If time really equals money, then I've spent a decent amount of money purchasing awkward silence with strangers over the years. What I'm talking about is the minor panic evoked by a sudden realization that I'm sitting across the table from a total stranger and neither of us has anything more to say, yet after only 15 minutes of our first meeting, we both feel obligated to stick around and pretend to be interested in each others families and pets.

On that note, here's a comic that's only vaguely related to the subject of this blog post:

The following is a short list of tips for freelance web designers who want to know more about mastering the awkward social interactions we call meetings.

1) Have a general routine in mind

This is more important with first time meetings than follow ups, but it's always important to know how the meeting will flow before you arrive. Are you going to introduce yourself or ask about the client first? Do you plan on asking personal questions or getting right to business? Do you have a list of questions to ask? Be aware that the client might have their own routine in mind as well, so there's no need to be militant about your routine, but having a routine in the back of your mind will help keep things flowing along smoothly.

2) Know what you're going to ask beforehand

I like to create a list of questions on paper and then go through them with a pen over the phone to get things started, but this is just as effective in person. If you're working from a list of questions in person, be sure to make eye contact and not just stare at your page as you write down their answers. You don't want the meeting to feel like a test for the client.

3) Be ready for show and tell

Clients love to look at things, see what you've done in the past, and talk about what they want to do in the future. If you have mockups, make sure you have them with you either printed or locally on your laptop, just in case you can't get online where the meeting is taking place.

4) Bring the right stuff with you

This is in line with the third tip. If you have mockups to show, take your laptop with you or some method of showing them. I also like to take extra paper, more than one pen (just in case), my business cards, and any quotes, contracts, proposals, timelines, or marketing material I intend to leave or discuss with the client. You can keep this all tucked away some place so you don't overwhelm the client. I use a leather conference folder and place it beside my chair so it's off the table.

On a related note, I wrote a previous post that included a sample web design contract, budget, timeline & proposal for download. This can be helpful for impressing clients and landing projects.

5) Don't be afraid to bill for your time

I always like to build a certain amount of hours labelled "Consulting" into my quotes for initial and future meetings. This way I know I'm being paid when leaving the sanctity of my home office to lounge in a restaurant with a stranger while my deadlines are subconsciously calling to me. Of course, initial meetings that don't turn into real projects are the exception. I just chalk that up to the cost of sales.

6) Take many notes

I like to draw boxes and arrows, scribble mercilessly, and jot down every detail so when I'm back in the office it doesn't take much longer to get a quote or concise follow-up email sent out. Also, I find that some of the best ideas and thinking comes out of the first creative meeting with a client, and its valuable to have a record of it to review during the projects life cycle. In some cases, I like to scan these notes and upload them to Basecamp as project assets. Ideal candidates for this would be: site maps, rough database relationship schemas, scribbled mockups, and similar spontaneous notes.

7) Be prepared to eat or not eat

It's embarrassing to show up to a lunchtime meeting and be only one eating or vice versa. I always like to figure this one out before heading out the door to make sure we can both allot the same amount of attention to each other. Related to this one is knowing whether you're going to offer to foot the bill or not beforehand as well.

8) Dress appropriately

When I'm dressed in jeans and a graphic tee but chatting with an older man in a suit, I can't help but imagine I'm back in high school talking to the principal, or in a meeting with the boss. If we're dressed the same, or I'm dressed slightly better, then it's easier to casually discuss business on an equal footing. You can determine how to dress by thinking about what type of client you're meeting or dressing kind of business casual.

9) Set a clear time limit and stick to it

I find it effective to set clear time limits right up front by saying something like, "I'm glad we could meet today. I have about an hour with you before I need to leave for my next appointment, so let's get things started. Why don't you tell me a bit about your business first then I'll talk about how I can help?" This way you have an easy exit and know the meeting won't drag on.

10) Have a little fun

It's ok to smile and be yourself in a meeting, and it'll make a potential sale much easier. When it comes right down to it, many sales are won or lost simply based on how much the client likes you over another bidder, so smile, be friendly, and don't worry about getting or losing the business. You're a professional with skills, you can relax and let your experience speak through you.

In Closing

Hopefully this article was able to give you a little bit of a laugh and provide some useful insight as well. Please Digg It if you liked it, or write a comment below. I'd especially be interested in hearing about your meeting horror stories or successful techniques.