What Everyone Ought to Know about Initial Client Meeting


In the glorious field of web design there are far too many prices, skillsets, levels of professionalism, and difference in deliverables for any client to really understand them all or even comprehend where to start. We live and work in a field that is ever-changing and as hard as it is for us to keep up with technology, clients can’t possibly be expected to. This post is going to be the start of a series on the entire process of building a website for a client. It will entail many phases from initial meeting to design mockups to development, testing, and launch. Within each of the articles there will be pertinent information for anyone in the freelance field whether you’re a full-timer or not. My simple goal is to provide information for each of you that will aid you in streamlining the process and help cut out some pitfalls along the way. I’d also like to ask for your feedback on each of the phases I’ll be outlining here. There is no “right way” to do things so give your thoughts and opinions, no holding back. Let’s get started.

You Get the Contact

We’re going to assume you have contact for a potential client and that’s where this article will start to help you out. And now that you have that contact, you’ll inevitably have to setup a meeting with them to discuss what they are looking for and what you can provide. There are some things to note here and keep in mind when meeting with the client that I believe are contrary to much of the “traditional” information out there.

  1. You’ve heard it said, “Say yes and figure out how to do it later.” That’s probably not the best idea in our industry as doing something like this will most likely either make the project not worth-while monetarily or cause you loss of money you most likely don’t have. There are instances where this will work, maybe something in HTML or CSS you don’t know how to do but have seen it done, but don’t jump into languages you don’t know an assume you can “get it done” or “figure it out.”
  2. Take the job no matter the budget. If you’re starting as a freelancer, you’ll most likely have to do some of these…but don’t get in the habit. Clients with no budget are usually one of two things. (a) They don’t want to pay a professional but expect professional work or (b) they “just want it done” no matter how it looks or functions. Either of these is just plain bad news. You will either have a client from (you know where) or it won’t even be portfolio worthy making it worthless to you in all senses.
  3. Your initial feeling of the client goes a long ways. It doesn’t take much time to get a vibe from someone and clients are no different. Don’t get swooned into doing work if you think at all the project is going to go poorly. Easier said than done, I know, especially when you need the money. But trust in your gut and pass on it if you have an uneasy feeling.
  4. You’re interviewing the client as well. Many people think that meeting with a client is so you can impress them and they’ll pick you as a choice over other freelancers or agencies. Remember that you’re interviewing to work with them as well. Take special note of the item above and don’t work with them if you don’t like their style.

So now that we have those tips in mind, lets talk about the process a bit. The initial meeting, as I said above, is an interview from the client to you…and from you to the client. Don’t let them have the upper-hand here as it will only set you up for failure down the road. They’ll think they can walk on you and you’ll end up being their photoshop puppet to get the job done.

Client Meeting Sharpie

Photo by Pigpogm

What To Take With You

If you’re meeting with the client on the phone or skype, just make sure you’ve looked at their site thoroughly and done some research on their industry. But if you’re meeting in person, there’s a very simple list of things you’ll need for the meeting.

  • Yourself in presentable form. Unless you just like suits, all you really have to do is wear something decent. But not a ragged t-shirt and jeans, unless maybe you know the client.
  • Sketchbook. I’ll go into more detail on this in a later article but this will get you some attention.
  • Marker. For sketching should you have an idea. Use a marker so you don’t get into details.
  • Pen. For taking notes…do not use it for sketching an idea
  • Business Cards

And that really should be it. I never take a computer unless the client tells me to specifically. This helps to establish that you are a creative and not just someone that knows how to work a computer design program. The sketchbook and marker are your best friends at this point of the process.

Client Meeting In Cafe Coffee

Photo by Stepheye

Get Acquainted

This is important, probably more so than even finding the needs for the project. You’ve got to have some sort of connection with the client and if you don’t, the project will feel stiff and you’ll have little passion for it. Now I realize there are people out there that will disagree with me when I say that we need to connect with our work and get involved and passionate about it. But I’d venture a guess that many people in the creative field, professionals that is, will agree with me here. If you don’t have fire about what you’re working on, you’re creative is stifled. You’ll have no desire, no passion, no connection. The creative field breaks all the traditional ties that many other fields have. We don’t wear suits, dress in Armani shoes, or carry a briefcase everywhere we go. I’ve found that I get more attention from clients when I walk in wearing street clothes (but be presentable) and have my sketchbook and marker in hand. They’re hiring you to be creative and I don’t wear a suit at my desk so I don’t wear one to meetings either.

