Dear Preston Excerpt: How Do I Make a Good Initial Impression on Clients?


Dear Preston,

I want my clients to leave their first meeting with me delighted about hiring my company. Got any tips?

Sincerely,  Making a good impression


Dear Good Impression,

You bet I have tips. I love the first meeting with a potential client. I’m getting to hear about someone’s dreams, and I may get the opportunity to bring those dreams to life with my creativity. What could be more exciting?

By following a few simple steps, you can transform a boring meeting into a wonderful experience:

• Greet your clients personally at the entrance with a warm hello— and never leave a client waiting. The first time I met with Joan Rivers, she had just met with a big-name designer who had kept her waiting. She told me she felt like she’d been waiting to have an audience with the queen. I was relatively unknown at the time, but Joan and I had a wonderful meeting (I’d shown up right on time) and she gave me my first big break as an event designer. We’ve been great friends ever since.

  • Make sure your bathroom is spotless and enhanced with fresh flowers or a lovely scented candle.
  • Never answer phone calls or e-mail during a client meeting. Your client should feel that your attention is totally focused on them. If you’re like me and find it hard not to check your e-mail, turn off your phone and close your computer during the meeting so you won’t be tempted.
  • Treat clients as you would a guest in your home. Offer them a choice of coffee, tea, soda, or water (or even wine, depending on the hour), served in your best glasses. Have a tray of snacks set out—perhaps something sweet like cookies or fresh fruit.
  • Even if you took down a lot of information on the phone, ask the client again about the logistics of the job as well as their likes and dislikes. It’s good to hear more than once, and sometimes a client’s thinking changes (but do drop in a few details from the earlier conversation, so they know you were listening).
  • Ask about the client’s dream event. What would they want if there were no limits? I often find that their answer sparks a direction in how to design their celebration.
  • Assume all clients have a short attention span. Present your work and your services in no more than five minutes, and keep it focused on them.
  • When you present your portfolio or explain your services, modify your presentation to appeal to that client’s tastes, which you should have learned about on the first phone call. If your client told you she loves vibrant colors, half your portfolio shouldn’t consist of all-white concepts.
  • Pay close attention to the client’s reactions as you show your work, and have backup ready if they aren’t responding enthusiastically. Most clients find that one image they love, and if that happens, elaborate on that past job and tell them what it was like. Their comments and further reactions will help you learn even more about them.

• Avoid any verbal commitments regarding costs. Tell clients you will get back to them with a written general proposal, and be specific about when. Give them a date (not “soon”) and mean it.

• After the meeting, send a personalized note and a gift—again, something that ties into your business identity is perfect. Make sure clients know how much you appreciated meeting with them and how much you’re looking forward to working with them.

But these tips make up only one part of a stellar client meeting. The rest of the story is in your spirit, and this is where your generosity, empathy, and trust will shine. Here’s what you want your attitude to convey in the meeting:

  • Your client is your teacher. Be generous with your attention, and approach your meeting wanting to learn, not to show off. If you let your client teach you what he wants and needs, you will find your creativity incredibly stimulated.
  • There are no judgments. When you listen to a client’s ideas, leave your judgmental self at home. It’s your job to bring your client’s ideas to life, no matter how unusual they are. Cultivate your empathy. If you try to understand where clients are coming from and why they like what they do, you’ll have an easier time getting inspired in a way that they can relate to.
  • You’re listening closely. Write down every single idea your client has, creating a record of their likes and dislikes. This will be useful later, and it shows the client you’re present and involved. You may even want to send the client a copy of your notes to show her she was being heard.
  • You’re generous with your time. In my business, clients are planning what are often once-in-a-lifetime events, and they want to get it right. I’m happy to see prospective clients a second or even third time (but no more) before they choose to hire me, because I want them to feel really comfortable about our relationship and to have all their questions answered before they commit.

Get the first meeting right, and you’ll create a bond your clients can feel.

Even if the client doesn’t end up choosing you for the job, he will remember your generous, empathetic, and professional style, and perhaps use you in the future, or recommend you to others.

How do you work to make a good impression on your clients? 




Read more in Dear Preston: Doing Business With Our Hearts.