writing notes

The first client meeting

So you have landed a client! Congratulations! They want to sit down with you to talk more about it, so you two set up a meeting to do just that. But, are you really ready for it? Your first meeting could possibly be the first true impression about your organizational, professional and design skills your client has! The first meeting can be anything from a brainstorming session to a contract signing, and you need to be prepared for all of it. In this article I am going to go over how to be prepared for any type of meetings as well as where to go from there!

Know what the meeting is about, and cover your bases!

Your first move is to think about what direction will this meeting go? Is this just to become more acquainted with your client and/or help them on their project ideas? Is this meeting going to be the two of you actually looking at options, timelines and quotes? Know what your focus is going to be based on the previous contact with the client, but also be prepared for any of the other scenarios! You might go into a brainstorming session and impress them so much that they want a quote or a contract from you right then and there, and that is awesome!! Unless of course, you don’t have any of that ready. You want to know how to approach the meeting, but be flexible enough to change into the mode that is needed once you get there.

What to bring

Your Business Card

You may have given them a copy before, and they may have lost it, or maybe their VP is there, etc. You should always have your business card on you, but especially when meeting clients!!! It is just easier!

Tablet and Stylus or Laptop

laptop, tablet and phone

I don’t care if you are going to a computer sales office, you NEED to bring your own equipment to be able to get to your systems, files and anything digital you could need for this first meeting. NEVER assume that you can use a client’s computer to access your files from a flash drive, online drive or even a website. On that note, also never assume you will have a connection to the internet. If you are going to show them your awesome online portfolio, be prepared for the “oh, we don’t have Wi-Fi. Sorry.” Have an offline or print version saved to your desktop. Yes, that means if you are depending on going to a site, you better have a tablet with an internet package!

It is also a good idea, especially if it is a short drive from your place, to open up your system, files etc., and put it in sleep mode – not powered off. Then when you go to use your tech, it’s on and everything is there already at your fingertips. It’s just being a little extra prepared.

Make sure your computer is CLEAN. And no I don’t just mean from viruses. I mean if you look at your tablet or laptop, are there smudges from last night’s takeout? Seriously dude? Gross!!! Clean off your screen and keyboard so that your client is focused on what is displayed on the screen, not what is…on…the screen…

Your “System”

If your client and/or project management system is an excel sheet, a specialized online database, an online project/customer management system, or a binder with paper calendars, to do lists and checkboxes, BRING IT! You need to be able to have access to your system to see prices and options for your client, your ongoing projects, and your contact information for who you are meeting with to be able to edit it and add notes.

Packages and Services List, cost and time

You want this information at your fingertips! Some clients will just want the total at the end. Other clients will want to see what everything costs, and that is okay! You should be transparent about your costs! Having this information at the ready will also help you speak with clients about deadlines vs features. If they need the site up and running in a month, but their timeline says 6 weeks if you start today, is there a feature that can wait until after it is live to finish? Even if you charge hourly instead of per-option, let them know a range of days with the fee. (i.e card design (10-15 hrs w/ revisions, 450-675).

Having this list in front of them can also show them possibilities they did not think of! There are several options for websites that I offer that people might not think of. But as soon as they see it as an option, they jump right on the opportunity to add the feature. There will also be the clients that just know they need a website, and did not even think further than that. This is an amazing way to show them their possibilities and where they could take their site if they wanted to, or that a store option is not a base option and has to be added. This list will just clear everything up.

Sometimes, these listed features can even save them money in the long run based on services they are currently using versus the ones that you can install on their site – newsletters, posting options etcetera. This is a GREAT selling point for you, and it also can give you a reputation for helping out the customer – just by doing your job.

Planner (digital or paper)

Photo credit: koalazymonkey via Foter.com / CC BY-ND
Photo credit: koalazymonkey via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

If you have your calendar in a book, bring it. Online? Have access to it. This calendar better have your working schedule on there. If you already have your maximum 5 or whatever projects going, you need to know when one ends so you can tell your client when the first date you start can be. You also need to have this handy to be able to set up your next meeting with the client. They should not have to wait for your email later that day to be given your availability. On that note, having a couple of dates ready for the start date and/or next meeting is a GREAT way to speed the process along. If you are doing an online calendar, you can always invite the client to your calendar meeting!

About Your Phone

I seriously should not need to put this, but I will anyway. If you are going to take your phone into the meeting (it is your calendar, your meeting notes, your whatever) turn the thing on vibrate or silent so that if it does go off during your meeting, you can do a quick glance without interrupting the meeting.

Do I need to bring sketches/ideas?

