How Important is Meeting Clients in Person?

Here we go with Part Two of the previous post. As you recall, I’d gotten an email from a commercial freelancer starting out, asking about business process (i.e., when I write, when I talk to clients, which we covered in the first post) as well as the age-old “meeting/no meeting” issue. Did I meet clients in person to discuss commercial projects, and how often? He was 90 minutes from the nearest big city and didn’t fancy the idea of shlepping himself through such a half-day (minimum) exercise if he could avoid it. He wrote:

One of the things I’m looking forward to as a freelancer is ditching the commute. Going to see a client in person would cost me two to three hours in travel time alone – not including the meeting itself. I currently work evenings, so I could do it, but I’d rather have meetings and project discussions with clients by phone and email.

I understand that you meet with clients locally. How much time per month do you spend traveling to and from in-person meetings? How many of your clients are too far away for in-person meetings? This is one area in which I’d rather emulate Bob Bly.

Referring, of course, to Bob’s well-known aversion to in-person meetings – considering them time-wasters. And I get it. They can be.

Bottom line, if that’s how you want to set up your business, in this day and age, you can absolutely do it. If you position yourself as a competent copywriter who can deliver the results and make your clients’ lives easier and their bottom lines fatter, you can set your own personal “Rules of Engagement.”

But even if you’re just starting out, you can still draw your line in the sand on this issue. Sure, having a rep as a crack copywriter gives you leverage in setting your terms, but you can just as easily play the “logistics” card: I live too far away to make meetings feasible.

Or as one copywriter shared with me: “Once I tell people I’d be happy to meet with them, but will have to charge them for travel time to and from, suddenly, they discover reasons why a meeting isn’t that important after all.” Amazing how that works. Moreover, clients are just as often driving a “no-meetings” policy – knowing as well that they can be unproductive. So, in most cases, it usually ends up being a non-issue.

My story? I will occasionally meet with clients, but that’s MY choice and MY call. Personally, I like getting out of the house now and then, and also like to know with whom I’m dealing and the best way to do that is see them face-to-face. That said, I have and have had plenty of clients over the years I’ve never met. Many are out of town, making it a moot point (and if those clients find you, then they’ve revealed themselves to obviously have no issue with a long-distance copywriter).

But, I’ve also got one right now who I’ve been working with for going on 18 months, who’s local. She’s put tons of money in my pocket and I wouldn’t know her if I fell over her in the street. And she hasn’t insisted or even wanted a face-to-face meeting in that time. Heck, I’M the one who’s been suggesting a meeting after all this time, but she’s strangely unmoved by my entreaties. Oh well.

So, to specifically answer my emailer’s questions, it happens rarely – maybe once a month these days. And when it does, I typically spend 30-45 minutes traveling, in total, MAX. And needless to say, when I do decide to go meet with a client, it’s usually because they ARE close by. Yes, I had more meetings when I first started out, but that was when the Internet was still young (geez, I’m dating myself…).

Do you still meet with clients?

Are you driving that reality or are they?

Have you adopted a “no-meetings” policy for your business? If so, gotten any resistance?

Do you run into (m)any clients who insist on face-to-face meetings?

19 replies
  1. Mike Klassen
    Mike Klassen says:

    For once, I’ll keep things brief:

    > Do you still meet with clients?
    No, because I haven’t had a client in my own state since 2004. Didn’t plan it that way, but word-of-mouth can be funny when you start with a client in another state.

    > Are you driving that reality or are they?
    Mutually agreed based on the obvious fact for both of us that we’re miles (and time zones) away.

    > Do you run into (m)any clients who insist on face-to-face meetings?
    Had a prospect who wanted me to drive about 2 hours to meet at his business. I explained that with an online portfolio and having most clients out-of-state, I don’t do in-person meetings. For him, it was a meeting or no gig. I didn’t argue the point or try to convince him that a meeting wasn’t necessary. I simply wished him well, thanked him for contacting me, and moved on.

  2. Joseph Ratliff
    Joseph Ratliff says:


    I don’t regularly meet with clients, and have never had to explain why to a client…they just seem to respect it and life goes on.

    But like Mike above, most of my clients are not local at all (in the same country let alone the same state).

