The first client meeting can be intimidating, especially for beginners. I still get nervous before one, even with practice and preparation. My design projects are typically web or mobile applications, but you can interchange them with whatever project you work on.
Some people have clients right from the start, some have to go in trying to win a bid. Either way, here are a few tips that I’ve discovered along the way that will hopefully help you the next time you’re out in the field with a client.
Meet with your managers/peers to get their thoughts
My manager typically walks me through a project to establish a foundation of what we’re doing and why. This isn’t the time to get super detailed, leave that part up to your client. This process is used to define what information you’re missing and form the start of your client meeting.
If you think you’ve got a pretty clear idea of what’s ahead, and you’re able to sync with a developer, you can get some rough estimates of timelines. However, I would not recommend promising any deadlines or deliverables on the very first meeting. Instead, save these estimates for when the client starts giving you more ideas than you can count, and then you can determine what needs to get cut.
Research the company
Do your research. Knowing a little bit about the company goes a long way. Find their mission statement, their employees, the impact their work has. You will begin to see the message they want to convey. Also, it could be worthwhile to know what their competitors are doing or looking into similar projects. You just want to get your feet wet, not prepare an extensive report. Don’t end up wasting your time before you get your bearings straight.
Plan a rough agenda/talking points
Most of the time, I wing the discussion, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few questions prepared in case there is a lull. You should have some outline of the project before you go in, so you know what directions to take in the conversation later on.
Using the information you’re missing, start writing out questions. Are there any problems you can already predict? Maybe an idea that’s just going to take too much time to accomplish?
Some questions I like to ask include:
- What is the purpose of this project? Why are you doing it?
- Who are your competitors? Or are you doing something novel?
- What are you inspired by? What’s an example of a design you like?
- Who do you want your project to reach?
- What is the most important feature if we had to cut it down to only one?
- What haven’t we covered yet that you want to talk about?
Set up expectations
Set some expectations for what you hope to learn from today, also mention if you’ll be taking notes. Sometimes it’s a bit hard to start off, so I’ll open up with what I know so far. Then I’ll follow it with, “so was that close to what you were thinking?” Your insights give them a starting point to the conversation, so they don’t go over details you already know.
It’s always interesting to hear how they describe the entire concept. You can gauge how you should approach your design process based on if the idea is still a loose concept, or if the client has thought through a lot of the details. With the former, you might have more creative freedom, but that means you’re going to have to narrow things down for the client. With more detail-oriented clients, you might need to be on-top of deliverables and deadlines, and learn to stop iterations when they get overly nit-picky. More on this later.
Figure out the goal
This is the most important part of the meeting, and you don’t want to leave without a clear understanding of what the goal of the project is. The client may not even fully know yet, sometimes the true goal is covered up by bells and whistles. What are they ultimately hoping to achieve? It should be more than just to “make money”— profits are the results of accomplishing said goal.
You’ll also want to think about their target audience at this point and all the different players that are going to get involved down the line, whether that be new clients, new partners, new users, etc. How are they going to impact what you are going to set up for them?
Let the client do the talking, but help them focus
As a designer, I tend to be the “big dream” talker, getting them excited about joining a project with us, or at least giving that feeling of “wow, is my idea becoming a reality?” It’s pretty neat, honestly! I leave budget and numbers up to my boss for follow up meetings. But during this time, the client is typically really excited to talk about everything that’s going on in their head.
After they start talking, I stay quiet, or do maybe about 15% of the talking the rest of the meeting. They stop once in awhile to ask me if something is possible or not, which I’ll usually reply “we can definitely try to fit it in, but it may not be in the scope/budget of the project for now.” (or if it does work, then say that, of course!) Just don’t overpromise things. They may mention their timeline, so record that, but don’t start establishing deadlines on your end just yet.
Now, they might start to focus on one feature/asset in their head, so guide them back to explaining the full project. See if you can tie it in naturally, after the chance presents itself. Refer back to your prepared questions from before. Is there anything that you need to talk about? Do they have a clear vision? It’s okay to point out that things are getting too detailed and that you need to take a step back.
Pick out the useful stuff
As they are talking, don’t write down everything they seem to be saying. Summarize it in your own words, if you can. Your notes might be a little overwhelming at first glance, but it’s okay, it’s the start of a great resource. You can leave out some of the high strung ideas, or tangents to the conversations such as stories.
