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Professional Webmaster Business Issues Forum

First Consultation Etiquette
or, should I remove my earring?

 6:59 pm on Jan 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

I am just curious what others do to make a solid first impression on the first consult with a prospective client.

For example - let's say they call YOU and suggest meeting at the Cracker Barrel. Do you:

a) order breakfast, or insist it stays coffee-only?
b) drop a few bucks on the table for the coffee you drank, or let them get it since they suggested a sit-down restaurant?
c) offer to get the whole thing.

If you're a freelancer like me, do you:

a) put a suit on, even though you are strictly a jeans and sweater person?
b) take your earring out for the first meeting and wear it only after you've gotten the job?
c) dress like the artist that you are.

I'm curious what everyone's must do's, and definite no-nos are for the first visit. I've had a couple of wierd experiences where even though THEY are the prospective client, all signs pointed to THEM covering the cost of the bagel and locks.




 8:05 pm on Jan 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

A big part of this answer will depend on where you are at in your career.

Just by asking the question though, you are on the right track.

The biggest thing is to be PREPARED for the meeting. Understand your prospect, and do your homework on them. The breakfast/ coffee side of things are just details. Once you are good at the sales process, you will get the sale, and they will BUY YOU breakfast;)

There are plenty of people that will argue against suits. I think it is appropriate and gives the impression that you went the extra mile to prepare for the meeting and be professional. I think this is more necessary when you are a younger person trying to gain the respect of someone more "old school". The other side of the coin that most folks will argue, is that if you enjoy freelancing, you probably won't want to work for someone who places much stock in your suit. It mainly depends on how badly you want the job, if you're not too fond of the client imho.

Be sure more than anything that you are prepared to make a good impression based on the presentation of your preparedness, and your ability to intelligently answer questions. Demonstrate YOUR value to THEM. How are YOU going to make yourself an asset to their operation? Demonstrate also that you are relaxed and confident. Don't appear AT ALL as if you are desperate for the work (even if you are:) Show that you are interested, and excited about the opportunity to help them improve. Sometimes, though, it's not even good to demonstrate TOO MUCH excitement.

My personal answers
1. order breakfast
2. wear a suit (if you want it bad enough to post here, you want it bad enough to wear a suit) and an earring (still gotta demonstrate that artistic side a bit, and if that is too much for 'em you'd have trouble with 'em anyhow)

This way at least you start your day with a tasty breakfast (I really like cracker barrel breakfast, and would be too hungry to just get coffee).

More reading

on SEO and web design sales [webmasterworld.com]
Approaching my first client [webmasterworld.com]

Good luck, and let us know how it turns out:)


 8:24 pm on Jan 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

Hah! I had a client (a married couple who work together) who, during the course of developing their site, I invited them to lunch, along with their assistant. Of course, since I invited them, I had every intention of paying for it. Had my credit card at the ready when the waiter came by with our bill. The male half of the couple said "Oh, no, it's our treat," and whipped out his card. The waiter took his card and returned mine. When I tried to insist that he take mine, he said, "Well, he's a man" (gesturing at the client).

At that point I gave up, rolled my eyes, laughed, and thanked the clients graciously for lunch. Next time I'll have to snag the waiter ahead of time to make arrangements.

Another client asked for a morning meeting (at Cracker Barrel, natch). He had breakfast, I had coffee only, and I felt fine letting him pay. If I had also eaten, I probably would attempted to pick up the tab -- but I may well have been thwarted in the attempt. As a woman, I've not had much luck with trying to pay the bill when a male decides that he wants to.

I hate dressing up, though, and it's always a debate how much to "dress" when meeting clients. Mostly I work in raggy old gym shorts and t-shirts, so even putting on jeans feels like dressing up.


 12:18 am on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)


Make sure you cover the bill always with a client.

Dress well according to the venue that you meet at.

Many of us (like me) work in our our PJs or whatever.



[edited by: stuntdubl at 3:07 am (utc) on Jan. 3, 2006]
[edit reason] let's play nice [/edit]


 12:25 am on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

Why would anyone want to work with someone in raggy gym shorts?


 12:26 am on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

Make sure you cover the bill always with a client.

Scroll up and read the first post again, please.

This isn't a "client," this is a "prospective client," many of whom are notorious for being dedicated brain-sucks looking for free consulting from as many sources as they can wheedle it out of, after which they assemble their notes and do the job in-house without PAYING anyone.

[edited by: stuntdubl at 3:19 am (utc) on Jan. 3, 2006]
[edit reason] quote of unnecessary comment [/edit]


 12:35 am on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

Why would anyone want to work with someone in raggy gym shorts?

Scroll up and read the post again, please. Did I say anywhere that I ever meet with clients in raggy gym shorts?


