Why Web Designers Must Have Meetings With Their Clients
When starting off as freelancers building websites for clients, one of the scariest things for most of us can be a client meeting. After all, most of us creatives are introverts, myself included. There’s a reason we choose to design and make cool stuff instead of working in sales. And there’s a comfort zone we start off with when keeping out client communications all my email.
The problem with not having meetings with our clients is we can never grow and get to that next level. That live where we are more than just a person building a website. To grow, we must go from simply building our client’s websites to impacting clients and their online business.
We need to learn how to add more value to our clients, and one of the best ways to do this is to discover the client’s most significant problems and help solve them. Only in discussions with our client can we do this. The real problems they are having are between the lines. They usually aren’t on the surface, and when we learn how to dig a little, we can find where we can benefit our clients the most.
5 Tips To Start Having Productive Meetings and Calls with Clients
I want to share the 5 things I did and still do to start having productive meetings with clients. These tips helped me go from hiding behind the keyboard as a terrified introvert to facilitating discovery and strategy meetings with international companies.
Tip #1 Prepare a Meeting Outline and Rehearse It
At least an hour before the meeting, create a step-by-step outline of how you would like to see the direction of the meeting go. Plan the meeting in your mind, imagine having it with a client and write the flow down. And this part is essential. Practice it!
Ok, it seems strange to talk to yourself, but just try it. Have the meeting with yourself and speak aloud and do this right before the meeting. I guarantee you’ll be in the zone for the actual meeting.
When I was new, I found that more clients did not know what to expect in the meetings, and they were expecting me to facilitate. So when I showed up and was just like ‘Hi’ and then waiting on the client to run the show, well, it got awkward, and there was a lot of silence. It usually takes a few of these super awkward and silent meetings to help us see what we could have talked about and could have discussed the meeting.
Tip #2 Write Down a List of Goals for the Meeting
This tip helped me out so much. I still do it to this day for every meeting I have. It can be a big meeting, a short 15-minute call, or even a team meeting. I always write down the goals I want to achieve in the call.
After writing your meeting outline, write down a list of 3-5 goals you want to achieve in the call. This can be used as your agenda. This is my trick to ensuring all my meetings are productive and time well spent.
This is also very useful for when a call goes off track, which happens all the time! Sometimes we start having conversations with our clients who go down the wrong path. Occasionally, we have clients who deviate from the conversation and hop from idea to idea. And sometimes, we can get stuck. A straight-up brain freeze in the middle of a call happens to me a lot. It’s very embarrassing.
By having a list of goals, we can keep the conversation going in the right direction. Whenever we get stuck, or the conversation goes in the wrong direction, we can refer back to our goals and keep the focus there. Look at the next goal we need to achieve and start asking the client questions about that goal.
Tip #3 Let the Client Talk & Take Notes
We don’t have to do all the talking! We don’t even have to do that much talking. The best thing we can do is simply listen and ask questions to keep the client giving us as much information as they can provide.
The best way to listen is to write notes continuously. Not only do the notes help later on when we are working on the client’s website, but it keeps us in a constant state of listening. Taking notes forces us to listen.
Tip #4 Listen for the Problems the Client Is Having
We must discover our client’s problems before giving them solutions. It’s natural for our minds to race with all kinds of ideas that we want to share with the client when having a meeting. But this is where we need to bite our tongues and listen for the problems first.
In our last tip, we write notes and listen to the client. In this tip, we are listening for something specific. Put a focus on trying to discover the client’s problems. And remember the goals we discuss; finding the client’s problems is always one of my goals in all of my client calls.
As you write your notes in the call, highlight them every time you discover a problem the client shares. Find a way to make it stand out in your notes. These can be used later when creating a proposal for the client’s project. We can identify the client’s problem and offer a solution to make our proposal stand out more and increase value beyond simply building a website.
I heard Blair Enns once identify an expert as “someone that knows how to ask the right questions.” We can discover a client’s problems but learn how to ask the right questions. Think of this as a therapist with a patient on the couch. The therapist is asking question after question searching for something. That is precisely what we learn to do. To start, just keep asking questions. You’ll begin to learn how to ask better questions.
Tip #5 Under Promise, Over Deliver
I constantly need to tell myself this is why I got to add this here. It’s very tempting to want to wow the client with our ideas and start getting creative on the call. But again, this is where we need to bite our tongues and be patient.
When we start to promise the client everything and talk about all the cool things we can do, we can unintentionally put ourselves in a difficult situation by setting expectations unrealistic high. So it’s important we set the exceptions to be realistic and something we know we can deliver on.
Of course, we know we’re going to go above and beyond, and we have some exciting ideas and little extras we want to add that make the website even better. But, if we can keep those to ourselves and surprise the client when we deliver the website, the project and client experience will have a completely different outcome.
Summarize the Meeting
Once the meeting is finished, take 15 to 30 minutes to review your notes and reflect on how the call went. Next, write down additional notes on your thoughts on the meeting, then summarize everything. Then, when you have the next meeting with the client, you can get a clear overview and use the notes and summary as a good starting point.
This exercise will also help to develop your skills in facilitating client meetings. And trust me, they do get better!
Bonus Tip: Invite Someone to Sit-In
If you really want to take your meeting skills to the next level, a great way is to invite someone to sit in on the meeting. This could be someone you work with or someone you may be networking with within one of the many online communities for web designers.
The way this works is you would invite someone to sit in the meeting, only observe and take notes. But, first, before the call, ask the observer to just watch the meeting and look for ways you can improve. You’ll be surprised. Having that outside perspective can see things we can’t. And in turn, you can do the same for the person observing by helping them. This is why it’s essential to be part of communities with others doing what you do.
Continue to Improve
I’ve always struggled with social anxiety. I never thought I could facilitate and run meetings with high-level companies. I remember after a meeting with the CEO of the largest shampoo company in Thailand, who also owned other companies and had an MBA from Harvard, told me after our first meeting, “This meeting was very productive!”. I actually got the chills because I realized then just how far I came.
I share this because I believe we can learn how to have successful meetings with clients. Even if we are extreme introverts, suffer from social anxiety, and have strong feelings of awkwardness. We can learn. It’s not only business development but also personal development.
We develop personal skills by having every meeting with a client by video or as an in-person meeting (my meetings are by video since I’m remote). As a result, we also build confidence and self-esteem. We learn to ask better questions, and we start to find how we can better help our clients. Of course, it’s still uncomfortable, and I still feel awkward at times. I do still get nervous before the calls. Still, I follow the steps above, and it becomes more routine and much easier, also more effective.
And you can do it too!