“A pleasure to meet you…” Taking the pain out of client meetings – a guide for creative freelancers.

As a freelance creative type we may sometimes be unsure how to carry ourselves professionally in the corporate world. Part of the job means we have to meet with new and existing clients from time to time. So, how can we ensure when we meet in person with our clients that we come across as credible and professional?

 

Don’t play into the stereotype that all creatives are ‘flakes’. Be confident, be gracious, be friendly. You’re a professional who’s worth every penny of your client’s money. You just need to convince them of this in person – the quality of your work may not be enough to carry you. If you’re nervous around ‘suits’ (lots of creatives are) remember this – a lot of corporate types are equally as nervous of meeting you. Believe it or not, some ‘suits’ struggle with creativity, so meeting a person who does it for a living can be pretty intimidating for them. They’re hiring you because they CAN’T do it themselves. Take confidence from this.

Here are a few more things to remember and use when meeting new or existing clients.

Be prepared
If you’re dealing with a new client, find out a bit about their business before you meet – look at their website – follow them on twitter etc. Remember to bring your CV or portfolio and business cards if you have them. And bring a pen and note pad – it’s not professional looking for you to write down notes on the back of a receipt or the dry corner of a handkerchief.

Dress professionally
You don’t need to dress in a suit, but similarly, don’t turn up in a tracksuit and flip-flops. You want to be taken seriously, remember. You’re creative – dress casually in something that is presentable, but also comfortable – leave the suits for the suits.

Be on time
It matters – it really does. If you are going to be late – don’t be.

Switch on silent
Turn off your phone before getting into the meeting. It’s rude to even look at your phone in a meeting.

Be friendly
Being shy, sullen or arrogant creative type just plays into every stereotype or pre conceived idea they may already have. It’s not appealing in anyone’s eyes. If you’re confident and easy to deal with, the chances are you’ll keep them as a client in the future. Have fun, make a few jokes where you can, but be careful not to appear flippant or like you’re not taking the meeting seriously.

Be clear, concise and confident
Answer any questions as best you can, if you don’t know the answer – say so. But always follow with “…but I’ll look into that for you…” It IS actually possible to NOT answer a question with confidence.

Ask questions
This why you’re having the meeting. It’s your time to ask questions to ensure you’re sure about what you’re doing. Client’s love to talk about their businesses – they’ll respect that you’re being thorough. If you come away with gaping holes in knowing what the client is after then chances are the work you’ll produce will be all wrong, and the client might well think you’re a bit of an idiot. Make sure you both understand what you’ve been asked to do.

Don’t be put on the spot
Clients will often want to know there and then what something is going to cost. My advice would be to have rough ‘guesstimate’ in your head, but if asked for an on-the-spot price, explain that you’d like to go away and put together a formal estimate after considering all parts of the job. This is normally enough to buy you time. If the client presses you (they are often number oriented and need that ‘box-ticked’) politely try and deflect. Ask them if THEY have a budget in mind – this will often put the pressure back on them. Like a game of poker, nobody wants to reveal their hand. The client doesn’t want to come in too high, If you sense their unease, follow with a polite reiteration of “I’ll go away and put a formal estimate together…”

Only if really necessary should you give the client your guesstimate. And be sure to caveat it to the n’th degree. Never leave the meeting with this being your official agreement – always follow up with a formal estimate that they APPROVE before you start work. Don’t get hustled into a price you’re not happy with in a meeting. You’re a professional – don’t be forced into a corner. Stay calm and negotiate until you’re happy and most importantly don’t feel apologetic for asking a fair price for a service they NEED.

Follow up quickly
After your meeting, follow up as quickly as you promised by email or telephone with an email reiterating the job as you understand it along with a formal estimate. Always start with “It was great meeting with you…” (even if it was the most miserable hour of your life) – it works. If you have any new questions – now’s your time to ask.

…and relax
Now that the corporate unease is out of the way, it’s time to change back into your tracksuit and flip-flops – and time to dazzle them with your creative genius.

© heymrleej.com 2012.
Follow me on Twitter @heymrleej and Facebook

The Internet black hole. Some hints for freelance creatives on using your time more effectively.

Never more than today has it been easier to make amazing creative work a reality – the computer has revolutionised the worlds of all creative industries. graphic design, fashion, illustration, film and media, web development – the list goes on. In particular, the Internet has opened up a whole world for creative people to source, create and share their work and thoughts.

On the face of it, this is a great thing. We are exposed to a vast array of brilliant, thought provoking work at the click of a button. But it comes at a price – we are often overwhelmed with our online world of so much to see, so much to do – the pressures of this online ‘presence’ can create a massive hole that our time slips into.