    I drive the “reality” by stating expectations of the relationship upfront, and have always gotten a “we respect the fact that you’re upfront” type of response. It hasn’t cost me a potential client nor affected a client relationship (because as you know PB, I’m very transparent and ask for that feedback often).

    I’ve never yet had a client that “insisted” on face to face meetings to start the relationship (lucky?)…but in the instance where that happened, I would explain that I don’t meet face to face, but would be happy to provide any materials necessary for them to “check me out”. If that wasn’t good enough, like Mike above, I would wish them well, and thank them for the inquiry, then move on.

  3. Brian Westbye
    Brian Westbye says:

    Never have, and who knows if I ever will? I’m still in the cube, so it’s all online at night and Crackberry in the cube (shhhh). I have a long-term client for whom I’ve posted two product blurbs daily, and we’ve never even spoken on the phone. Same with one of my design partners. I’m not opposed to meeting in person if somebody wanted to go that route, but it hasn’t come up yet. Welcome to the 21st Century, where technology takes the place of interaction. 😉

  4. Steve Rainwater
    Steve Rainwater says:

    Hi Peter,

    Here are some of my experiences with meetings – maybe a little out of the ordinary – or maybe ordinary for this business. I live in Florida, and up until last year I never had a writing client in Florida. Now I have one who is an hour away that I have completed a couple of projects for and still never met in person (last week we discussed a potential meeting in December, but only because I will be in the neighborhood).

    On the other hand, I have one Midwestern client who in past years has been responsible for 40-50% of my income, and they had me fly to meetings 3-4 times per year. I still do some work for them but have not been to their office in about 3 years.

    I had a local client last year who preferred a face to face before every project. I found I did not like this approach, and that it didn’t really enhance the project – I am so used to working on the phone. Now for the few things we are still doing, it is just a matter of exchanging an e-mail, but I had to “train” them a bit on this. Interesting also was a local prospect who had me out for two lunches (one was even on me – but I like going out for lunch!) and one of those filled conference room meetings, then never hired me.

    I also currently have a client in Taiwan who found me on the Internet, not from my web site – which is not all that great, but from something I had written for someone else. We exchanged about 2 e-mails and I was working on our first project – he paid on time, and I am on his second project right now. I have another Canadian prospect who found me the same way – from something I wrote for another client (I work in a couple of tightly knit industries), and he met with me while in Florida vacationing. We plan to do a project or two together in the coming year.

    A few years ago I met with one of my client’s customers (we were writing a case study about them at the time, and doing some other PR about a successful project) from California while they were at their hotel pool here in FL (their invite – I came in street clothes – my traditional office working uniform – shorts and flip-flops).

    You get the idea. Meetings for me enhance the personal relationship with clients, so I am open to them, but they really do very little to make or break a project. I am actually planning to put together a web site this winter that does a more specific job marketing what I do and is a bit more interesting than my current one. I am also attempt to expand my reach to more international work, so for me the move is toward less face to face meetings, which is how I prefer to work. slr

  5. Matt Ambrose
    Matt Ambrose says:

    I recently moved to Malta from the UK based partly on the fact that I rarely met with clients. But having said that, most of my regular work does come from those I’ve actually met and formed a more personal relationship with. Time will tell whether moving abroad will cost me a few projects, but I can’t say it’s a decision I regret after reading my book on the beach whilst the UK gets soaked.

  6. Star
    Star says:

    I have had one client meeting in 13 years since moving to Phoenix from DC. And it sort of didn’t pan–4 mos, $4000, over with. The owner of the company postured around, I toured the plant, etc. It was OK. We used to meet in person all the time in DC. I don’t drive and can hardly see anyhow, so this is just as well.

  7. Mike Klassen
    Mike Klassen says:

    The one thing I’d hate for people to take away from this is that you should always refuse in-person meetings.

    If I were just starting out and had few, if any, projects to my name, I’d go to any meeting I could.

    Also, I guess we wouldn’t have had the classic Claude Hopkins beer story if Claude had told the client, “Nah… let me just get a few things from you over the phone.”

    Plus, there are times when the client has tons of material (non-digital, of course) that you might need to go through in the client’s office. Or it’s simply easier for you to talk to a lot of people in the company in person rather than playing phone-tag.

