The prospect of convening with an eminent client has you thrilled! The conference could be a pivotal event for your company. However, as a small business owner, you’re concerned about meeting the client’s expectations. Breathe easy. With some research and preparation, you’ll be primed for success. Here’s a blueprint for a banner outcome.
Research Your Client’s Background
Visit the client’s website, and skim through the company’s history, mission statement, and staff biographies. Read the most recent press releases, if available. Then, go to LinkedIn, and search for profiles on the company and client.
Under a business listing, you may find an overview, company announcements, and press releases. A client profile will include the person’s education, employment history, areas of expertise, and professional memberships. While researching, document information that could be useful for your meeting.
If you’re not well-versed in the client’s industry, obtain a recent issue of a trade publication. Read a few articles to gain a grasp of industry terms, standards, practices, and trends. If your guest is visiting from another country, familiarize yourself with the etiquette of your client’s culture.
While learning about your client, be alert for clues to an appropriate thank-you gift, by which to conclude your meeting. Alternatively, call the client’s office, and speak with their secretary or administrative assistant. Explain that you want to offer an appropriate gift, and inquire about your client’s interests.
Create an Agenda
A written itinerary shows your intent for efficient and productive use of time. During your conference, being mindful of your agenda facilitates staying on track, so mutual goals are met.
Ideally, draft your plan a week in advance. This time frame enables prospective attendees to review the outline and offer input before finalization. Begin your “To-Do List” with the meeting objective. Next, prioritize the points to cover, limiting them to five. A lengthy agenda may elicit dread in your attendees, hinting of a drawn-out meeting. For each topic, gauge the amount of time needed for discussion, writing it in parentheses.
Provide logistical details, such as meeting date and time, location, and names of those attending, including the person taking minutes. Distribute the agenda via email to everyone involved, requesting feedback within two days. After obtaining responses, you can then revise the agenda, confident that all know what to expect.
Brief Your Staff
Three days before your client is due to arrive, advise all your employees. Distribute a memo, explaining the purpose of the client’s visit, their background, and any other relevant details. Respectfully ask your staff to be courteous and cordial and to keep their work areas tidy.
Your receptionist’s demeanor is especially important! Train the person greeting visitors to make friendly eye contact and smile. If your receptionist is on the phone when guests arrive, their presence should be acknowledged with a head nod and hand gestures.
Ensure an Attractive Building Appearance
Indicate your office location with clear signage. Grounds and walkways must be clean and safe to navigate. Even if you rent office space, ensure that your section of the building is well-maintained.
At your office entrance, if space allows, erect a lobby board, a framed sign supported on a metal stand. Use colorful letters to announce your welcome, stating your client’s name and company. Your visitor will feel honored by this salutation.
Make Your Reception Area Inviting
Your waiting area should be clean, orderly, and visually appealing. Check that flooring is free of stains and scuff marks. Appoint comfortable seating, with upholstery in excellent condition. On nearby tables or racks, display popular magazines.
Decorate with a few live plants. Greenery is aesthetically pleasing, fostering relaxation. It softens the straight lines and hard edges of furniture. Did you know that plants improve indoor air quality? Pores in their leaves and roots absorb carbon dioxide and pollutants emitted by furniture and carpeting.
Also, consider displaying fresh flowers. Emotionally uplifting, their colors will brighten your decor! Enhance your pleasant ambiance with scenic paintings on the walls.
Lighting is another consideration. If your reception area has windows, take advantage of natural light by opening blinds or drapes. Otherwise, make sure artificial lighting isn’t too dim or harsh. An accurate test is being able to read comfortably.
Be sure to offer complimentary refreshments. Install a self-serve beverage station, equipped with a water dispenser and supplies for making coffee and tea. Additionally, provide healthy, wrapped snacks and a few pieces of fresh fruit. Ask your receptionist to periodically neaten your waiting area, restocking amenities as needed.
