Meeting Your Client for the First Time

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When I first started out as a freelancer and got my first client – the prospect of meeting him was daunting to say the least. Over time, my confidence grew which led me to write a short overview of points related to that first crucial introduction here.

However, meeting a client as I have learned is much more than just remembering to bring a pen and a spare laptop battery! There are many dos, and don’ts as well as pitfalls to avoid.

You are There

Business Card

You have both turned up to the meeting for the sole purpose of getting more information about each other. You are there specifically to get more information on the client you’re potentially working for. You are also there to learn more about the specifics of a project that can never be quite deduced from a brief.

The client is there to get more information from you on your proposed approach and also to learn more about you as a person / business.

In order for you to get the proper information from the client and in order for your client to have a good impression of you and your business, you must know that preparation is key!

Your Preparation

Freelance Freedom

Preparation for a client meeting is very similar to preparing for an interview. When this interview starts, you are to know everything that you can at that point in time.

Here are a few things that you should do:

  • Google their company.
  • Read through their website if they already have one. This is normally a good place to learn some valid information about the client.
  • Look for competitors. Their competitor’s approach are all snippets of chatter that you will be dropping into the conversation. This just shows that you are on the ball.

Researching them as much as you can prior to the first meeting will appear professional and thorough – qualities any client will want to associate with you.

Going the extra mile is an investment of time,
but it will definitely pay off.

Your Experience / Portfolio / Skills

At some point, 9 times out of 10 – conversation will move to previous work that you have done. Cue your portfolio samples and past websites that you have designed in your laptop and take out your beautifully prepared PDF. This part of the meeting is very important.

  1. Don’t see this as an opportunity to talk for a year about each one of your previous projects and how great they are. Short, concise to the point – you can convey your thought process in a straight to the point manner without baffling clients with why you chose one image replacement method over another.
  2. Silence is Awkward

  3. If its paper – try your best to not sit there silently while they flip through your work in an awkward silence that does no one any good. Instead, take the opportunity to lean in and take them on a journey through your work.  Engaging your client is essential. People want to feel involved.

Don’t let this part of the meeting linger and take the foreground. You want to be talking about their project and how you can help them. How you have helped people in the past with their needs is merely a reference point, a star on top of the Christmas tree. You, the designer should be using this meeting to let your client see that you want to take on their project and clinch the deal.

Going Home

I have somewhat of a mental script that I follow. I just fill in the blanks to the details at these respective meetings. It includes these cue points:

  1. It was great to meet you and your team…
  2. I really learned a lot about the project and have received plenty of details…
  3. I will shoot you an e-mail summarizing what we spoke about…
  4. *I start packing away my laptop and samples.*
  5. I will give you a ring / email / meet on to discuss moving forward.
  6. Thanks for your time, see you soon…

Those are my rehearsed lines, and it saves me from that awkward ‘should I pack things up yet’ as it seems natural and flows.

Have I thought about the whole affair way too much?  Maybe, but that first client meet for me is often a deal clincher or breaker – so I think it’s good to examine the process to ensure you get these projects!

What’s your experience?

What are some of the things that you do when you meet with clients? We would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions as well. Please feel free to leave a comment and share with us your experiences about meeting with clients. I’m sure that we can all learn something from each other that we can apply in our next client meet. Do you have any funny stories or stories that are just weird? Share them in the comments below.

Also, if you liked the post, please help us promote it by retweeting it and stumbling it. We really would appreciate it. Thank you so much for reading this article.

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I am a 23 yr old entrepreneur, designer, blogger, scientist from London, UK. Thanks for reading through whatever I was rambling about this time. I blog about business here, design here, and talk nonsense on just about everything here. Follow me on Twitter. Take care!