I won’t say this will work for all clients, but small to medium sized businesses typically don’t care how you look as much as they care about how you work and how your work looks. And to be honest, if they’re going to judge me on my looks and not my character or skillet, I don’t want to work with them anyway. So with that said, keep it presentable, but be yourself and you’ll get more attention and they’re much more likely to remember you.

However you look and dress is becoming less important these days. Clients want someone they can trust. Someone that will be honest with them and will deliver when and what is promised. Ultimately, you have to convey that you are, in fact, the most capable and trustworthy person they’ve met with for the job. This is what getting acquainted is all about. It’s about connecting and seeing if you’re right for the client and if they’re right for you.

Brainstorm client needs

Photo by Andymangold

Figuring Out The Client Needs

I urge you to take notice of the above title…notice it says needs, not wants. We’re professionals here or at least striving to be so it is our job to tell the client what they need. Not all sites need a blog. Not all sites will require a link every social media site available. Not all sites will require social media at all. This is where you’re professionalism is to shine through. If you’re straightforward with the client, tell them your position on what you think would be best for them and what would work best for their users, you’ll get picked almost every time. And if you don’t, they are probably one of the clients we described above and you don’t want to work with them anyway.

The initial meeting is imperative to be able to establish the needs (and some wants) of the client. I’m not saying you can’t give them anything they want, but be reasonable…no dancing frogs on the homepage…unless they breed frogs or something strange like that. Talk with them about what they are trying to accomplish with their site. Below are some questions to keep in mind as you talk with them about their project.

  • Who do you think would be using this site the most and what information would they be after on it? The reason we ask who is simply because many clients use their sites more for internal use than giving to clients.
  • Do you know if your users are tech-savvy or more traditional? You can most likely tell this from the type of business they have, but it’s good to ask.
  • What is the main information you’d like to get across to the users on your site?
  • What are some sites you like within your industry and why?
  • What are some sites you like outside of your industry and why?
  • What’s your budget for the site? I’ll go into more detail on this below.

There’s plenty more questions that can be asked and can come up in discussion…these are just a few. You’ll learn over time that every client is different and you’ll have different questions for each one. I used to have a small packet of about 20 questions I asked all my clients. It helped to find out information from them that I would need. But as time went on, I realized that many of the questions wouldn’t apply to all clients and that the ones that applied to one client had no application to another. So needless to say, I scrapped it.

So take this time to really dig into the project with the client. Figure out their needs, write them down, and make notes of everything they say. They’ll remember what they like and want and you’ll be expected to as well.

Talk About the Dreaded “B” Word

Yes we all know that no one wants to talk about how much a site will cost. You’ll ask them for a budget and they’ll tell you they don’t have one or want you to give them a quote first. You can explain to them that in order for you to be able to tell them right now if you can do the job or not, you’ll need to know what they are expecting to spend. They have an idea somewhere in their head. If they still won’t tell you, drop it and do your quote as if they had an unlimited budget. At this point you’ve done all you can and if they come back on you saying it’s too much, then they already started out your relationship with a lie because they had an idea of the cost. Keep in mind that most companies work off budgets and if they don’t spend the entire budget allocated for something, they lose it at the end of the year.

I used to believe that you never gave a price up front for how much something will cost because it will lock you into that rate. But I’ve found that not to be true over time. For one, people will often pick you because you were the only one they talked to that had an idea of the cost. That shows you’ve got enough experience to tell them a ballpark figure. It also shows you’ve researched their industry a little bit (which you should do before the meeting) and understand a bit more than even what you’ve talked about in the meeting. With that said, it takes time to get your pricing down. So if you’re starting off as a freelancer, you may keep the price to yourself until the you’ve worked it out on paper and done the proposal.

Leaving Client Meeting - Tiremarks

Photo by Shaun Bascara

And You’re Off!

Now that you’ve had the initial meeting, gotten the vibe you want to work with the person, and (hopefully) established a budget, it’s time to move onto the next phase. It’s best to give them a timeframe of a few days for the proposal and then make sure you get it to them within that time. If you’re late, they may take it as a key factor for what will happen during the project.

So that’s all for now. We’ll touch on the topic of the proposal in the next article and incorporate some proposal software pros and cons as well. I sincerely encourage you to give your feedback and rip my article apart, but please be gentle. I’m not saying this is the only way to do things…but it works for me and my research has shown several points in here work for other people as well. Let’s get conversing!