    So client meetings aren’t totally evil. But I think what we’re really focused on here are in-person meetings that seem to be desired by the client because of some belief that nothing can be accomplished without them.

  8. Joseph Ratliff
    Joseph Ratliff says:

    I agree with Mike on the point about “always refusing” client meetings. I would hate to have anyone take that from this post (and my comments) as well.

    Good catch Mike 🙂

    Joseph Ratliff

  9. Devon Ellington
    Devon Ellington says:

    Totally depends on the client and the project. I loathe the telephone, so if they want to talk to me, it makes more sense to meet.

    Provided they pay for the time and the travel, I’m happy to meet with clients within the parameter of the project. Sometimes, such as if I’m doing a gig for a museum or historical society, it makes a lot of sense for me to go onsite. Usually, I’ll give a special day rate, go up, spend the day, take the tour, poke aroudn the archives, and sit and meet and plan a whole campaign – newsletters, brochures, special events, the whole shebang. And then I go off and do it at home and communicate mostly via email.

    If the “sense of place” or if the person’s cadence (such as in a speechwriting gig) isn’t important, then i do most of it via email.

    If I’m writing a speech for someone, I like to spend a few hours and get their speech patterns down — that’s where my background in theatre comes in handy!

    Most of the time, i run the meeting. I’m preapred with quesitons and directions and gudie them towards the points neessary for the work, making the best use of all of our time, and not letting them ramble too much.

  10. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Thanks to everyone who’s chimed in so far. Good stuff. General consensus is that in-person meetings are definitely not necessary in this day and age. The clients you want to be working with are those who appreciate good copywriting, know it’s truly an investment and are willing well to pay for it, but don’t consider face-to-face important to that process.

    That said, I totally agree with Mike. This discussion shouldn’t make you say, “No meetings for me – ever!” As he points out, and I’ll absolutely second it, when you’re starting out, you should be willing to meet clients whenever they want. I built my business by meeting with clients. When clients meet you, it humanizes you, and they can connect more easily to you personally, and, in my experience, that will make more likely that they’ll hire you (assuming you’re good and your skills are a match for their needs).

    And sometimes, if it’s a creative project that needs a good brainstorming session, face-to-face can be more productive. But that’s not the typical project profile.

    Of course, before you go meeting any knucklehead who calls, make sure you’re on the same page, money-wise. As I’ve said before, it’s never any fun to drive across town only to discover the prospect think they’re going to get a brochure for $150. 🙁


  11. Mele
    Mele says:

    I’m going to avoid in-person meetings if I can help it, but given my specialty, that won’t be possible in a lot of cases. I plan to specialize in business script writing (from industrial videos to telemarketing scripts and speeches). If I’m writing a script for a training video on how to use certain equipment, I think I’ll need to see the equipment working. Same thing with speeches.

    I thought about all of this before I decided on this specialty, because I truly dislike in-person meetings. But…decided that it’s worth it because I’ll be happier in this area of business. I also think I can write a script faster than any other writing project. So the time I “lose” in meetings (sorry to put it this way, but I agree with Bly that they can be time wasters), I can make up for in getting the project done before deadline.

  12. Ken Norkin
    Ken Norkin says:

    Of course I go to meetings.

    If a client believes an in-person meeting is the best way to give me the information I need for a project, especially if it involves several people at once or a product demonstration, I’m happy to go.

    For annual reports, meetings are almost necessary. A personal sit-down with the president to discuss their letter, their view of the past year and their visions for the future is far better than a conference call. Though, for my third annual report for one Fortune 500 company, the CEO’s schedule only permitted a conference call — I think I had to be available on a given afternoon for a call that could come at any time. By then, they were familiar with me, so the call was fine.

    For some annual reports or major corporate or marketing pieces that require input from different people on different topics, a day of meetings where I go from office to office interviewing them (or they come to me in a conference room) has been effective. Another time, people were being brought in to a company’s HQ from all over to be photographed and I spent two days interviewing them about specific customer success stories that were going to appear throughout the annual report. Those two days of on-site interviewing were far more productive than trying to catch all those people on the phone.

