Do you really know your clients? – Part I

How many clients have you visited in the past six months? Have you ever purposely visited any clients? Well, last year I had an epiphany and realized I didn’t personally know one of my biggest local clients, and decided I needed to address this. After all, I have visited clients when I’m out of town for whatever reason —whether it is during the ATA Conference, or on vacation— so, how come I hadn’t met with them? The challenge was how to set up this meeting and, after finally setting it up, how to handle all the seemingly minor (and highly variable) details of the meeting.

It took a bit of research and perseverance to set up this meeting. To put things in perspective, my client is a large corporation in South Florida —a maze of departments with a complex organizational chart. To complicate things further, there had been some recent internal restructuring and a new person was in charge of vendor management.

How I connected

I communicate almost on a daily basis with multiple managers from different departments of this organization who send me projects. I know them well. But the new manager, in charge of overseeing freelancers (writers, translators, editors, etc.), is a new position, and I didn’t know her at all. Fortunately, my work spoke for me and I was already under her radar when she received my email. What did I say in my email to her?

(Click on the image to enlarge)


This is just an idea. Tailor your email based on your relationship with that person or, as in my case, with the company.

Now, this is where I’m supposed to tell you that she replied within a day and we successfully met that Tuesday. It didn’t happen that way.

Over a week had passed and she hadn’t replied. I had seen her “Read Receipt”, so I know she saw the email. I was mortified. What should I do? Taking into account the customary netiquette, I decided it would be perfectly fine to follow up with her with a brief email:


And this time, she replied within minutes! We finally scheduled our meeting.

The moral of this part of the story: Don’t make assumptions. Following up once is perfectly acceptable.

However, if you don’t hear from your contact after you follow up (and you don’t get an Out of Office reply or anything like that), then do assume that the stars are not aligned correctly at that time, and try again in several months, or when the circumstances change.

Preparing for the meeting

As I said, this was not my first time meeting with a client, but this scenario was a bit different. While I have provided services to this organization for over four years and I know many managers, I didn’t know her. This meeting required a bit more research and preparation.

I sat down with my business coach and designed a strategy. My coach is a director in a Fortune 500 company and I wanted to learn about his expectations if a vendor had set up a meeting with him. What would woo him? What would be a big no-no? I wanted to know what information would be relevant for him. Sure, I can talk about grammar concordance, and word nuance, but I’m sure that would be soporific for a business person.

Clients want to learn about solutions. How can you help them reach their goals? They don’t need to know the mechanics.

Think about a sports car. Unless you are a mechanic, do you want to know about the nuts and bolts that comprise your Maserati, or do you just want to make sure it drives as it should and use it for your intended purpose?

We had been working on a PowerPoint presentation for this very purpose, and this was the perfect chance to use it. But here, too, are several things to consider:

  • Will this be a one-on-one meeting?
  • What if she brought other people to the meeting?
  • Will I have a chance to actually give her the presentation and talk about the slides?

Again, brainstorming with my business coach (did I mention he is my husband?) we thought I should be prepared for everything. So we designed a hybrid strategy that would work in nearly every scenario.

Ready for the meeting
Ready for the meeting

Hybrid strategy

  • Prepare a PowerPoint presentation. Folks, this is standard practice in the business world. I know translators only see PowerPoint presentations when translating one or giving a workshop or seminar. Taking the time to set up a concise —I repeat, concise— PowerPoint presentation of your key services, and qualifications, will portray a very professional image of you and will make you stand out. Mine was seven slides long, plus one page where I included “notes” that were both intended for me if I were to give the presentation, or for someone to read if I wasn’t there.
  • Print your PowerPoint presentation and save it as a PDF for distribution. If you’re meeting with only one person, it would be sort of weird to give her a presentation. But handing out your presentation would be great. It is almost expected that people will walk out from a meeting with something tangible. This is it. And in the event that there was more than one person at the meeting (and that you were able to give the presentation), it is likely you won’t have enough copies, so don’t hand out the presentation. Send it via email as a PDF to all participants. I printed two copies, one for me (just in case) and one for the person I was meeting with.
  • Bring a laptop or tablet. Cover all your bases. In case you have the opportunity to give the presentation, be ready with your gadgets. Make sure your laptop or tablet is charged. Have your presentation loaded and ready to show. Don’t expect that there’d be a projector.
  • Prepare a nice folder with all the information neatly organized. I used a pocket folder (in one of my brand colors), where I included:
  1. My PowerPoint presentation printed in full color, in the right-hand side.
  2. The one page with notes in the left-hand side.
  3. My business card inserted in the business-card holder.
  4. My brochure.

I have a brochure which is intended as a nice marketing piece where clients can learn about my areas of specialization. I provide a comment about each, which is no longer than a tweet; provide basic contact information, and a QR code. This is different from the PowerPoint where I expand a bit more about my services and solutions for clients. I don’t think one can substitute the other, as they serve different purposes, but if I were to choose just one to start, I’d go with the PowerPoint, for (cost) effectiveness.

Another suggestion of materials to bring to your meeting would be the famous publication Translation: Getting it Right from ATA. It goes without saying that you should give out hard copies of this brochure, professionally printed. ATA provides 10 free copies to members; just contact ATA Membership Services Manager for details.

A word of caution: Do not include your resume. Unless this is a job interview for an in-house position (which is not at all the subject of this post), your resume has no business here. This is about you as a professional freelancer, and that’s how you want to keep it.

Business etiquette

Here are some tips about business etiquette in the United States. I know in some cultures —especially in Asia— it is customary to bring gifts to clients, even at high corporate level. I don’t have any Asian clients, so the following applies strictly to mainstream business in the United States.

Learn about the corporate culture of your client. Beware that not all companies allow their employees to accept gifts or to be treated for lunch, for example.

Be mindful of the time of the year and who you’re meeting with. Because I tend to travel during the holidays at the end of the year, everybody is in festive mood and a little token of appreciation will go a long way. Last year, for example, I visited three clients over the holidays and I brought with me small boxes of gourmet chocolates from a Miami-based fine chocolatier. It was something unique to Miami, and appropriate due to the holidays. And I was meeting with teams (in two instances), and with a lady in the third scenario. I knew everybody well. But for this meeting that occurred in the middle of February, I didn’t bring any gifts. However, I didn’t want to come empty-handed, so I came up with the idea of my neatly organized folder.

In the second installment of this story I will talk about the actual dynamics of the meeting, the formula I followed, and what to do next.

Have you met with your clients? How did you prepare? What did you do? I would love to hear from you!


6 thoughts on “Do you really know your clients? – Part I

  1. I enjoyed reading this, especially because next week I have my first in-person meeting with an interesting client I have been working for since last month. One of the things I have found works well in client meetings so far is to get them talking more first before I start talking about myself. People like to talk about their businesses, and it makes it much easier for you to see where you fit into the big picture. I can then decide what is relevant to mention and suggest solutions based on what they say. And it builds trust. People value their time and don’t want to have to explain their business ten times to ten different translators before picking one, they would probably rather go with the one that has gotten this 30 minute to 1 hour scoop. I haven’t used a PPT or a brochure at a client meeting before though, but it sounds like a good idea, so I’ll think about it for future purposes. Also nice to hear it worked out when you followed up. I have sometimes felt discouraged in the past in the same situation where I get a read receipt but no response. Thanks for the inspiration

    1. Glad to hear my experience has provided encouragement to you, Dave! I couldn’t agree more with you on how to approach meetings (i.e. letting the other person speak), and I don’t want to spoil Part II of this story, but that’s part of what I address in my second post. Good luck with your meeting next week, can’t wait to hear about it!

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