  1. Was a good read thanks! To be honest what you said about not using a marker for sketching is a really good point. I can honestly say I’ll never do it again. So much better.

  2. Felipe

    Thank You for this article, I’m starting as freelancer, I’ve already figured out that I needed to earn respect and confidence of the client, I’ve been struggling with that and your article has helped me a lot, specially the “You’re interviewing the client as well” part.

  3. Thanks for those wonderful detailed and helpful articles !
    Could you write an article with tips of how making perfect quotes to be distinguishable from the other propositions concurrents made, please ?

    • @Eudeline Camille, it’s in the works! We’ll also be introducing a few proposal systems to help you in the process and look more professional.

  4. I appreciate the great comments all of you! The next article will be out in about a week or so. From then on probably every week for about the next 7 weeks.

  5. Awesomely written content! I loved each and every bit of it. These are the things which are taken from the real world and are very practical. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Leona

    Even though I’m not a website designer many of the key points you mentioned go towards my business as a Virtual Assistant. Turn the things you take with you to what I do and need in my business (similar) and there you go! I too do not over dress when I go to meet a potential client, why when I don’t do that at home. Figure what the client NEEDS! Love it. I do the same because I do not want to start working on something they don’t need me for..I want to figure out what THEY NEED and not waste our time. I love what I do and hope it shows towards those that are seeking assistance or want to learn more! Gotta love what you do or you won’t succeed.

    GREAT article.

  7. The list is so true.
    And I really wanted to comment on the part about the budget. Clients do not seem to know or care that you can do a project for ‘$’ and for ‘$$$+’. In both cases you’ll end up with a nice end result; but the latter will have more detailing, features, stamina, volume or whatever.

    I _always_ ask my clients their budget. And if they don’t give the exact amount, a bandwidth works fine as well. My estimate will have one or two optional features to help them stay within budget. I find this helps getting the contract. Most of the time the optional parts are ordered during the project; when the client sees the final results and has faith in your vision.

    If the client refuses to shine _some_ light on the budget I’ll explain about how we can distribute costs in the project to help them achieve the most out of the budget by creating a design specifically tailored towards their primary needs. If they want to keep the budget in the dark I can not really help them and offer like the sky is the limit :)

  8. Insightful and very adaptable which is good because most how-to articles that deal with clients are more opinion than actual useful knowledge. Thanks!

  9. Tom Ireland

    I agree 100% with this article. At least I know I’m on the right track myself! Just started seriously thinking about freelance whilst working full time. Have first client and went through all the motions as described above, and yes, I asked the budget question. Got an answer there and then so knew the expectations, came in a little under so my client is happy. When’s the next article out?

  10. Overall, Glad you all enjoyed it. I’ll take some of these points into mind before writing my next one in the series so our experiences can help others. That’s what this industry is all about…share your info to help make the web more beautiful. :D

  11. Eduardo Souza

    Thank you for this knowledge. Indeed is a pretty nice article.
    The only doubt in the overall is about the ‘asking the budget’,
    this always is a hard point. I never know if doing in the first touch
    or later is the correct. And another, not so related question, is thinking
    on how much do my job worth.

    • That’s something that will be answered in a post later in the series. We’re going to talk about pricing a bit and hopefully I’ll be able to shed some light on this for you. Glad you liked it!

  12. Great article, and I agre 100%.
    Not only is a first meeting there to interview each other, but also to get a feeling for what is expected from each other. I oten strike up a rather casual tone and doe these things over a cup of coffee. It makes people feel more at ease if they feel that you share an idea. And them at ease makes it easier to discuss budgets.

  13. Alex

    This is a nice article! And i must say i agree with almost everything.

    In the last 2 years or so i’ve had a couple of times after meeting potential clients, my gut-feeling was telling me that this was going to be hell. Even though the meeting went absolutely perfect! But for some reason my alarm was set off by those people.
    I couldn’t do much because i work for a company.

    Turns out; in the end i was right- both times. The projects lasted endlesly because one wanted way too many features that weren’t even possible with the used system and the other one was making changes every single day. Drove me almost crazy but in the end the project were finished. BUT i think we definitly lost big profits because we made prices per project while in the end we passed our schedules ours big time.

    So that was another lesson learned, well…. not by me but my boss :P

    looking forward to the rest of the series!