Your business is built on your skills and expertise—and your ability to communicate that you have both. When meeting with clients for the first time, it’s important to convey how professional, prepared and capable you are to take on their project. Everybody has their own approach, but we’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts that may help you knock future client meetings out of the park.
Homeowners are taught to be wary when hiring tradespeople and contractors. Put their mind at ease immediately by offering a one-pager of testimonials from satisfied customers. You may even include referral phone numbers so they can follow up and truly put their mind at ease. (Often, the transparency of providing contact information is assurance enough.) It’s a great way to start off a project with everybody feeling good about the partnership.
On the other side of that testimonial one-pager, include a short paragraph about your credentials, training, accreditation and experience. It demonstrates that you’re a professional who takes your business seriously. Include a few photos of work that you’re proud of so they can see what you can do for them.
It’s tempting to tell anxious or eager homeowners what they want to hear. But if you’re not sure the job will be done in time for Grandma’s 80th birthday party, say so up front. Instead of committing to an exact date, walk them through the process and let them know where you anticipate there might be a hold-up in supplies or unexpected surprises. They might not like the answer initially, but they’ll appreciate your candor in the long run.
Be proactive and bring a sample of a standard agreement to show them what their job might look like. This protects both you and the homeowner from misunderstandings and ugly confrontations should there be a miscommunication along the way. Bringing it to the initial meeting signals that you want to have a clear and straightforward relationship from the beginning.
You’re an expert in your field. Your clients? Probably not. Consider yourself an educator when assessing a project and be sure you explain all the details of the job to the homeowners. Take the time to be sure they understand exactly what you’re telling them. Finish off every meeting by asking if they have questions and be patient about answering all of them.
It’s critical that you have everything right when preparing a quote or agreement, but what happens when you forget a small detail that could make a big difference in the job? Jot down notes about the job (and refer to them when you’re wrapping up the meeting to be sure everyone’s on the same page) and ask the homeowner if they’d mind if you took photographs of certain areas, if necessary. Photos are also excellent to have if there’s a communication breakdown in the future.
As an independent contractor, you might want to protect your own financial interests by asking for payment at the outset of a project, but this is considered a big red flag for homeowners when hiring contractors and tradespeople. A more reasonable approach is to ask for payments in instalments at pre-defined intervals so everyone feels good about the job.
It can be a challenge to find a time that works for both you and your prospective clients. Squeezing in a quick meeting after all parties have put in a full workday is a definite don’t. Everyone is more likely to be tired, frazzled and less able to ask (and answer!) the right questions. See if it’s possible to set it up first thing in the morning or in the evening after everyone has had a chance to eat dinner and decompress from the day.
You’re a busy person and you probably can’t afford to miss a phone call from another client or a staff member. But not only is it incredibly rude to answer a call while meeting with a prospective client, it’s also unprofessional. Demonstrate that your meeting with them is a priority and keep the momentum of your meeting without interruptions.
If you’re in the construction or trade industry, you’re not expected to show up to a client meeting in a three-piece suit. But you also shouldn’t come caked in drywall dust either. Consider keeping a clean shirt and shoes in your truck so you can make a quick change to meet with new customers. When you arrive fresh and tidy, they’ll have the impression that you’re as polished as you are proficient, which goes a long way to inspiring trust in your professionalism.
The most important things on a homeowner’s mind when meeting for the first time is cost, timing and the scope of the project. It’s critical that you are as specific as you can be on all three of these concerns from the outset. It’s smart to offer a range when it comes to cost and timing, but be sure to carefully consider that range before you offer it. If you want to preserve your reputation and earn word-of-mouth referrals, you’d be wise to say exactly what you’re going to do—and then do precisely what you said you would.
To you it might be just another small job, but to the homeowners it’s a big deal. Try not to diminish the concerns of your prospective clients by being too casual and even dismissive of the things they’re expressing worry about. For most people, it’s discomfiting to have someone in their personal space. They need to feel like you take the job as seriously as they do and will take care of it efficiently and thoroughly.