There’s an ongoing debate about whether or not having a face-to-face meeting with a client is beneficial. Many freelancers believe that a face-to-face meeting is crucial to landing new clients. Other freelancers choose to work virtually, never meeting their clients in person.
Which is better?
From my perspective, the answer is: it depends. While there are definitely some instances when a meeting may be what clinches the deal with a prospect, there are other times when a face-to-face meeting is not wise.
Here are some instances when a personal meeting with the client just isn’t worth it.
1. Excessive Commute Time
Freelancers who live and work in or near major metropolitan areas may find many potential clients within a short distance. Most metropolitan areas are teeming with businesses, and these make excellent prospects for the freelancer.
However, freelancers who are located outside of an urban area may find that meeting with a prospect face-to-face requires a drive of several hours. Since preliminary meetings are often unbillable, the freelancer will have to absorb both the cost of travel and the time spent traveling.
One idea for a remotely located freelancer is to schedule a prospecting trip to a nearby city that includes meeting with several possible clients. If you carefully screen your prospects, batching meetings so that one trip allows you to meet several prospects can be effective. However, many clients are just too far away for a face-to-face meeting to really be practical.
2. Tire Kickers
Freelancers encounter many prospective clients who may have an obvious need for their services and who may even seem interested, but who will never commit to engaging them. It is often difficult to tell these prospects from those who will genuinely become clients. They often know how to answer screening questions to make it appear that they are serious.
If you are not careful, these so-called prospects can take a lot of your time. Let’s be honest, if you let them, they will take all of your time. The BANT method proposed by Ed Gandia is one excellent way to screen out tire kickers, but some tire kickers may still slip through the cracks.
Before you agree to a face-to-face meeting, do your homework. Screen the prospect well to make sure that they are a good fit for your services.
3. Time Spent in the Meeting
Like time spent traveling, time spent in a preliminary meeting with a client is often not billable. Depending on the personalities involved, face-to-face time can expand to fill an entire morning, or even an entire day. What could have been communicated in less than ten minutes in an e-mail sometimes takes nearly an hour to cover in a face-to-face meeting.
Plus, some people just love to chit chat. If it’s not their own business, the problem is even worse. They’re getting a salary regardless of how long their meeting with you takes. They’re in no hurry to get it over with.
4. Physical Impressions
This is a difficult topic that no one really likes to talk about, but it has to be addressed. How successful you are in a face-to-face meeting is directly related to how personable you are. If you have that business-like look that many companies love, that’s great for you. A face-to-face meeting will probably increase your chances of getting additional business.
For many others, however, who might not quite fit as neatly into the corporate mold, a face-to-face meeting could make things worse. While a prospect can’t see that severe acne problem, the tattoo on your neck, or that you are too tall (or too short) through the computer or over the phone–when you meet with them face-to-face these things will quickly become evident.
While no one should ever be hired for a project based on physical appearance, the sad truth is that many business people make decisions based on physical impressions without even realizing it. To a certain extent, the Internet levels the playing field. In face-to-face meetings, however, those physical differences are emphasized.
Many extremely gifted and talented freelancers are shy. They may excel in their given field, but when face-to-face with another person they are tongue-tied and nervous. For these folks, face-to-face meetings are extremely stressful and ineffective.
I certainly agree that a freelancer should do their best to meet a client’s needs. But, they also need to take into consideration their own schedule and limitations. If a freelancer knows that a face-to-face meeting will be unduly stressful, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to suggest an Internet alternative such as Go To Meeting or even request a phone call instead.
6. Scope Creep
We freelancers work hard to be efficient and effective at what we do. Usually, the more efficient and effective we are the more profitable our freelance business is. Scope creep, however, is the enemy of profitability.
Scope creep occurs when the client asks the freelancer to do “just one more thing” after the terms have been agreed upon. Unchecked, scope creep can build up and soon the freelancer is doing much more than he or she originally agreed to do with no increase in pay.
In my experience, scope creep is much more likely to occur in a meeting with a client than through e-mail. It can be hard to say “no” when directly faced with a client. (Sadly, a few clients know this and will take advantage of it.) If verbal agreements are made in a meeting, they should always be followed up with a written agreement.
7. Small Jobs
Some jobs are just too small to justify going to the trouble of a face-to-face meeting with a client. In general, I’d say that if the job will take less than a day to complete, then a face-to-face meeting makes little sense unless you believe that there may be additional work afterwards.
Do You Meet with Prospective Clients?
For those who excel at face-to-face meetings, meetings are an excellent opportunity to go “the extra mile” and grow your business. By all means, meet with as many qualified prospects as you can find. You need to use every asset at your disposal to stay competitive. It is true that some people are just more comfortable working with freelancers that they can see.
Fortunately for those freelancers who are more comfortable not meeting their clients face-to-face, there are also plenty of opportunities for those who choose to work virtually. Many companies who are experienced in hiring freelance workers realize that meetings are not always possible. They are more than willing to accommodate a remote worker by telephone or PC.
I’ve been freelancing over seven years and I’ve never had to meet a client face-to-face. Surprisingly, only a few potential clients have even asked for such a meeting. Today, not only do I have clients all over the United States, but I have international clients as well.
In contrast, when I worked primarily as a contractor and an employee in corporations I always had to meet face-to-face with the companies that I ended up working for. Who your prospects are does determine, to some degree, whether a meeting is needed.
What Do You Think?
Do any of these reasons for not meeting with clients apply to you? Do you always meet with clients when they request it?
Share your experiences in the comments
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