[edited by: stuntdubl at 3:10 am (utc) on Jan. 3, 2006]
[edit reason] no more flaming, okay? :) [/edit]


 12:47 am on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

I usually wear a dress shirt and slacks.
I meet the prospect at my office and provide coffee, if they seem like a good prospect I invite them out for lunch.
A small percent of them make the cut for lunch, not because of the costs, but because of the time it takes out of my day. I am only willing to give my time up to serious prospects.


 2:35 am on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

The customer is King right?



 3:18 am on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

The customer is king Sara, but as Marcia mentioned, prospects are a different story.

My view is that if you NEED the customers business then you should pay. If it is a prospect picking your brain for free information, it may be another story.

I don't think there is any ALWAYS in this case. It *is* a tax write off, so unless it is a frequent occurrence or you are talking about eating at a upscale restaurant, it really shouldn't be a big issue. Most good business people will at least make an attempt to offer to pay either way.

I say go with the intention of paying, and you'll be happy to get a free meal if you make the meeting more than just worth their time:)

Minnapple, it sounds like you have a very professional and equitable process.


 4:45 am on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

>>The customer is King right?

Actually, no. Revenue is King - it's what pays the bills and keeps the kids fed.

Also, not only is there a difference between a client and a prospect, but as Zig Ziglar so nicely puts it, there's a difference between a "prospect" and a "suspect."

That's where the important element of pre-qualification enters into the sales process. In cases like this it's determining whether it may be someone shopping around in the initial information-gathering stage, who may or may not even have budget available - that's a "suspect." Or a serious contender for services, as in they have enough budget allocated for the job, and were possibly a personal referral, with a good chance of landing the deal. That's a prospect. Still not a client, but a reasonably good prospect.


 4:48 am on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

>there's a difference between a "prospect" and a "suspect."

Exactly - when it comes to that, go with your gut. Mine's got a pretty good record. ;-)

If you have a hunch that this person may be mooching some free info, don't take them to lunch. But if your instincts give the prospect/suspect the green light, take a chance on them.


 5:25 am on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

OK, back to the earring.

a) put a suit on, even though you are strictly a jeans and sweater person?
b) take your earring out for the first meeting and wear it only after you've gotten the job?
c) dress like the artist that you are.

Just my personal take - but if you get the job, you'll no doubt be meeting with them after and hopefully there will be a rapport established. Might as well be "yourself" going out the gate, but appropriate for the occasion and the place.

If it's a breakfast meeting, then it's early in the day and still chilly, so how about nice trousers, sport shirt (or Aran Isle or cashmere sweater) and sport jacket (optional but nice) - with the earring, assuming it's a gold post earring, and not a punkrocker, goth-type spangly-dangly with charms and bells. ;)

That's very business-like, but still not shirt-and-tie formal, it's comfortable, it's honest, and seems pretty well balanced to me.


 5:47 am on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

It really depends on where you are in your career. If somebody wanted to hire me I would expect them to pay. I don't need the business and they would have to convince me that they are worth my time and trouble.


 3:37 pm on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

A suit says "I am serious."

As for paying. Have you qualified the potential client before meeting with them? In other words, if you spoke with them for two-minutes on the phone and the idea of a meeting came up - then you have-not qualified them. Going further, did they seem like someone who will buy your services for sure, and if so how much will they spend? If it's a client that is going to pay you $400. for a first web-site, then you might want to think twice about buying them a meal. If you go to a restaurant, then you are almost obligated to buy.

If these folks seem like they are just "shopping" you, then go meet them at their place of business, and keep it professional.

I guess the short story here is that if you have a really good prospect, then buy them lunch. If you meet at a restaurant, then you are obligated to pay.

That may not be what you want to hear, but if they are serious business people, then they will expect it, and will be insulted if you don't offer.



 4:22 pm on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

Do you:
a) order breakfast, or insist it stays coffee-only?

Let the prospect/client decide. If you've already eaten breakfast, you can always eat something light so they don't feel uncomfortable eating in front of you.

I'm not real fond of eating during a first meeting. It is very difficult to discuss business with your mouth full! ;)

b) drop a few bucks on the table for the coffee you drank, or let them get it since they suggested a sit-down restaurant?

I'm always going to pick up the tab, no matter what. Unless someone is a bit more forceful than I when lunging for the check. ;)

a) put a suit on, even though you are strictly a jeans and sweater person?

Most people who are strictly a jeans and sweater person typically do not look right in a suit. Unless of course you've had your suits and accessories (shirts) professionally tailored.

I can pick out someone who is not a suit person a mile away. The seat of their slacks is usually down by the knees. Their shirt is wrinkled and typically 2-3 sizes too large. Their jacket is either too small or too large. They have a white shirt on and it has ring around the collar. Their tie is out of style and is either too short or too long. Their zipper is down. They are wearing a pair of black rubber Sketchers instead of the appropriate shoes for the suit. The list goes on and on.