  1. 1

    Great read Mel. Although I’m not a freelancer, these are the different elements I go through for meetings in my day job as web project manager. In any case, my employers are my clients and having to the point meetings are regular and important, especially when you start new projects with new departments. One thing that I find important when meeting these people for the first time: avoid being too techy even if the client takes you on, say, search engine optimisation or even server management, it tends to make them feel like they’re really lost and don’t know a thing about the web. I found out that they like such answers: there are strategies that should be put forward but that we’ll get into that in the specs.
    .-= Sachin @ Web Design Mauritius´s latest Blog Entry – Failure of the web design community in Mauritius? =-.

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    • 2

      Haha, I know exactly what you mean about not being too technical. I’ve actually heard of some freelancers who just use technical words too trick the client into choosing them for the project. Anyway, that’s a great point that you bring up! Thanks mate. :D

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  2. 3

    Very good article, which is probably down to a T what I do. Although that being said in the web design industry more than half your clients you never meet face to face.
    .-= Alan´s latest Blog Entry – Services =-.

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    • 4

      Well, I think it depends on what type of freelancer you are. When I was freelancing, I had a lot of local clients, mostly small businesses, so I was in meetings about 3-4 times a month.

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      • 5

        Totally agree! I am in meetings probably twice a week, metting face to face with a client is the most important part of our business!

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  3. 6

    Very nice read. Meeting with client is always good to understand any project in depth.
    .-= Smashing Share´s latest Blog Entry – How To Develop A Homepage Layout That Sells =-.

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  4. 8

    Get your questions sorted – always have a lot of questions to ask.

    You can fill any awkward silence with questions for the customer; everyone loves talking about themselves.

    If your pitching to the client and you’re the last of say three companies lots of questions will be the clincher. It will make the client feel like they’re being interviewed by you (very powerful) and will get the client thinking about the project, hopefully thinking about functionality that they haven’t gone through with the other two companies.

    Once you’ve got those answers you can smash out a proposal that will deliver what they want, while the other companies proposals will seem outdated and off the mark.

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    • 9

      Rob,

      i’ll totaly agree with you. And with you, Mel.

      The most important thing is to be informed about the (possible) clients company and its competitors – and the competitors of your own.
      The more (deeper) questions you have in mind to ask the more you show your interest and outstand the further effort you’ll take on the customers success with its website.

      Prepare your own, take interesst on clients suggestions – BUT! Never ever unreal your own standards. Always – even if the client doesn’t give a f** – stand behind your own standards – what ever they might me.

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    • 10

      I agree with what you are saying, questions are definitely good. I do think however that you must use discretion when asking questions.

      We’ve all heard of this phrase.

      “There are no stupid questions.”

      But I think this is definitely not true when it comes to a client meeting. I think we need to find the right balance between asking legitimate questions that will help us but at the same time not annoy the client. :)

      You are right though, being the last to meet with the client will usually be an advantage in getting the deal, IMO.

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  5. 11

    Well written Mel. This is a great story! And fully agree with personal meeting.. all do´s and don’ts should be clearly discussed in that meeting.

    One of the most important things to take from the meeting is what the client wants, goals/objectives… if you didn’t understand 1st, 2nd ,3rd ,4th etc. you need to go on with the meeting and you can’t finish until you fully understand the final propose (or you’ll prepare a design with a different client expectation ).
    .-= Designi1´s latest Blog Entry – Wallpaper Calendar April 2010 – Welcome Spring =-.

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    • 12

      Definitely! That’s what the meeting is for, to get as much details as possible. I typically find myself being a lot more productive with those jobs that have meetings compared to those jobs that I take on and only get to chat by phone or email.

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  6. 13

    Nice post and wish that I’ve read this post when I met my first client. My experience with my first client wasn’t that good which cause me to drop the project half way because of the wrong start. Oh well, learned my lesson now. :-)

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  7. 15

    Great article Mel. I finally had my first “physical” client meeting not that long ago, and these tips/info would have came in handy.

    Getting organized and getting your questions/answers together is something that is sometimes hard, but very necessary to do to have a smoothly run meeting.
    .-= Lee Gustin´s latest Blog Entry – Munny Madness =-.