Things you don’t want to miss include:
- Deadlines or important times
- Users, whether direct or indirect
- Applicable Features
- Team Members
Make sure you have all the information you need
I have a small marking system with my notes, where I star anything that is a feature, or some big idea. I put a “?” on things that may be a problem or need more information on — you get the idea. Get clarification if you are unsure on anything. Don’t get caught up in details though, the color scheme can wait.
For applicable features, I try to break them down into as few as possible, or at least identify the most important ones. You probably don’t want more than 5 “main features” of an app, otherwise users are just going to get lost in the project.
Figure out the client’s style
During each interaction, make mental notes of what you think working with the client will be like. You can have a design process in place, but how your client reacts to it can change the pacing quite a bit and factor into deadlines!
Feel free to ask them how they like to work, how they like information delivered. You can do this throughout the meeting, but I’ll usually save it for the end. You should be adaptable and work with their needs even while designing. It’ll help with damage control during disagreements down the line if you’re able to work with their style and know what they are frustrated about.
Summarize and give next steps
At the end of the meeting, I’ll look over my notes and using the starred items, state very clearly to the client:
- The goal of the project
- The main features
- The general timeline (if already established)
- Any follow-up tasks/questions
You want to make sure that both of you are on the same page.
Then, I’ll say that I’ll take my notes back to the team and we’ll get back to them within a couple days. Now, you may be in several different situations whether you’re freelancing and trying to land the sale, part of a consultancy, or the deal’s already done and you’re ready to move onto creation. Whatever it is, make the process clear to your client and move forward accordingly.
Organizing your notes
Use some sort of text editor, transcribe your notes into something more legible. I use Evernote for organizing each client, and keep them all in one workbook. During the meeting, my notes are written all over the paper, so now is the time to start grouping them together. I’ll usually have a list for features, tasks, and follow up questions.
Start a priority chart
The client has some wild ideas, and while some are great, getting all of them into one app just isn’t possible — not just because of development challenges, but sometimes, it is overkill.
You know the ultimate goal the app is trying to accomplish, so pull out the features that are necessities. The rest can now be prioritized. One method is putting together a “Good, Better, Best” chart. The GBB chart is a great visual tool for showing how expectations tie into time and budget, along with the compromises that may have to be made. Put all the necessities in each column, but start stacking the features to where “best” would be anything and everything. Think of the “free,” “premium,” and “enterprise” price charts, obviously the best one is going to be the most expensive.
There is also the MoSCoW method for placing things in Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, and Won’t Have. Again, this may be a tool for negotiating pricing, or a starting point for designs. It’s good to be able to focus on the necessities at first, especially if the client wants an MVP out ASAP. Then after the initial release, you can look back on these features and start implementing them.
Make changes to needed documents
If a Product Requirements Document was already started, make sure it matches your notes, or change it as needed — whether that’s directly from you or a team lead. You may even have to start these yourself. Make sure there’s a live document in place for everyone to review the project outlines. Later down the line, things can get muddled due to adding extra features or setbacks. Keeping the vision somewhere everyone can access it makes it easier when decision-time comes.
Follow up with questions
Was there anything that was unclear to you? Maybe after thinking through the scope of the project, there are some pain points you’ve already identified. Make a list of these questions, and review them with whoever else is on the team. See if they can answer them, or even tack on a few of their own. Again, make sure it’s not too detailed, but more broad strokes. Then, send out an email to the client, but don’t inundate them with too many questions.
P.S. It’s also always nice to thank them for their time. :)
And that’s it! You’ve made it past the first client meeting!
Here’s a checklist of the things you want at the end:
- A solid understanding of the project and why it’s being built
- Notes on the client’s work style
- An end goal that is measurable and attainable for success
- Somewhat formulated ideas for feature sets
- Excitement over the possibility of a new project!
Next steps for you are probably going to vary, but generally, you would set up another meeting and continue the discussion from there.
It’s okay to feel nervous during your first client meeting, but realize that everyone has been there before. And guess what? We learned from it and improved the more we practiced.
The art of talking can be an intimidating topic, and there are quite a few books out there on the subject. Most importantly, just be yourself. Be authentic and genuine, and that will put most people at ease.
People don’t remember what you say, they remember how you made them feel. So what better than to get them excited about their project and think fondly of their meeting with you?
Oh, one more tip, check your teeth before you go into a presentation. Good luck out there!
As ever, QuarkWorks is available to help with any software application project — web, mobile, and more! If you are interested in our services you can check out our website. We would love to answer any questions you have! Just reach out to us on our Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.