I hear this a lot. You are about to have your first meeting with the client, but they sent you an email with a small idea of what they want, so should you draw up some sketches and bring them? No. Unless they gave you a full diagram of everything they want out of the project (doubtful) you don’t have the full concept until you meet with them. When you sit down at a restaurant, they don’t guess what meal what you want and serve it, they bring you a menu so you can see your options.

Bringing in mockups and sketches also sets a precedent that you are willing to do work outside of a contract, that you are willing to do work for free for this client. Working outside of a contract, even bringing in sketches and mockups, can undermine your value, as well as the value of other designers. If the client requests that you bring in examples, that’s what your portfolio is for! That is also why you bring in your list of services and options, your menu, to show your prospective clients.

What to ask

Get to know the company!

Without knowing the company’s identity, how are you going to be able to market anything you make toward their target audience? Get the name, the tagline, products/services. Who are their competitors and what makes them different? What do they want their clients to think of the company? What is their ideal client (focus on hobbies, affiliations to give you a better idea). What do they have for marketing now? Logo, website, social media accounts, any other marketing material? Take the 5-10 minutes to get an idea of the overall identity/brand of your client before you get into the project itself.

Start with the obvious!

The best question to start the actual project questions with is to ask, “what do you want to get out of this project?/what impact do you want this to make?” It is so much more open ended than “what do you want me to make for you?” to which you will get the reply “an awesome website/poster/logo.” Groan. Asking a more in depth question gets you a bit more into their design needs. “A community for my customers” might be an answer. “An increase in sales and productivity” might be another. Both of these can be interpreted into features that you can mark as options. This gives you your call to action as well! Let them talk about their visions, what they want for their project and make notes, mark options and features in the project that could fit. For example, with the community answer, I would mark forums, member’s only sections, and social logins as possible features. This might be it for a brainstorming meeting, and that is okay! Just make sure to make a meeting to follow up with the rest.

Drill down to the details

writing notesOnce they have told you their grand scheme, or their lack thereof in some cases, then you can take them through your list of features you just marked, and see what they agree or disagree with. Make sure that you write down any dimensions, pages, hosting, and UI/UX needs, as well as any trends that they love or hate. You have to make sure to accommodate that!

Make sure that if they have specific content or material that needs to go in the project, files for a website or time and date info for a poster, that it is definitely marked down. Get all of the information you can, noting where any files are and how/when you can get them. If they need to be emailed to you, make sure that you tell your client when you need it by, and send a reminder after the meeting if it isn’t possible to get them then.

Another thing you can ask them is to give you references of their favorite, or least favorite, for things they want incorporated, or avoided. Mention, of course, that they will be influences, not copies. For example, tell them if they really like how the restaurant down the street has a great website layout, tell them their layout can be similar!

Last notes to get: get the access codes for anything that you may need! Need access to their hosting that is already set up? The Dropbox account they put all of their photos in? Get those now so you don’t have to worry about them later.

Set up the next meeting! Get out that calendar, look at your timeline and set up your next meeting now – whether it is to discuss the contract and sign it, or if that is already done, your first milestone meeting!


Other Tips

There are a lot of tips that I gave that a client may never see you do, nor necessarily appreciate that you did them all. However, they make you more organized, and makes the meeting quicker and to the point. What they will notice however, is if you are checking your phone for five minutes looking through your calendar trying to find an opening, wiping your screen of smudges, or asking to borrow their computer because you need internet to run your stuff and weren’t prepared. None of that seems very professional and might not lose you this job, but it could have just lost you a favorable referral.

There might be a lot of follow up from what you asked of your client! They might not have all of the access codes, fonts, pictures etc ready for you at the meeting. Make sure you let them know that it is not a problem. Just set up a day that you need the info by and let them know how they can get it to you. For passwords, remember that some people are not okay with emailing such information, so give them a time they can call, or you can stop by and get it.

You must be the driver of the meeting to get the information you need. That doesn’t mean that you need to be pushy, but make sure that if you have a certain amount of time with the client, that you get what you need to take the next step. Also remember that a lot of people have no idea what the design process entails and will tell you about everything BUT what you need to hear!! Steer them back by commenting positively on their input, or asking about adding it if possible to the project, and then asking them direct questions about what you need. If what they are talking about is important enough to them, they will add it to the project, otherwise, the question will focus them back on track. At least until the next story.


Client keeps talking in depth about their new hire process but you are working on a website focused on an online store. “That sounds complex, would you like me to add employee management or training to a back end part of the website? Also, what was the (store detail) you mentioned before? Is it (reword the info)?”


What do you bring to your first meetings? What questions do you ask? Let me know how you do things differently, or if this helped you start out, or revamp your own procedures!

-till next time.

Leave a Reply