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    • 16

      Hey Lee, congratulations on your first client meeting. I hope everything went well. Glad that this post was useful to you. Oh, and thanks for all your support. I really appreciate you reading our articles and leaving relevant comments.

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  8. 17

    I think the hardest part of a client meeting for designers is when to wrap it up. The tips you offered here nailed the technique on the head. Excellent resource here. Thanks for sharing.
    .-= Preston D Lee´s latest Blog Entry – Custom blog post designs: pros, cons, and best practices =-.

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    • 18

      Yeah, that typically is the hardest part for me. Sometimes, you get clients who are really good talkers and it’s hard to leave those types of meetings.

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    • 19

      Oh yea, that is definitley the hardest part for me too. Hard to avoid saying “Ok, well is there anything else I should know” a thousand times. I’ve had my share of meetings where we went over the same thing over and over as well. Great tips in this post.

      I would add that you should email the client right after the meeting when you get home (or before if you can) and just say something about how enjoyable the meeting was and go over the key points discussed. It’s just that extra little bit that tells the client your not a flake.

      Good post!
      .-= Joe Malleck´s latest Blog Entry – Free Hi-Res Wood Textures for Designers =-.

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  9. 20

    Whether you are a web designer, a developer or a programmer, your next client is your next big nightmare!

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  10. 22

    I really hate when the client give the price for my work, for example when they say stuff like “This will take you only a few hours and that’s how much I will pay you”. Some of them don’t even ask me if I accept it, they just force it.
    When a face a situation like that I just tell them to find a better and cheaper professional because it won’t work for us.
    About 20% accept my price right way, 75% ask a time to think and 5% don’t accept. :)

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  11. 24

    Thank you, this information is incredibly valuable! I have to admit that when it comes to meeting clients I often stumble over my words in trying to think how best to phrase things. The most important aspect though is confidence – confidence in your level of expertise, your skills and your work. Without confidence, all of what you have prepared tends to go out the window!

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    • 25

      Great point! You definitely want to be confident before you go into a client meeting or you might lose the job and the client might walk all over you. Thanks for adding that!

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  12. 26

    When I was into freelancing, I never actually met a client face-to-face. But, I did have phone conversations with just about every client I worked with, so a lot of the points you covered are still pretty relevant to me in that regard.

    I’ve always thought silence over the phone was awkward, but I never actually thought about how awkward it would be just sitting there in front of your client with nothing to say! I would always make a list of things I wanted to go over with them, but I found out that after working with a few different people – I didn’t need this list.

    Once you have experience doing something like this, it really becomes easier over time. But preparing for it with your first client is very important I think. Great post!
    .-= Alex | Blogussion.com´s latest Blog Entry – How I Learned to Design: The Answer You Won’t Expect =-.

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  13. 28

    WOW! Great article, love the list of steps, especially the “Going Home” that is some serious preparation, I can see where this could help if I was a Freelancer :)
    .-= loswl´s latest Blog Entry – Interview – Philip Davis =-.

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  14. 30

    Great Post, I would add: Do not be afraid to suggest and give ideas. Sometimes, the client is not sure about what he wants and if you suggest any good idea you could make him trust to you and feel confident with you. And I think that point would relate “YOUR PREPARATION” and “YOUR EXPERIENCE” together.

    Thanks for this article.
    .-= Teylor Feliz´s latest Blog Entry – Reasons You Should Have Your Own Blog =-.

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    • 31

      That’s totally right Teylor. That’s why the client hires us because we are experts and if I was a client, I want the designer who I hired to give me ideas and suggestions. I would expect him to know more than I do with design.

      Some freelancers are a little bit intimidated to give suggestions, but as someone stated above, you have to be confident of yourself.

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    • 32

      I think that’s a great addition Teylor, also shows your already thinking behind just ticking the boxes to their project and are actively trying to offer a solution!
      .-= Mel Ndiweni´s latest Blog Entry – 5 Articles to Help with Goals in Google Analytics =-.

