It’s a well-known fact that people decide whether they like someone within a few short moments of their first meeting. And once someone’s mind is made up, it can take a lot of work to change a negative opinion. This is exactly why creating a great first impression is important. It’s even more crucial if you’re a consultant or a freelancer whose income depends on landing consistent work with recurring clients.

Let’s say you’re about to meet with a potential client to discuss an upcoming project you’d like. Consider the following tips to make sure you get off on the right foot and land that gig.

Be punctual

Punctuality is important to creating a positive first impression. Showing up on time shows your client that you not only value their time, but that you are also respectful and diligent. Being punctual demonstrates to others that you honor your commitments, which is key to letting clients know they can trust you.

Helpful tips:

  • Scout out the meeting location ahead of time, so you know exactly where to go, how long it takes to get there, where you can park, etc.
  • Aim to arrive at least 15 minutes early.
  • Take into account traffic or other events that could delay you.

Do your research

It’s important to do some background research before you meet with a prospective client. You want to let the client know that you’re a smart, knowledgeable individual who has a certain level of comprehension concerning the business or industry at hand. You don’t need to be an expert (unless you’re also going to be a Subject Matter Expert in the project), but you should have a basic understanding of their products, tools, services, etc.

When you’re researching a new client or customer, it’s also a good idea to research a bit about their industry in general, as well as some information on their competitors. This might give you some additional insights or ideas about how to approach your client and the projects that you can work into your first meeting discussion.

Helpful tips:

  • The internet is key to learning this information. Do some online sleuthing and gather general info about the industry, check out the company website as well as any competitors’ websites.
  • Ask around. Perhaps an acquaintance has done a project for them in the past and can offer some insights, or maybe your brother-in-law worked for them and has some inside scoop.

Come prepared

Researching ahead of time is important, but coming to the actual first meeting prepared is just as critical. One thing you can do to make sure you are ready is have examples that you can share with a client. Pictures (or e-learning examples) speak a thousand words and, in many cases, showing an example of what type of course you can create for the budget/time they are considering will have much more of an impact for them.

Helpful tips:

  • Have a variety of example types available to demonstrate to clients. Try to have a few examples for each level of e-learning (Level 1-3) with various types of designs and interactivities. Of course, if you can find industry- or subject-specific examples, that’s great. For example, if your client is doing software simulations, showing examples of software sims that you can create would be a plus.
  • Create a simple mood board. A mood board with logo, color scheme, fonts, and a few images can really speak to a customer and give them an idea of your vision.

Ask questions

Digging for information and making sense of it is a critical part of an instructional designer’s job. One of the key ways we do this is by asking comprehensive questions. In addition to helping you uncover crucial information, asking questions of your client also demonstrates interest and engagement, which will help you be successful in the long run. Don’t feel like you’re stupid for asking questions, or like you should know all the answers; part of your job is to uncover information that is new to you.

Helpful tips:

  • Have a list of questions that you want to ask your client. Important things to find out include: who’s the audience, why do they need this training, what are the business goals, how will you measure success, what type of course do they need, etc.
  • Take notes throughout the meeting. In some cases you might even consider recording your meetings, if your client is cool with that.

Be a good business partner

It’s important to remember that when you’re embarking on a new project with a client you’re creating a new partnership. You want to treat that relationship carefully and be a good business partner for your client, so they continue to come back to you time and again.

Helpful tips:

  • Stay positive. There may be times when your client starts to talk negatively or gets down because they think they can’t afford or get what they really want. Remember to stay positive, look on the bright side, and offer solutions (instead of complaints) wherever you can.
  • Offer explanations of training-related lingo. This is especially helpful if your client is new to training or e-learning. They might not understand terms like “responsive” or “ADDIE.” Don’t make them feel ignorant—instead, just offer helpful and clear explanations when needed.
  • Explain the typical e-learning design and development process and point out at which steps along the way you’ll need their input and feedback. You can use this as a chance to also explain the tools you’ll be using, such as Review 360 to do your reviews.

Use these tips here to get your next client relationship started on the right foot. Remember that it’s about showing your clients that you respect them and their time by being punctual, doing your research, being prepared, asking questions, and being a good business partner. Do you have any additional tips for creating a positive first impression? Let me know in the comments!

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