Social media while undeniably useful both personally and professionally, creates a whole new job to fulfil, often with only fleeting success. More often it’s a black hole of time we’re never going to see the benefit from. So, how can we balance the hours we spend being creative and financially successful versus the time we put into being socially accepted?

I’m as guilty as the next man when it comes to wasting hours of time floating from website to website, tweeting other people’s work, updating my Facebook to let everyone know that my puppy’s just crapped on the floor. It’s great for a while, but if you find yourself unable to step away and get on with your work then you’re in a spot of trouble. I have finally managed to find a good balance. I spend a good amount of time being social, but have grown to understand the need for balance and sometimes the hard-nosed reality that the time I waste farting about on Facebook has a direct correlation with my dwindling bank balance. Here are a few things I do on a regular basis that help me work, rather than play, which in the end means more money for most freelancers like myself.

There’s a time to be social
Generally speaking, between 9-10am and 5-6pm is the time I use and abuse social media. I’ll spend an hour in the morning being banally social before work begins. This includes: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, all the usual suspects… It also includes answering any outstanding emails, having my breakfast taking a shower and watching a bit of trash TV. It’s amazing what you can fit in when you know there’s a cut off point.

Ready to go
Once you’re ready to go, turn off all distractions. This includes instant update type software on your computer – while the likes of TweetDeck, Skype and Facebook updater are very useful – they’re also like a small dog yapping at your feet for attention. Sooner or later you’ll cave and be swept into cyberspace, never to be seen again. I know people who use software that actually bans you from the Internet. Personally I think this is like a fad diet. You’ll find ways of exploiting it – and ALL you’ll think about is “how long before I can get back online.” It’s pointless – just leave Facebook alone. Do it.

Make research useful
By all means research online, but give yourself a set time. Don’t let yourself wander, otherwise it’ll be lunchtime before you know it and you’ll have not a lot to show for it.

Sit down, stay down
Once you’ve started work, Stay put until you’re happy with your progress (at least 2 hours). It sounds pretty dumb, but I know a lot of people who cannot stay in their seat for more than two minutes at a time. This is not time effective. Sit down and get on with it.

Ignore emails
It can generally wait. Quite often I’ll receive emails linking out to my favourite sites, informing me of updates to Social site all my new Twitter followers and the like. While tempting to ‘sort out’ immediately you’ll undoubtedly end up pulled into the black hole – only to resurface a few hours later, and annoyed at yourself. Similarly if you have a demanding client who needs your full attention, only answer with one email stating you’ll look into whatever they’re after as soon as you can – give them a realistic deadline then cut the cord. Ignore them. Politely obviously. Build time into your day to do this extra work!

Ignore your phone
Unless it’s directly relating to what you’re working on, it can wait. Especially if you have a smartphone – they are mini transporters into the black hole. Again, build some time later in the day to follow up with client calls. Don’t deviate from that time.

Meetings
They suck the time and life out of people. Meetings are mostly a complete waste of time. Only attend when absolutely essential. The likes of Skype are a great alternative – build it into your diary too so that your other work won’t suffer. And charge you client for them – this may stop them having them in first place. This is a good thing.

Take a break
Take some time AWAY from your technology once every 3-4 hours – leave your computer, phone and tablet. Get fresh air in the real world. Take a nap. Eat something. Be careful to not make your break time simply a time to update your social media. Time away will freshen your head, and you’ll work more quickly as a result.

Promoting yourself
Allocate a couple hours a WEEK on updating your business promotion activities. Unless you’re a full time blogger, who earns money from their blog, it should be secondary to the time you spend on actual paying work. If you’re quiet work wise, this part should become your ‘work’ ie. your priority. But keep the time you spend updating and refining to a moderate level. Spend more time drumming up real work opportunities.

Billing and paperwork.
Don’t get caught up organising your finances on a daily basis. Allocate a morning once a week where you do it all in one sitting. It’s vital you keep on top of it, but like all other distractions, it’ll consume you if you let it.

The thing to remember is that while it’s a brilliant place to be at times, the Internet is also evil. It will literally steal your time and money from you. Be strong and consistent with your usage and it’ll become a routine.The most important thing to take out of this article is to look at the clock right now (do it, right now) and deciding whether you should be reading this article or whether you should really just be getting on with your work.

I think we both know the answer.

© heymrleej.com 2012.
Follow me on Twitter @heymrleej and Facebook (between 9-10am, 5-6pm!!)