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  15. 33

    Nice article. One thing I’ve done is built my own form for the meeting. It has some general info to fill out (such as contact stuff) and also some prepared questions – Just to make sure I get all the info needed.

    Thanks Mel!

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    • 34

      That’s a nice idea Travis. I guess some type of questionnaire would be great. Maybe before the meeting, email it to your client and tell him to email it back to you and then you can go over that for the meeting. That way, the meeting is a bit more structured and you have an outline to follow. Excellent! :D

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  16. 35

    In response to this statement about awkward silence “Instead, take the opportunity to lean in and take them on a journey through your work.”

    With my overall experience with face to face negotiations (in and out of the design field), I view the first meeting with the client as taking the initiative to cementing your terms before they do.

    Leaning in implies neediness and forcing conversation eludes to being not fully in control of your emotions. If an experienced negotiator meets with you and senses you are needy, he or she will gut out your contract and dissect your prices in front of your face. You will compromise once, twice, maybe three or more times. In the end, you end up losing.

    In summary:

    1) Don’t be needy
    2) Don’t be afraid to say no
    3) Don’t force conversation or be wordy
    4) Don’t compromise your sense of self worth
    5) Be in control of your emotions; cool, calm, collected
    6) Watch your body language, there are many ways you maybe signaling nervousness

    And by the way, this does not mean you have to act like the Terminator!

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    • 36

      Hello Jae, thanks for sharing your opinion with us. While you do bring up some pertinent points, I would have to disagree. I don’t think leaning in implies neediness. If anything, I think it just makes the client a bit more comfortable as you walk them through your portfolio. I’ve been in some meetings when the client is really timid and shy, and in these cases, leading the conversation is a good thing to do to prevent awkwardness. Don’t get me wrong, there are those meetings that I go to as well where the client loves to talk and when that situation arises, then you don’t have to do much talking through your portfolio as most of the time, they would be the ones asking questions and making comments.

      But anyway, you do have some great points on that list that you made, especially about not being afraid to say NO! Thanks for your input once again. I really enjoy it when the readers add value to the article by chiming in their opinions in the comments.

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      • 37

        >>I’ve been in some meetings when the client is really timid and shy, and in these cases, leading the conversation is a good thing to do to prevent awkwardness.

        I agree with this. Most of my clients are cut-throat, surgically precise, negotiators who purposefully are timid/shy or very overt/loud.

        But once in a while, I get the genuinely timid and shy prospects which sometimes throws me off (I let my partner handle those types of clients after the initial meeting).

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  17. 38

    Greets!

    Lovely article, I find it really inspiring and as well I would love to share that I started my own Design company with a partner some months ago, we’re both too young around 22 and 20 years and this next december we’ll just finish the GD career.

    We’d the chance to get some costumers right now and they trust us on what they see online at our website, as well they understand they will pay for the work not for the person, and one suggestion is to get an attitude in which you believe in yoruself and what are you selling.

    Most people are afraid to interact and look smart, I mean I’m not out of school yet but I really know what I’m doing and how it’s done. And most of the time our costumers get surprised that at my age we behave in a professional way since we show and we know what we do and that we love to do it.

    So a suggestiong I might add will be believe in yourself and in your work.

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    • 39

      Hey mate, age is definitely just a number, especially in freelancing. I started freelancing when I was 19 and I was able to work with lots of clients, and they were actually impressed at the way I carried myself at such a young age. Definitely being confident helps! Also, knowing your stuff and knowing how to explain it is another big plus!

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  18. 40

    Ok in my 1 client meeting I already did most of that, the only thing I couldn’t really show them was past projects since they were my 2nd client. How is this not common sense?

