• Advice

Make your business meetings more meaningful with these 5 principles

The key to having a good meeting is preparation. If you just show up, you're already behind – you'll spend the time working through the task at hand rather than reviewing possible solutions.

A meeting can consume a material portion of your day. It's an investment of time, which means it's also an investment of money. As a freelancer, this is doubly important: the success of your meetings will determine the size of your bank account!

An additional bonus is that if you are well-prepared when you go into the meeting, you will be relaxed and confident. Meetings may be one of the few times that you get a lot of face or phone time with a client, so it's important to make the best impression that you can.

Get the logistics right

This is the simplest thing but often gets overlooked. Make sure that you arrive on time. Being late looks sloppy and is a bad way to start. It’s amazing how often people overbook their calendars and as a result end up making a poor impression.

Know where you are going and allow for a short delay as well. Don’t arrive too early as that can look desperate – if you're 20 minutes ahead, get a coffee or walk around the block. You want to be at a client’s office 5 minutes before the meeting.

Bring along a list of questions

It is easy to get engrossed in the conversation and forget to ask something important, no matter how many times you have asked other clients the same questions or how obvious they are. As a freelancer you won’t have a colleague there to ask the question.

Preparing a list of questions before the meeting is the key to getting all of the information that you need. These should make sure to include all standard questions like the scope and timescale of the project, as well as client specific questions.

The list isn’t exclusive. You can always ask further questions during the meeting, this will just ensure that you don’t forget anything critical or obvious. Leave yourself space to add to your list of questions, should the client say something you wish them to expand upon later.

If you are new to the world of freelancing here is a great list of questions to ask clients.

Remember your selling points

Take a list of your key selling points. Again these can be hard to remember during a meeting so having them written down ensures that you will make all your key points. The list should be tailored to the client and project.

You need to show them that you are the ideal person for the job, by telling them why you have the perfect skillset and showing them examples of your previous work. Numbers talk, so if you have figures to show that a new website you created boosted visitors, or a new logo you designed increased sales, make sure you have these to hand.

The best way to do this is to bring a document or presentation for the client containing a few select examples of your work, along with testimonials from previous clients. Again, tailor this to their needs, rather than having a generic leaflet you hand out to all prospective clients. This will help them remember you, and why you are the right person for them to work with, long after the meeting has finished.

Get your body language right

Experts all agree that your body language probably communicates more than the words that you actually say. Strong body language comes more easy to some of us but there are a few tips that can help anyone.

Smile. It makes a huge difference and is often the first thing people stop doing if they’re nervous or stressed. This can’t be repeated enough as a smile will make you look confident and relaxed and also help put the other person at ease as well.

Be sure to sit up straight and make eye contact, as these will make you look and actually feel much more engaged and confident. This article on assertiveness contains lots more tips for body language and confidence.

Finally, practice makes perfect

Hold a practice meeting with a friend or relative posing as the client. If you don’t have anybody willing or able to do this, hold a meeting with an empty chair! Set up a voice or video recorder beforehand, so that you can play it back later to see where you need to improve. Think about both what you say and also how you say it.

And remember to smile!

Finally, good luck. Preparation will improve your odds and give you more confidence but everyone needs a bit of good luck as well. Oh and don’t forget to smile!

Ben Richardson Ben is an ex-investment banker and venture capitalist. He now combines freelancing for early stage companies with running Acuity Training which offers high quality management and IT training.