Business publications are filled with excellent advice for home-based businesses. I recently came upon several columns from different publications urging home-based entrepreneurs to find creative places to have business meetings with their clients. “I can’t meet in my living room because it’s a dark cave of papers and office supplies,” says John N. from
John’s meeting room of choice is a diner down the street from his home. He and his clients talk business over stale coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches. “It’s not the best scenario, but it’s cheap and my clients don’t seem to mind.” In fact, many professionals agree with John and say that small business people should take advantage of cheap public spaces to handle client meetings. They say it doesn’t impact their credibility, image or reputation.
I completely disagree. This is poor advice for entrepreneurs who are trying to get their businesses off the ground because – to use a cliché – impressions, especially first impressions, count. Who you are, the way you speak, the way you dress, the way your work looks, how you manage your finances and cash flow, the environment where you work, where you meet your clients – it all matters. Every little detail sends a message about who you are and what you believe in. Every detail helps someone make the decision to say “yes” or “no”, especially if there is a lot of money on the line or if your client has to justify his decision to his bosses.
That means that every interaction counts. And meeting in a diner over day old danish, isn’t going to cut it, if you want to grow your business, get better clients and make more money. So, to help you make a better impression with your clients, I have assembled “The Five Places Where You Should Never Meet With A Client”. All of these places have been recommended as potential meeting sites by professional consultants.
Starbucks or any other Wi-Fi equipped coffee house
Starbucks has really become the king of the cheap public meeting space and a spate of similarly equipped coffee houses have cropped up on every block. I’ve read that the plush chairs, “eclectic snack food” and infinite supply of java are the selling points.
Fine. But you do not want to meet your clients on tiny, coffee-stained tables, surrounded by students and twenty-something novelists. No, you want to have an adult conversation and make strong points without worrying about bothering the folks at the table six inches from you. Starbucks is serviceable and cheap, but it is not an environment to help you make a strong impression that inspires trust, confidence and loyalty.
Barnes and Noble, Borders or any other high-end book store
Some consultants believe bookstores offer a quiet, intellectual feel when meeting with clients. This is ridiculous. They think this, of course, only because the place has a lot of books, not because it sends the message that you are smart, together, knowledgeable and savvy.
College students and down-on-their-luck artists meet in bookstores You must create an image of success, even if you are a struggling start-up. People want to invest in and work with winners. If you do not take your business seriously, no one else will either.
Not sexy but definitely quiet. According to some of my colleagues, libraries offer a place to meet all day and no one will make you buy anything. I’ve been informed that some libraries even offer conference rooms that you can use.
No matter how practical, the message is that you have no resources. You are telling your clients that the best you can do is muster up an ill-equipped room in a public library. There is little opportunity for you to make a huge impression and most likely, the technology, such as video-conferencing and presentation platforms, will not be state-of-the-art or reliable.
Hotel lobbies can be quite beautiful and on the outside, seem like a great space to meet. But they are also busy. There is a lot of foot traffic there, including large groups of tourists and a few children’s choirs passing through. Hotel guests on vacation do not care if you make a good impression with your client and the hotel employees will not cater to your needs unless you are a guest.
You cannot control your environment here. You cannot create a look of professionalism. You may end up shouting your well-prepared points over a group of drunken salesmen. Give your business and your ideas a platform that you can control. The fewer people around, the more decision-making power you have to make a lasting positive impression.
McDonalds or any Fast Food Restaurant
One consultant recently informed his readership that McDonald’s had started offering free Wi-Fi in some of its urban franchises. This does not mean you should meet a client there anytime soon. I love the occasional chocolate glazed donut from Dunkin Donuts and have enjoyed a Big Mac or two over the years, but that is not something you should share with a client, especially a client whose business you are trying to win.
You are trying to sell yourself as high-end, something special, a cut above the competition. When your client thinks of you, you do not want him to say, “That Joe, we always meet at Arby’s”. You want him to say, “That Joe does some outstanding work for our firm – what a pro!” These little things stay with people, so make sure that everything you do represents you well.
Now that you know where not to meet – stay tuned - our next column will give you ideas on meeting spaces that will impress your clients and help you make the perfect impression.