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    • 41

      I’m not sure I understand what you are trying to say. If you mean that you are working with your first ever client and you don’t have past work to show, I would show them things that you worked on in school, or maybe side projects. Besides, I don’t think a client would want to work with someone who has no prior work to show. So if you have nothing to show yet, I suggest creating some work on your own and polishing that, maybe even design stuff for your friends and family that you can use for your portfolio. I hope that made sense. :)

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  19. 42

    “I will shoot you an e-mail summarizing what we spoke about…and then draw a (rough) estimate for you”. In my experience, its best the client knows you are not going to put pen on paper before costs are approved. New clients want to see designs even before you are on the project. Sometimes simply because you are ‘new’. Its easy to get all over-enthusiastic about the project at the meeting if the client seems positive (happens to me even after 12 yrs). But never compromise on the worth of your talent.

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    • 43

      Completely agree Mihika! Making sure your client understands your a professional and have certain work processes is key aswell. It will ensure they treat you as a professional throughout the project aswell ; with timely payments, email responses etc
      .-= Mel Ndiweni´s latest Blog Entry – 5 Articles to Help with Goals in Google Analytics =-.

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      • 44

        Nice article Mel:)

        One of the experience we had recently was having a client who can’t trust us fully, even though we had been really professional throughout. What happened was, the project was not awarded to us yet, and they demanded for wireframes and mockups to be shown, without giving a substantial amount of information. To add on, they didn’t know what they wanted. So I think clients have their ways to ‘test’ web designers out. And that’s certainly not treating us professionally!

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      • 45

        I’d be very careful with that client Charlotte. Trust is definitely important, especially if you are freelancing.

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  20. 46

    i just find what i wana know about some special, really thanks for this article.
    .-= Dzinepress´s latest Blog Entry – Respected Sponsors of Dzinepress April 2010 =-.

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  21. 47

    great article! Just what I needed, I;m starting to do some freelance projects and that first meeting is kind of scary. Very helpful, thank!

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    • 48

      Yes, it can be rather scary if you aren’t prepared, but thanks to Mel for this wonderful article that at least gives us some insight on this issue that I haven’t really seen much people write about.

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  22. 49

    First of all, great article! All of your points are spot on. Great and exhaustive preparation is truly key in having a successful meeting with a client.

    I actually enjoy using paper for a portfolio for 3 reasons:
    1) Security. Your printed portfolio means there’s a lot that the client can’t feasibly do with it. It’s not digital, so taking the time to scan, crop, clean, and sanitize the design they may want to “use” with another design firm is less of an option.
    2) Design. You have control over the resolution and print quality; something you can’t account for when they pull up your portfolio online and print out to their office’s old dot-matrix to bring to their manager for final approval… You maintain the look and feel of your portfolio and control the professional image you display to your clients.
    3) Portability. Your client can take a copy of your portfolio with them, look at, and pass it around the office. A professional portfolio can be a rare thing these days, so having a standout printed portfolio helps get your work more exposure than a blurb at the end of an email. So many times where I have tried to solely use digital media there are clients who invariably lose track of the email, can’t open files on their filesystem, or simply don’t follow through on your links – meaning no one sees your work. Having something that you can physically grasp makes a difference to many clients, and it’s also a great way to make them feel more comfortable since “treeware” is something all of us are familiar with. A take-away printed portfolio is like a gift bag, and many clients appreciate the extra effort and professionalism that a nicely crafted, printed portfolio brings to the table. This can go a long way toward solidifying your good image with a client.

    Yes, this can be more costly, especially if you are just starting out and go for a higher quality end product as a “give-away”. However, if it means the difference in landing that bigger client or that project you’re really excited about isn’t it worth it? And, I won’t even get started on how having a printed portfolio can lead to getting more work with print jobs, adverts, packaging, or other physical media that you may or may not have been trying to get. Suffice to say that showing your wide range of talents and understanding in the print and presentation side of design is always a good thing.

    I would never say to do away entirely with digital for portfolios and/or presentations, but I enjoy sitting closely with my clients and getting into how the elements of my portfolio can help realize success for their project. This is a huge opportunity to engage your client with both visual AND tactile media which opens doors for meaningful discussion.

    Once again, excellent article.

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    • 50

      Hey Chris… excellent points! I think it’s rare nowadays and I’m sure that will definitely give you an advantage. I definitely need to get to work with creating a printed portfolio. I really appreciate the suggestion and also the reasons that you gave behind it.

