributing to their overall business plan?\
Your questions will change based on the specifics of each client and each project, so keep in mind that there’s no one “right” script when it comes to asking client questions. Just be sure to keep your questions polite, direct, and friendly, and you’ll establish a conversation that’s much more natural and productive than trying to reenact your high school talent show.
4. Research the Client and Their Business
You should never be shy about asking a client clarifying questions, but this meeting also shouldn’t be the first time you’ve gathered information about them. Taking the time to get to know your client’s resume, existing work, and business, goes a long way towards ensuring your questions are pointed and intelligent, and that the client feels you’re really paying attention to their specific needs.
Besides, coming in to a meeting already having a little background will help calm your nerves—and make the client feel better too! Doing your homework and showing that you care helps gain the trust of a new client and makes them feel good about starting a project with you.
5. Research the Client’s Competitors and Peers
In addition to researching your client, taking the next step and getting up to speed with their competitors will immerse you in your client’s world and solidify the fact that you care about their specific business needs. Keep in mind that you don’t need to become an overnight expert on the client’s field—you just need to show that you’re dialed in.
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 sound decisions throughout the project. They can relax knowing that you’re giving them high-quality, informed work, and you can relax knowing you’re on the right track to sealing the deal.
6. Take Notes and Repeat Their Answers Back to Them
There are a two key reasons to take notes during your meeting—the first is practical, the second is to build trust. Taking notes ensures you won’t leave anything out or forget what was talked about (which you’ll thank yourself for later), but it also shows the client that you’re engaged and focused. You’re taking their words seriously—and this is probably the best way of all to get a new client as a freelancer. They want to be reassured they’re making the right choice in hiring you as much as you do in agreeing to work with them—after all, this is a partnership. You both want the best possible product with the easiest collaborative process.
This is also your chance to employ my favorite client tip ever: say their words back to them. For 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?
The point here isn’t to be a parrot—it’s to repeat key takeaways back to your client so that they know you’re listening. While you’re at it, go ahead and write these points down ,too. If there’s been a miscommunication of any kind, this is a great way for your client to correct you and communicate their expectations in a neutral setting. Everyone wins!
7. Say “Yes,” But Manage Expectations
I’m the first one to tell new freelancers to always say “yes” and then learn a skill later. But—while this does work to an extent—if you’re a web developer, for instance, and you’ve just learned HTML and CSS, it’s probably not a good idea to exclaim with glee that you will code a Rails app. As a compromise, try qualifying your yes’ like this:
- That sounds doable. I’ll look into it and get back to you.
- 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 it turns out the extra little thing you agreed to is a bit outside your project scope. Establishing where you stand with certain aspects of the project early on (and in person!) is a great way to solidify an open, honest relationship that you can both feel good about.
8. Be Aware of Your Body Language
Sure, this meeting is all about exchanging information, but your body language can set the tone for the entire relationship and play an easy to overlook part in the outcomes of your meeting. For example, if you shrink your shoulders and crouch down while speaking, the client might leave feeling uneasy or unsure. Sit with your shoulders broad and your chin level, and make lots of eye contact while speaking. You don’t need to become a different person, but you should be aware of the tone you’re setting and how you can come across confidently.
Think back to your pre-meeting checklist and use those points to inform your posture and presentation. It’s so easy to assume a client meeting will be a negative or awkward experience (and exhibit body language that communications your assumptions), but it’s just as easy to flip the script and exude positivity and confidence.
9. Dress Professionally, But Not Out of Character
Along the same lines as body language, take care with how you dress for this meeting (another important way to nonverbally communicate your professionalism). You want to look capable, 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, it’ll also be easier to feel in control.
In the end, the most important thing to remember is that clients WANT you to be able to solve their problems. Your goal in making a first impression at a client meeting is to send your client off feeling like you’ve totally got this and that they’ve made the right decision in choosing your services. Taking the time to curate your dress, agenda, conversation, questions, and overall professional tone, to the specific needs of each meeting experience will help you build strong, lasting relationships with freelance clients.