View Your Office through the Client’s Eyes
Anticipate where your client will spend time in the building, and ensure that these areas are well-kept. Do you routinely have your office professionally cleaned? If not, it’s worth obtaining this service the day before your client visit. Impress your guest with shiny floors, sparkling windows, spotless surfaces, and fresh fragrance! On meeting day, ensure immaculate restrooms, stocked with adequate soap and paper supplies.
Maintain pleasing decor in all your departments. If feasible, display manicured plants throughout your building, showing your attention to detail and concern for staff well-being. Has your company won awards or commendations? If so, frame and hang them on the walls. Otherwise, showcase photos of successful projects.
Prepare Your Meeting Room
Preferably, hold your conference in a private area, such as a boardroom. If your business doesn’t have one, secure an area that’s quiet and free of distractions. Understandably, as a small business owner, you may have no option but meeting in your personal workspace. If you have a secretary, ask that they intercept calls and defer staff interruptions. Otherwise, mute the ringers on your landline and cell phone, and let your answering machine and voicemail take calls.
If the conference will occur in your office, store documents in files, drawers, and cabinets. Tidy up your desktop, neatness portraying you as organized and responsible. Designate a comfortable chair for your client.
Also, assess your office climate. A pleasant temperature promotes creativity, efficiency, and productivity. Contact an HVAC company like Universal Refrigeration if needed. While people vary in their preferences, set your thermostat at 70 degrees Fahrenheit, agreeable to most indoor workers.
Look Respectable and Well-Groomed
Follow the dress code of “business professional.” If you’re a man, dress in a two-piece suit, in the neutral colors of black, navy, or dark gray. Contrast your suit with a white, long-sleeved, button-down shirt. Complement your capable look with a silk tie in a subtle pattern and color. Classy touches are a gold wristwatch and cuff links. Shoes should be dressy, black, and polished.
If you’re a woman, wear a business suit in brown, navy, or dark gray. Skirt length should be no higher than 1 inch above your knee. Match your suit with a collared blouse in a soft color. A silk scarf is a stylish accessory. Since women’s jewelry can be distracting, go minimalist. Complete your smart attire with neutral hosiery and closed-toed shoes.
The day before your conference, you might want to get your hair styled or cut. Also, make sure your nails look presentable. Avoid wearing fragrance. Sensitivity on the part of attendees could spur headaches and congestion, sending your meeting south.
Conduct the Conference
Before starting, take 15 minutes to review your client notes and agenda, and organize all your presentation materials. Then, five minutes ahead of schedule, go to the reception area, to greet your client. Smile, make eye contact, address them by name, and extend a firm handshake. Next, offer refreshments.
In the meeting room, introduce your client to everyone present. Show courtesy by taking your seat after your visitor does. Then, engage in a few minutes of casual conversation. Small talk diffuses tension and fosters rapport. To keep the tone upbeat, choose a positive topic.
Having set the stage for a congenial meeting, now get down to business. Distribute the agenda to all attendees. Periodically, address your client by name. Listen attentively, and refrain from interrupting. Keep pen and paper handy for documenting notes, ideas, and impressions.
While discussing topics, you may identify other issues needing attention. As they surface, write them down. If the concerns are urgent, broach them briefly, and then return to your agenda. Leave less critical matters for another discussion.
To conclude the meeting, confirm proposed actions. Shake hands with your client, and earnestly thank them for their time. Then, further convey your appreciation with a gift, such as the following:
- gift basket
- hardcover book on a subject related to your client’s business
- restaurant gift card
- gift certificate to a major retailer
At the end of the conference, accompany your guest to the reception area, and offer a grateful handshake.
Three days after meeting, send your client an email, summarizing what transpired. Also, reiterate your commitment to what was decided.
Seal the Deal
To conduct a productive meeting, research your client, and brief your staff on the purpose of their visit. Make your guest feel welcome, valued, and comfortable. Look polished and professional. Follow your agenda, being attentive and respectful.
Follow these tips, and your client will leave your office smiling!