Fuck You Pay Me!

This is a great seminar from Mule Design‘s Design Director Mike Monteiro as part of the San Francisco Creative Mornings Seminars – He makes some very helpful suggestions for small creative  businesses or sole traders. Topics include client relationships, contracts, firing a client, salvaging client relationships – something which any creative person out on their own would find extremely useful.

Freelance Creatives – Why it pays to be nice.

A rude awakening.

If you’re making the transition from agency to freelance life, one thing will be glaringly apparent; very quickly. You can’t get away with the shit you used to back in the office. It’s very different out on your own. As jack of all trades you’ll be suit, accountant AND creative genius and this can leave you a little short on time and fuse.

The truth of the matter is that a client is only interested in your creative talent. They don’t want difficult. They certainly don’t want stubborn or snippy. If you display any of these attributes to a client – be worried, because bad news spreads and it’s only a matter of time before the phone stops ringing and the bank balance dries up. Like you, clients want an easy life – you can’t argue with that.

So many freelancers let their ego take centre stage in place of providing a quality, stress-free service. Everything should be about your relationship with the client so how can you make them happy without making yourself miserable?

First things first.

To avoid the onset of working tensions between you and a client, I would encourage talking at key stages of any job – at briefing and presentation stage at the very least. If you or your client have any questions they can be answered right away. This will avoid misunderstandings from the outset.

All in good time.

Be on time for your meetings, calls and deadlines. Always.

Different day. Same smile.

Consistency of service is vital. If you’re having a terrible day don’t let it show to your client. Give the same service each and every time you interact – if you’re chilled and responsive one minute and then gripey and argumentative the next, you’ll come across as a bit of a mentalist so make sure you’re always the same happy to help person. Even if you’re secretly planning ways of killing them.

Here’s one I made earlier.

Stay in control of your client by staying one step ahead of them. Preempt any “issues” before you present your work, and always have a few solutions up your sleeve. Never say “can’t do…” without having a “could do…” to follow. Clients don’t want a problem any more than you do, they’ll respect that you’re brimming with other options.

Show off.

Over deliver on a job – do what you’ve been asked to then add a couple of “you could also do this…” concepts a couple of colour options or an alternative layout. Your client will think you’re the best!

You don’t understand me.

Never assume a client is incapable of understanding your creative genius. It’s your job to ensure they know where you’re coming from. Presenting your work well is key – If they ask a stupid question – listen patiently, then answer politely without a hint of an eye roll. Arrogance is a huge turn off, so no matter how ridiculous it gets, be professional and courteous – weld a smile on your face if you have to.

Pistols at dawn.

It’s important and healthy to challenge your client from time to time, but do pick your battles wisely. Nobody wants to squabble over an en-dash or comma so be prepared to just suck it up once in a while. Fight the bigger battles firmly but politely, but realise when “No” really does mean “No”.

It’s good to talk.

Whether it’s a vague brief, horrible interference with your work or just a really rude client – you must remember that you are in control of the outcome. Problems can be ironed out with good communication. That normally means picking up the phone. Email rallies take up too much time and are open to misinterpretation, magnifying problems rather than solving them.

Bide your time.

If you’re starting to feel like you’re losing control of a job, take a step back, take a deep breath, take a nap, scream at the wall, smash a plate… Do whatever you need to do to vent – then put on your fakest smile and pretend like nothing ever happened. Prepare for a assertive rather than aggressive battle. You’ll be surprised how simple it can be to bring a client around to your way of thinking with the right attitude.

Say goodbye. Nicely.

If you’re at a point where you’re really not getting anywhere with a rude client. Assess the loss, and if it’s tenable, cut the cord. Again, do this in person or via telephone – explain calmly but assertively and without losing your rag why you’re doing what you’re doing. (Make sure you get paid for any work you’ve already done). The client may well back down and you’ll keep the job, but if not, follow up professionally with an email wishing them well. Avoid bagging them on social media – it’s a small World.

Thanks for everything.

When you finish a job send a thank you for the work – be sure to say you’re available for anything else.

Me again.

Keep an open dialogue with all of your old clients – send infrequent emails to say hello (even if you dislike them) – and always remind them that you’re available for work.

Keep smiling.

There is a lot to smile about as a freelancer, so it’s vital that you remember this every day! Stay positive when you’re dealing with your clients and you’ll have them for years. And we all know, a regular pay cheque puts a smile on your face – FOR REAL.

 

Lee Jackson, Freelance Art Director & Graphic Designer – www.heymrleej.com –  @heymrleej