PREPARING FOR YOUR FIRST MEETING WITH A POTENTIAL CLIENT

event planning wedding new business

(Image via midwestgrrl)

So, you’ve convinced a potential client to come in and meet you. You’re excited and very eager to get the job for this wedding, corporate event, birthday party, etc… And even though I strongly believe that we’re not right for every client, and every client is not right for us, of course you still want to put your best foot forward. No doubt you have your own charming methods but a few reminders never hurt.

Here are my tried and true techniques for putting clients at ease and demonstrating my skills as an event and wedding designer:

1. Never, and I mean NEVER, under any circumstances, leave a client (potential or otherwise) waiting. The first time I met Joan Rivers, she had just had a meeting with another event designer who was a very big name. That designer had kept her waiting. Fortunately for me, I was her very next meeting, and you better believe I was right on time. As some of you may know, Joan gave me my first big break that day, and all these years later we’re still friends.

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2. Always greet the clients personally when they arrive, and be polite enough to walk them out when they leave. Make this your protocol.

3. Never answer your phone or email during the meeting. Unfortunately, this isn’t easy for me. I force myself to close my laptop and silence my phone to avoid committing this rude gesture.

4. Treat all potential clients as if they were guests in your home. Offer them coffee or tea and have a plate of something sweet to snack on like chocolates or cookies or even fresh green grapes. Depending on the time of day, you could even offer wine.

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5. Even if you’ve already spoken at some length with a potential client on the phone, ask again about the logistics of the event and the client’s likes and dislikes. Throughout the meeting, keep the attention on the client. This is your time to get inside the client’s head and try to understand what he or she needs to make the wedding or party special.

6. Ask what his or her dream event or dream wedding would look like. When clients answer this question, I often find myself suddenly inspired, and something just clicks. I never forget to ask this.

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7. Ideally, you were able to get some solid information about the client’s event during your previous phone call. Now, you should be prepared at this meeting to give a presentation of your work and services.

8. Always assume that your potential client has a short attention span. Most people do. Your presentation should be no more than five minutes. Get to the point.

9. Learn to read people’s reactions. If they aren’t reacting enthusiastically, find other images to show them. Be sure to explain as well that even if they don’t see anything they like, your job is first and foremost to create something new and exciting that’s uniquely them.

10. Last but not least, money almost always comes up. If at all possible, make NO verbal commitments regarding cost. Tell your potential client that you’ll get back to him or her promptly with a general proposal. Be specific: you’ll have the proposal tomorrow not just soon.

Don’t forget to send a thank-you note, email or even a small gift after the meeting. Write that you enjoyed meeting them and that you would love to have the opportunity to work with them.

Now, a few questions for all of you:

- How do you handle a client who tries to convince you to lower your prices?
- As a vendor, how do you feel about the practice of “up selling” (seducing clients to spend more than what they intended to)?
- Speaking of budgets, does your company accept clients across all budgets, or do you sometimes decide that a particularly small budget is not worth the effort?

Please share your answers in the comments!

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  • http://www.ruby-weddings.co.uk Georgina @Rubyweddings

    Thanks Preston – I’m gearing up for a client meeting this evening – some great tips!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Preston. Once again thank you for this fabulous advice.

    In answer to your questions:

    1. I try very hard to keep my prices affordable, however I am in business. I make my living by designing and managing events. If I lower my prices for a client it is like devaluing my work. I just do not see that as being beneficial for me or my business. The only price changes I have made and still do make occasionally is for non-profits. This is in the form of sponsorships and I have chosen a few charities I feel strongly about and work regularly with.

    2. I do not sell up! I sell the client what they want. The vision they express is what I seek to create and I only sell to them what I know will make that vision a reality. This does not mean I do not show them products that could expand or enhance their vision, but I see this differently than “selling up.” The term selling up to me sounds as if you are selling someone something that is not necessary but you want them to buy just to make more. Design the perfect vision with the perfect elements and the price will be perfect…no need to “sell up.”

    3. I try very hard to provide service across all budgets, however if I cannot create what a client wants within their budget I will be honest about it and give them options of altering their vision or recommend other options. I will never, however, take a job that I do not think I can do within a budget I feel is realistic.

  • http://momentscapturedep.com Ruby Guerra

    First off, thank you for your posts! They are so informative and I enjoy reading them daily!
    When I meet with potential clients I first ask them the kind of coverage they have in mind (I’m a wedding photographer). After they explain what they would like I pull out a rate sheet with my packages and rates in print. When they see my rates in print it takes a little bit of the pressure off. If someone does happen to ask for a price reduction I mention that there are other packages to fit their needs or that I can customize a package within their price point if it is a reasonable request. There have been a few occasions when I have met couples that I’ve really clicked with, but didn’t have the funds to afford my services. I have taken on a few special cases, but most often I do not take on too many of those because word can quickly spread that you have offered very low rates to these special cases and it will be difficult to charge your regular rates once people know you have given deep discounts. There are vendors out there for every price point and I understand I’m not the most economical option, but when you offer quality work and excellent customer service year after year I feel that you should be able to set your price point. There will always be someone who can do it cheaper, but that doesn’t mean they’ll do it better!

  • http://www.thinkeventsplanning.com TTT Events Planning, LLC

    Thank you… An awesome article!
    I especially love #5 & #6

    You touched on very vital points for getting the client to sign with you…
    Time, personal interest in their wedding, and not talking about money on the 1st meeting!

  • http://pinkpartygurl.blogspot.com Pink Party Girl

    Well, I just broke the cardinal rule #1!!
    Ive just returned from a meeting with clients, that fortunately went well, however I was 15 minutes late (which is my greatest taboo!) due to being up all night working on the proposal…..I agree – NEVER be late to your own appointment!
    (By the way, they were friends…., but still…eek!)

