• Advice

Don't sweat: how to take the angst out of client meetings

Maybe it’s the first time you’re meeting a potential client – and you’re feeling nervous about making a good impression. Maybe you’re meeting with a current client, and you’re feeling a vague, probably-irrational dread: why do they want to talk to me now? Oh God, what did I screw up?

Maybe you’re presenting a final project that, coincidentally, started feeling shabby the minute you scheduled the meeting.

Whatever the situation, client meetings can be nerve-racking affairs. Nothing makes you suddenly question your quality of work, stability of career, or choice of attire faster than a friendly last-minute client get-together!

The good news? There are 3 quick tips you can use to take pressure off of client meetings – and none of them involve changing your outfit.

1. Keep perspective

Seriously, in the worst case humanly imaginable, what is the client going to do to you? Laugh in your face? Call up your mother and curse her for giving you life? Paint a scarlet “F” (for “failure” or “freelancer”, your choice) on your chest and force you into the stocks, to be pelted by rotten vegetables and taunted by street orphans?

If you’re anything like me, stressful situations occasionally make your body go into high-alert-oh-God-surely-a-bear-is-chasing-us adrenalized mode… and nobody enjoys sitting through a client meeting while battling cold sweat.

Short-circuit this physical response by getting some perspective. Remind yourself that the WORST thing a client can do is probably a) dislike your work or b) choose not to work with you. Dispiriting? Sure. But not the end of the world.

Again, that’s the WORST scenario; odds are, your client just wants to check in, or learn more about your work.

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2. Go in with some kind of plan / goal

Part of the reason that you’re nervous? You’re expending a lot of energy trying to magically anticipate exactly what the client wants, and plan exactly how to make them happy. Your imagination can wander down a lot of crazy paths, and it’s exhausting.

Once you’ve devoted a reasonable amount of time to gathering information that your client might need, try to stop worrying. Instead, channel that energy into focusing on what YOU want from the meeting. Do you want to get feedback? Make that a goal.

Do you want to feel out a new client, and make sure they’re a good fit? Make that your objective. Heck, do you just want to practice your pitch? Concentrate on that. Shifting your focus onto YOUR needs will make you feel more confident and in-control… and it prevents you from endlessly obsessing about your client’s Mystery Wishes.

3. Remember – we’re all people

The client, whether current or potential, is not out to get you. They’re not looking to judge you. They don’t want to punish you. They are not the middle school bully, trying to trap you into making a mistake so they can point and laugh at your failure.

The client – whether you’re talking about an individual or a giant company – is just a person or group of people, trying to get their work done. Just like you!

Unless you’re working with a total sadistic jerk (important reminder here: don’t work with jerks), the client ultimately probably wants the same thing you do – for YOU to succeed! They want a competent freelancer to breeze in the door and offer the perfect solution for all of their professional problems, wrapped up with a pretty little bow.

Now, that may not be possible – you may indeed have different visions of what that “solution” might look like, and you might run into some challenges on the way. You may not even be the right freelancer for the job. But more client meetings are NOT fundamentally hostile environments! They’re peer-to-peer discussions: just people, trying to work out solutions with other people.

…. and that’s not so scary, is it?

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.