Monday, April 14, 2008

Meeting a Long-Time Client for the First Time

I have a client who's located in the U.K. This is one of the first clients I landed after I quit my job to freelance full-time, and since our first (tiny) project together he's sent me monthly work on a regular basis. We've emailed back and forth several times a month for over a year now. Just this week, he mentioned in passing that he was in New York--not too far from me--and we managed to meet for lunch.

We had a great time--a two-hour lunch turned into a five-hour conversation about work, hobbies, and life in general. I now don't just have a client; I have a new friend.

Especially if you're a web content writer, it can be an isolating business--99% of the time, you don't meet your clients in person. When one comes to town, it's a great opportunity to get to know each other better. It can also be nerve-wracking; I definitely wanted to make a good impression, but I didn't want to come off as trying too hard. Here are a few things I learned from the experience--that I'm passing on to you.

Ask before booking the restaurant. I checked with my client to see what his preferences were, and that narrowed down my search for the perfect restaurant considerably. A lot of people will just shrug and say "oh, I'll eat whatever;" in which case it's generally a good idea to choose a fusion-y place with a lot of options, if you can find it. It's generally a good idea to choose a place that has at least a few healthy options, unless the client tells you he's craving burgers or something.

Consider the client's industry when choosing a wardrobe. I wore a blazer, a nice sweater, and a pair of classy-looking jeans and heels. I didn't wear makeup; not that I don't think you should, but for me makeup is an all-or-nothing thing and I didn't want to overdo it. I considered wearing a suit, but the venue was fairly casual and it was in the middle of the day, and I knew this guy wouldn't be too dressed up (SEO's tend to be a pretty casual lot). Consider the client's industry before you decide what to wear; a financial services client might be a little more formal.

Be considerate. One thing that factored into my choice of a restaurant was proximity to his hotel. I figured I'd choose something convenient and easy for him to find on his own, without spending money on a cab to get there. The client noticed and appreciated that the place was so close and easy to find.

Be prepared to offer suggestions for what to do next. You may or may not have time to run around town with your clients, showing the sights. But if he's visiting from another city, chances are he'll want some suggestions for fun, off-the-beaten-track touristy things to do. I gave my client several suggestions for fun things to do in Philly while he was there, but I probably could have given more interesting and unusual ones if I'd done a little research beforehand.

Who pays? I paid. I thought it would be a nice gesture, and I think it made a good impression. I'm not sure what the formal rules are for client lunches, but my instinct said that I should pick up the tab.

Getting to know this client was fun and worthwhile--and I encourage any of my clients who happen to be in Philadelphia to drop me a line. With a little preparation, a client lunch can be a fun and stress-free way to spend the afternoon.


Anonymous said...

This is a keeper, Jennifer. I have several clients, longtime, highly valued and valuable clients, that I've never met. I certainly want to, and when we happen to be in the same city one of these days, I'll use these tips. Good stuff!

Jennifer Williamson said...

Great--glad you liked it! Hope you get together with those clients someday.