  • http://YOURWEBSITE Angela

    Sending a thank you note to a client afterwards….. Hmmmh that is one of my weak areas now. Will work on it. Good points raised.

  • http://www.eventswithexcellence.com Nishaka

    Thanks for a great posting. Everything stated is excellent. One of the biggest challenges for me is the request for a price on the spot. As an Event Planner, I do have two Wedding Package options with starting price points based on percentage of budget.

    Actually, just this morning I met with a prospective bride and she has some friends or family mention to her that there items listed that they could do for her and to see if I can create another price point. I reviewed each item with line item by line item and shared with her that it is important for her to not be worried about following up with family and friends to make sure that they complete task for her. It is important to have one point person who is her personal advocate and professional coordinator whose primary goal is to make her vision come together without the stress and worry. She totally understood and agreed. The meeting concluded really well and expect to hear from her for the contract on this week.

    In regards to up selling, my primary goal is to deliver on your need.

    In the North Carolina market the average budget is around $15,000-$25,000. There are many budgets much less due to the economy. I would love to do a Platinum Wedding one day!

  • http://YOURWEBSITE rachel

    Great tips- very helpful!!

  • http://jhatchdj.com Jason Hatch

    Preston I cannot tell you how happy I am to see this blog post as a follow up to the previous days discussions! You are so very right on with this advice! Respect for the client starts with showing up on time. You put your professional foot forward with the first task a client sets for you. Showing up for the initial meeting. And what says respect more than to listen, listen, listen!!! Clients are constantly telling us how to work with them and how to best deliver on their expectations if we only take the time to focus on their wants, their needs, and their desires. Body language, gestures, cadence of speech….the indicators are all there. We need to allow the client to get excited about their event which will, as you indicated, inspire the creativity within us!
    I will not sign any contract on the first meeting. I won’t sign a contract unless the client has something to compare my service to! I encourage them to seek out other quotes and to get back to me when they feel there simply is no other option. They must work with me. Buyers remorse is at the root of any clients feeling that they didn’t receive value vs. cost. Handle it right up front.
    I have based my entire business on developing real, honest , longterm relationships with my clients and that relationship begins with the all important follow up. Wanna work forever on referrals? Get clients used to hearing from you, stay in touch with them during and after the event and they will move Heaven and Earth to bring a never ending line of future customers to your door! It starts with that handwritten note after the initial meeting!
    “How do you handle a client who tries to convince you to lower your prices?”

    I always make sure to acknowledge the request as a legitimate and understandable question. “You gotta ask right?” Then I go on to explain that out of respect for my past and present and yes, future clients, I do not make exclusive deals. I follow that up by saying…”Should you choose to work with me you can be certain that I am every bit as focused on your event as I am on any other I have committed to.”

    “As a vendor, how do you feel about the practice of “up selling” (seducing clients to spend more than what they intended to)?”

    I allow clients to direct the vision of the event and then explore the options available for achieving that vision. By asking a lot of questions we can ascertain together the reasons why clients are considering “add-on” or up-sold services. Often clients have come across some misinformation or have seen something done at a prior event that doesn’t really meet with their stated goals and vision for their event. For whatever reason they are still holding on to that idea. We talk about what the additional costs might be and how that additional expense meets will help accomplish (if at all) their goals. If they decide to go ahead with any “up sold” service I make sure that these are applied as “riders” to their basic agreement and each is carefully explained with a complete line by line cost breakdown and are initialed by both myself and the client. Transparency baby!

    “Speaking of budgets, does your company accept clients across all budgets, or do you sometimes decide that a particularly small budget is not worth the effort?”

    Because of the previously stated online pricing my potential clients are coming to me having a full understanding of the costs of doing business with me. I no longer find myself engaged in these type of discussions. This is a direct result of my (prepare for a new millennium buzz-word!!!!) “price transparency” (ta-da!)

    Another great thought provoking post and more great questions! Keep it up! Your blog is always a bright spot in my day!

  • http://www.wedmi.com Lynn

    I wish I had the energy to respond to the questions – but I just finished back to back client meetings, and it’s 10 pm. :) What I really want to say is just a heartfelt thank you to Mr. Bailey for continuing to inspire and motivate. Without ever even having met you, you are truly an amazing mentor and it is so appreciated. God bless you. :)

  • https://www.google.com/profiles/118418047248876522756 vipin.gupta2007

    You are my Inspiration. I truly say you are best best best in the whole universe.

    Thanks

  • http://www.pazazz-weddings.co.uk Maria Kirk

    Fantastic advice as always! I don’t believe in lowering my price and on the rare occassion that I have lowered my price I will explain to the client that a lower price means lower service. That is why I do not like lowering my prices

  • http://www.jeandecor.com Williem

    thx preston.. i usually got the exactly situation like you’ve said. I always make sure that my price doesn’t lie, if my price get lower then i make my idea simpler than before without losing my touch. About “up selling”, i think it’s normal because our job is making a design that clients don’t imagined it. just give them a comparation.
    About budget, this is a major issue for me too. For now on, i’ve made 3 packages for my client. Standard, Lux and Signature. Every packages have minimum requirements … so far it’s works. how about you preston?

  • http://YOURWEBSITE Maurício

    Great ! I agree totaly with those rules, and I practice tham and detected the feed back of the client. I didn’t thoght that you were so cristal with your work , speaking about your privet informations with us, many people dosn’t do thiswith other profecionals , I’d apreciate that so much

  • http://YOURWEBSITE Nicole

    Preston thank you for the wealth of information. I’m just breaking into the special events scene having created a a few for my non-profit organization. I’m thinking of branching out to start something small on the side to get my feet wet and these tips are so helpful even though they are common sense.. some people just forget to make the client #1.