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  23. 51

    Thank you for sharing your rules. I would like to add some points. If you don’t mind of course)

    I also use any chance to know my clients as individuals. I always wonder whether my colleges or colleges of my colleges) had a chance to deal with them. Did they enjoy working with such clients or not. How did they pay? How did they treat? Did any problems or disagreements take place and the like. It is also necessary to know your clients challenges to decide what could make the difference.
    During the meeting I prefer to ask questions to learn more and listen to my clients. This will allow you to pick up all information from the clients. I also try to note all important info and ask questions if I don’t understand their requirements.
    It’s also important to be honest with clients. If I don’t like their ideas and can suggest better solution I don’t hesitate to raise objections and tell them the true.
    In the end I’d like to add the following: whatever results you obtained, be polite and friendly with your client. If he refuses to work with you today he can change his decision tomorrow;)

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    • 52

      Alice, I really like what you mentioned at the end. I know lots of freelancers who just because they don’t get the job, completely shut off the client and move on. But like you said, they definitely can change their mind! :D

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  24. 53

    Amazing article :)

    I believe that the more you meet with clients the more you get experience. and it will pay you back when you sit with any client you will know if they are a headache or they really know what they are looking for and working with them will be fun and easy.

    Another advice when meeting your client try to let them tell you what’s their problem so you can fix it rather than giving you the solution :) Because we are designer not just executers…

    - Mo

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  25. 54

    Amazing article :)

    I believe that the more you meet with clients the more you get experience. and it will pay you back when you sit with any client you will know if they are a headache or they really know what they are looking for and working with them will be fun and easy.

    Another advice when meeting your client try to let them tell you what’s their problem so you can fix it rather than giving you the solution :) Because we are designer not just executers…

    - Mo

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  26. 55

    Yah, I’ll never forget the first time I met with a client. It was tough dealing with the pressure before the meeting, but once it started, talking about what I love was so easy.. it was like giving a presentation in high school about something your passionate about.

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  27. 57

    do i have to start the connversation on my first time i get to a clients office to sell? and where should i have to start with

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  28. 58

    Good read :) I have just started a placement where I am getting not only to design but to talk with the client too and sometimes, its hard. When the client thinks one thing looks better, but you are the designer… thats a hard one!

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  29. 59

    Hi,

    I was looking for some tips for meeting a new client i searched everyone but i found this great article in Google i just loved your writing skills this made me to understand very well and i got few tips to follow when meeting a client.

    Thanks
    Venu

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  30. 60

    Hello Mel,

    That’s a wonderful read, couldn’t agree more with your points!

    I believe it makes a meaningful bonding when both the client and vendor are in sync with each other. It also takes time to establish the same and doing regular follow-ups.

    As time is money, so it needs to be saved at every possible instance.

    I’ve collated some of the online meeting tools on my blog and how they have greatly helped in reducing travel: tiny.cc/aa21jw

    Great read !

    Regards,

    Mike Vincent

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  31. 61

    Olapade Oladimeji Jacob

    January 9, 2014 7:04 am

    It affords me great pleasure to say “thanks”. Almost six years ago I started the business of paving stone and tilling works (tiles installation) after my OND in Business Administration and Management Studies. In which I was performing before some black sheep have been appearing in my flock all about three years ago, when I started my HND. I thought it was caused by my irregularity and unavailability at work. But, after my studies, to gain the heart of clients becomes a Tenanto Phobia. And it seem like no hope again, to an extent of no worker aging. For this, I have been going and work myself on site which trills me no fame or respect. To help you in helping myself. I face the following challenges:
    # external facts .(Govt policy) that allows no displaying of product again.
    # internal factor (exposure of wokers to the Business, Leeds to diversification of incoming contracts).
    # Always meeting the client on site instead of waiting for them at shop .
    Finally, I would be very grateful only ,if you can help and bail me out .
    Thanks!

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