If you are a jeans and sweater person, then put your best jeans and sweater on. Wear a nice pair of shoes that match the outfit and make sure the rest of your appearance is in order. Haircut? Manicure? Might as well do a Pedicure while you are at it. No, they won't see your feet, but your feet will feel good. ;) Don't forget nose and ear hairs too. I know that may sound gross to some, but they are the most obvious and most missed amongst many.

b) take your earring out for the first meeting and wear it only after you've gotten the job?

If you are a Freelance, body jewelry is your choice, not theirs. Personally, if you are wearing a suit, the earring needs to go. Unless of course you're a player and you are sporting a 5-10 carat piece of ice from your ear. But, is that the first impression you want to leave? Player.

c) dress like the artist that you are.

If you are an artist, then that is a different story. We're not talking artistry here though, not in the true sense of the word.

Bottom line, a little preparation in advance will help you to choose the best options for a first meeting. Ask the prospect if they'd like to meet for coffee or breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc. Ask the prospect if casual is fine. It will also depend on where you are meeting and whether or not that establishment has a dress code.


 4:38 pm on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

Provided the person is a potential customer, then I think buy_online nailed this. Ask yourself "why are you going to the meeting? What do you want to accomplish?"

About the suit: Just wear it. buy_online says a suit means "I am serious." I would add that it means "You have my respect." Whether or not you like suits, it is an accepted symbol of respect in our society. If you overdress, they will not be insulted. If you underdress, they will. HOWEVER - if this is someone you have been around (in a business setting) before, and you were always wearing jeans, etc., then go with PageOne on that.

About the tab: Just pay it. Consider it a marketing expense. Even if they are just pumping you for information and never hire you it will be well spent. They may tell someone else about you. Or maybe they won't. But you can't worry about each such meeting. Over time, most of these types of meetings will pay off in a sale or in word-of-mouth advertising. Even if the person is a reporter, MBA student doing research, etc., forking over $10 to $12 for their breakfast will likely pay some dividends down the road.

About the time: Who suggested it? Consider moving the time to mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Then you will probably only need to spring for coffee. :)

About the location: Who suggested it? Consider taking the advice (from previous post) to meet at their location. "How 'bout I stop in at your office? Seeing your work environment and maybe some other marketing material/products/co-workers would really help me in advising you about your website."


 11:53 pm on Jan 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

All good advice. I guess we're about to see how this one works out because the proposal will be in their hands tomorrow morning.

To date, I've never worn a suit to an initial consult, and it's not hurt me. In fact, in two years, I've only NOT gotten one job after a face to face - and that was one that I put on the best business casual I had, took out the earring, and there was no bill to wrangle. (ha...sounds like I need to raise my prices)

But, this particular meeting, I decided to go with my typical daily wear; jeans and a nice shirt. They suggested the location and time, but we sat and drank coffee for an hour. After we were completely done talking about the site, they asked me if I wanted to eat.

I politely declined, and they indicated that they were going to hang around and eat. So, now the check is bascially going to be hung up well after I leave. Ultimately, i KNOW the answer if I offer to drop some $$ on the table, but after I left, I felt like I should have insisted.

So, we'll see. I suspect I'll know by Friday. If I don't get the job, lesson learned. Ultimately, the jobs are coming in steady, and within a year, I am hoping and anticipating that word of mouth and some additional well placed advertising will have me booked solid. Then, everyone buys me lunch or they don't get to hire me. ;)

Thanks for the spirited discussion.


 4:45 pm on Jan 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

Then, everyone buys me lunch or they don't get to hire me. ;)

I like that motto :)


 3:18 am on Jan 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

"A suit says "I am serious.""

To some it says, "I am a salesman."

In my "brick and mortar" business days I got some of my best orders, after being summoned to a buyer's office" wearing my less-than-pristine coveralls.

The best contract I *ever* got was when I wore street clothes (jumper and sport shirt .. and trowsers, of course:)) to the office of a CEO.

It all depends on your customer.

If the customer invited you, let him buy lunch. If you invited the customer, pick up the tab.

Order pretty much what your customer orders (coffee or a meal)

-Know your contact
-Err on the side of caution
-Make sure that your appearance does not disrespect your customer

Just my $ 0.03


 12:35 pm on Jan 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Hi Friends-

A) I just got word that I landed the contract. So, in this case, I either got lucky, or bid way too low, or, wowed them with my presentation and references (& skills, of course)

B) That said, I do appreciate the feedback. I will leave the earring in in the future, but definitely step up the business casual wear and be a little more agressive when it comes to the check.

C) Off topic, I am sure glad that January has arrived. Is it just me, or does year-end tend to get unbearably slow with incoming new calls? I have attributed it to year-end advertisign budgets being exhausted, but since Jan 1, the phone has started ringing again, in earnest, thank goodness.

D) Always a pleasure exchanging information with you all. Leaving corporate america and joining the world of
freelance web designers was the best move I ever made.



 7:16 pm on Jan 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

Nice! Good job :)

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