The recent economic downturn has seen many businesses seek to lower their office overheads by employing staff to work remotely. Self-employment and freelancing is also at an all-time high thanks to the advances of technology and web-based business opportunities.
Barking dogs, fighting kids and a sink full of dirty dishes does not exactly spell “professional”, so how do you successfully meet and entertain clients when you work from home?
Home or away?
As a general rule, it’s best to avoid hosting client meetings at home unless you have a dedicated studio or office outside of the home environment.
Potential customers can sometimes see home-based businesses as ‘minnows’ because they can’t afford office premises. This is clearly not the case as there are many benefits to basing your business at home, but this perception can have a negative effect on your company.
It’s best to reserve home meetings for people you know well. Choose a designated area for meetings. This space should be clean, well-lit, tidy and comfortable. Make sure the location is quiet and choose meeting times when you won’t be disturbed.
If your bedroom doubles as your ‘office’, don’t use it for client meetings. This will make people feel very uncomfortable, particularly if you don’t have adequate seating and someone has to sit on the bed!
Entertaining clients at your home can be potentially dangerous, too; especially if you are a woman and you live alone. Roles reversed, a male businessman seeing a female client alone at home could leave him open to allegations of misconduct, and this situation is therefore best avoided.
Meeting clients away from home
If you don’t have a suitable area within your home in which to meet clients, you might be best to meet them elsewhere. Would it be possible for you to go to the client’s business premises, for example? Clearly, you’d need to weigh up the practicalities and costs of this and ask if a telephone conversation would be a better option.
Sometimes it pays to ‘think outside the box’ and choose an alternative venue for a business meeting if it’s just not practical to meet clients in your home.
Many larger libraries have private rooms which can be reserved for meetings. These are often available for free, and can be an ideal choice of venue if you’re on a tight budget.
Virtually every coffee shop comes complete with Wi-Fi access, so all you need for a business meeting is your laptop and your phone. They can be busy though, so you’ll need to plan ahead and choose somewhere that has plenty of space. Choose mid-morning or mid-afternoon times for your meetings as lunchtimes are usually very busy.
If you want to impress a new client and your budget is sufficient, a meeting over lunch in a nice restaurant can be an option. Once again, choose somewhere quiet with plenty of room and opt for a late lunch so that you can discuss business over coffee after your meal when it’s not so busy and noisy.
Rent office space
It’s possible to rent an office meeting room for a day or by the hour, and this provides privacy and a professional environment in which to meet clients. Prices start at around £35 per person for half a day.
Hotel conference rooms
Most large hotel chains offer conference rooms of various sizes and at various rates. For example, prices start at around £50 for a meeting room at a Premier Inn which also includes tea and coffee. For an extra cost, you can hire flipcharts or overhead projection equipment and the rooms will be equipped with notepads and pencils. A hotel can also be a convenient venue for a business meeting if a client has to travel any distance and will be staying overnight.
Places to avoid
There are a few places that are really best avoided as meeting venues.
Pubs do not make impressive settings for business meetings. They tend to be noisy and overcrowded, and there’s also the temptation to drink too much. A pub is suitable for a brief informal chat with a client you know well, but nothing more.
Fast food outlets are also totally unsuitable for business meetings. They are usually busy and noisy, and the cooking smells can be very off-putting. The location itself can also be perceived as rather downmarket and unprofessional.
Ultimately, the decision on where to conduct your business meetings will depend on your knowledge of the client. Consider where they’ll be most comfortable and give them options. Would they prefer a chat over a cup of coffee, or an informal lunch? Think about the purpose of the meeting. Is it a sales pitch, a quick catch-up or a meeting to discuss a possible collaboration? Choosing the right setting for a meeting can often be instrumental to its success.