    For one of my ad agency clients, the meeting itself used to be a key part of a messaging development service they delivered (and which I was a billable part of).

    Let me emphasize billable. Whether I bill the particular client on an hourly or project basis, I get paid for participating in meetings. I tend to cut them a bit of a break and charge my travel only one-way.

    I used to have an agency client north of New York City in one of the Hudson River towns who used to bring me there to participate in client meetings and creative development at their shop. They paid my train fare and hotel and a day rate for my services as well as additional fees for the work I did when I got back to my own office.

    I have one Florida client for whom all my work has been long distance since I started with them in 2005. The marcomm manager at the time (who I knew in person from previous companies) brought me in. He’s gone now and I’ve never met any of the people I continue to work with there. This is one client for whom I have no choice but to participate in conference calls that sometimes involve as many as 6 people — usually all talking at me. Occasionally, the purpose of the call is for me to interview a client for a case study; then the company folks are listening in and chiming in as appropriate. In-person meeting would be out of the question.

    As Peter mentioned in the original article, getting out of the (home) office from time to time is a good thing. When the client I need to see is in downtown D.C., I walk to Metro. I get fresh air, I get to be part of the city and I treat myself to lunch out — or at least Starbucks. Something I rarely do when I spend the day working at home.

  13. Elaine Regus
    Elaine Regus says:

    Maybe it’s my years as a newspaper reporter and maybe it’s because most of my clients are within 40 minutes of my home, but I like to meet the people I’m dealing with. I like to see where they work and what their offices look like. You can pick up nuances in conversation and body language while sitting across from someone that you can’t do over the phone. While I’m writing for different audiences, it helps me to gauge the personality the gatekeeper. I’ve also used those occasions to upsell my services. On one occasion, I noticed an in-house catalogue sitting on my client’s desk and started asking how it was produced and by whom. I wound up getting that contract as well as writing a couple of press releases. I do have a couple of clients whom I have never met but it’s not really by design. I don’t insist and they don’t either.

  14. Karen Wormald
    Karen Wormald says:

    When I first started in 2002, I met EVERYBODY and all my work came through personal contacts.

    I had one newsletter client for 4 years who insisted on meeting before each issue (10/year), and then sometimes didn’t attend after I’d driven across town. I added that time into the newsletter billing so they probably never realized they were paying for it.

    I have a current client who sub-contracts me to write direct mail for HER client. Sometimes she has me drive across town to pick up background material and I don’t charge her. But recently, she had me write 2 different versions of a letter (for the price of one) and then requested a meeting to “compare notes.”

    Enough’s enough. When I told her I’d have to charge her for travel time and the meeting, we were able to do it all by phone.

    I’ve been working sight-unseen several years with another client (3 people) who’s about 90 minutes away. Recently, they requested a meeting and set the date, then all took that day as vacation (don’t you just love Corporate America?) but insisted I come anyway meet one other staff member, so I’ve still never met them. They paid me, but that soured me on meetings for a while.

  15. William Reynolds
    William Reynolds says:

    Though clients relationships can certainly be initiated or managed over the phone, I still like to meet with clients personally for initial consultations, for a couple of reasons. First, I find that the extra information, in the form of body language, facial expressions and so on, reduces the risk of miscommunication in that crucial first talk. Second, if I’m sitting across a table from someone, I have a better chance of getting and keeping his undivided attention — I know he’s not browsing the Web, checking email, paying bills, or cleaning the sink while chatting with me.

  16. Vivekanandam
    Vivekanandam says:

    Meeting the clients personally,is not very important; video conferencing/talking over phone saves much of our precious time. If there are any issues to be sorted out or seeking more details regarding the writing,then may be,personal meetings may help! Otherwise,this is a non-issue….

  17. Rebecca Fernandez
    Rebecca Fernandez says:

    I generally prefer to meet with clients in-person at least initially. I find that I can get a better sense of how good a fit we’ll be for each other, and I get a clearer scope of the project. I always bill for meetings and one-way travel time, however.

    I also encourage clients who are poor at explaining projects via email to do an in-person (or at least phone) consult. If I don’t, I seem to end up going ’round and ’round trying to get a draft that meets their goals.

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