(with a few exceptions!)
When I started my business I made the same mistake that most new business owners make – of thinking that ‘busy’ means ‘productive’.
I scheduled several meetings a week with people I had met networking, often travelling long distances, with awkward time gaps between each meeting. I wasn’t allowing a decent amount of time in one place to get other stuff done.
I’d meet with these ‘prospects’ with a win/win mindset, having diligently followed up after our initial introduction and researching their business to see how we could be of mutual help to each other. My approach was casual on the surface – I wasn’t out to deliver a sales pitch and close a deal, but to build a relationship – but underneath the surface lay a lot of time-consuming preparation and what I thought was a solid marketing strategy.
These are the discoveries I made, learning the hard way, over a period of many months of scheduling meetings with prospects:
· I could spend a lot of money on networking events, travel and coffees without seeing a cent in return for a very long time
· If I didn’t follow my instinct, and agreed to a meeting I didn’t really want, I’d always regret it later. (Usually it meant listening to an hour or more of somebody’s sales pitch I’d never asked to hear, or being insulted by the lack of any awareness of what I do – people giving me hints for wedding photography, for example (I’m not and never have been a wedding photographer)
· Some people might genuinely love your work but that doesn’t mean that a) they will pay for it or b) they will remember you after this meeting
· Most people never follow up afterwards and really aren’t that interested in you. Harsh but true!
I could fill the week being busy with meetings, getting a buzz from the social interaction and the chance to talk about my business, but at the end of that week I’d have seen a handful of people who may or may not ever contact me again, while not spending any time on other areas of marketing and business development – that would have leveraged my resources much better (such as product development, content marketing, social media and securing speaking engagements).
Likewise, I quickly learned the value of the information I could provide a prospect during a meeting and that if they wanted my time (which included in-depth research into their brand, pulling out relevant case studies to illustrate what could be done to lift their visual marketing, and putting together a creative plan for them), they would have to pay for this consultation meeting in advance. Tired of giving away a host of ideas for free, I knew my consultations were worth a lot more than I charged for them, and as an introductory fee what I charged was very reasonable. People who invested in this were likely, down the track, to invest in a photo shoot or further consulting, and were people I wanted to work with, because they valued me too.
I do believe there is a place for business meetings with your team or business buddies, as nothing beats face-to-face communication. Having lived a previous life as a school teacher and attended weekly meetings in this role, I know the value of a well-structured meeting with clear aims, timeframes and procedures to ensure action and accountability after the meeting is done.
Truth be told, I love a meeting – nothing like a coffee and a chat with an interesting person, face-to-face – but I’ve learned the cost of meetings and that’s why now, I don’t do meetings for free, with very few exceptions.
My tips for avoiding time-wasting meetings:
· DON’T meet with anyone and everyone just because it could be an opportunity. You have the opportunity to use your time more wisely!
· Qualify the person who is requesting a meeting. Research their area of business (easy these days with LinkedIn) and only meet with them if you feel a connection personality-wise and you think you’d share some of the same customers or targets
· Clarify the purpose of the meeting beforehand and know what you both expect to get from it
· If you will be showcasing your business, take visuals and pick one area you will focus on (you’ll be lucky to get them to remember that much – remember, people are busy and not as excited about your business as you are!)
· Put a time limit on it (an hour is usually ample time)
· Schedule back-to-back meetings in the same place on the same day and stick to this routine
· Take some work to get on with in case they are late or don’t show up
· Respect other people’s time – don’t YOU be late or run overtime
· If you’re giving a consultation, make it a quality one that is tailored for that person and charge for your time and expertise
· Generally, if you can avoid a meeting by doing it a different way (email, Skype, social media), that’s a good thing for your bottom line