Landing new clients and retaining existing clients is an essential part of your business as an independent professional. But in a field full of talented individuals, it can be difficult to stand out. Not to mention, client meetings can also be stressful, uncomfortable, or intimidating.
But rather than approaching meetings with a sense of dread, think of them as an opportunity to brainstorm, collaborate, and progress your business. Find your motivation with these five tips to make sure your next meeting is efficient, effective, and productive.
1. Do Your Research and Come Prepared
Preparation is one of the biggest keys to effective and efficient meetings. Entering a meeting without knowing your client’s background, network, or industry viewpoints puts you at a disadvantage right off the bat. Similarly, searching for a file or misplaced document on the spot makes you look unprofessional and wastes your client’s time.
Before meeting with your client, double check to ensure you have everything you need. Try to anticipate other things that may be useful such as examples of previous work, or your personal resume. You don’t need to bring along your entire office, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Take some time to research your client on LinkedIn. Do you have any mutual connections? What sort of articles have they posted about recently?
Lastly, it is often wise to anticipate forgetfulness or lack of preparation on the part of others. Bring extra copies of materials or items your client may forget to help ensure efficiency.
2. Set an Agenda and Define Objectives
Chances are good that at some point in your professional career, either as an independent contractor or as an employee, you’ve encountered a person who feels that meetings are a sign of productivity and will call a meeting simply for the sake of having one. However, as an independent contractor, your time is incredibly valuable. Before meeting with an existing or potential client, take the time to set an agenda and define objectives for why you are having the meeting.
An agenda acts as a guide to keep your meeting on track, running smoothly, and ensure you cover necessary subjects. Consider the overarching purpose of the meeting, outline what you plan to accomplish, and set a start and end time. Before your meeting takes place, check in with your client to make sure you both agree on the agenda and meeting objectives. Giving your client the opportunity to give their input before the meeting takes place will make them feel included and show preparation and dedication on your part.
3. Minimize Distractions
Even with an agenda in place, distractions can quickly derail a meeting. You might run out of time before covering important topics, or get off track. To stick to your agenda, schedule your meetings in a location with minimal distractions. If you find that your client is spending too much time focusing on the minutia of a single point, or if the conversation is going off topic, take a moment to get your meeting back on track. Record any questions or comments participants have, and offer to follow up with answers to their questions. Then, move on to the next topic on your agenda.
A particularly friendly relationship with your client can result in another type of distraction. Personal and social chatting can quickly sidetrack a serious meeting. If you anticipate that this may happen, build some time to catch up into your agenda after project topics have been discussed. This will allow you to steer any deviations in conversation back to work matters until the end.
4. Listen and Stay Flexible
Not every meeting will go exactly according to plan. Sometimes a client might have their own agenda in mind, or want to take a project in a totally new direction. Listen to what your client is saying and stay flexible.
If an unexpected question or request comes up, remember that you don’t have to respond right away. If you commit to something on the spot, you may regret it later down the road. Instead, ask any questions you need to clarify what your client is looking for, and then let them know that you need some time to respond with the best solution for them.
5. Wrap Up and Follow Up
People too often underestimate the importance of effectively closing a meeting. Instead of simply disbanding after all points on the agenda have been discussed, have a wrap-up plan in place to ensure all attendees get as much out of the meeting as possible.
This wrap-up period is a great opportunity for you and for your client to address any lingering questions or comments. Take time to reiterate or summarize main points of the meeting and check for clarity and understanding. As a final step before closing, make sure any tasks are officially assigned and establish a follow-up plan to make sure your meeting results in action.
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