5 Things to Ask Yourself to Avoid Design Meetings from Hell

View Comments by Bianca Board on 20 February 2014

Now before I continue this article, I want to tell you loud and clear that I love my clients. Do you love your clients? Because I love mine.

They allow me to live the dream of being a truly independent designer! 

Thanks to them I have flexible work hours, I can work where I want (no gray-walled offices for me!!!) and I can produce the designs I want to create (within reason!). 

However... as with all great loves, there are the occasional road bumps. 

And for some reason most of these road bumps happen in this horrible thing called “meetings.”

The dirty little M word :(

Oh yes... Meetings. Why oh why in this age of email and Skype do they still exist? Surely they should be illegal!?

Maybe you’ve been lucky so far, meetings do have their uses. Yes they can be important, and they can even be useful; but I guarantee you WILL eventually attend pointless meetings who’s only purpose is to drain you of your precious spare time. It’s exactly these kinds of soul numbing ‘meetings from hell’ that I want you to avoid.

I learnt the hard way, but now I’m the Houdini of bad meetings. I can sniff a time-wasting meeting from 100 paces and I’m outta there! Want to know how I do it? 

Before you accept a meeting ask yourself these 5 questions:

1) Why are we having this meeting?

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I started out was accepting any and all meetings at the drop of a hat. What can I say... I was young and ambitious, and if my client wanted me to come to their office I was all “YESSIR!”

The problem is that clients think having a meeting is as easy as flicking on a light switch, but for you it’s a massive drain of your time.

I’d end up going to meetings that were ‘important’ but where they just “wanted to meet me” and “say hello.” Ugh!

So find out WHY you’re having this meeting. Make sure you only go into a meeting which has a clear agenda and purpose. More importantly... make sure your clients agree on what the devised outcome of the meeting will be. Trust me... there is nothing worse than being stuck in a directionless meeting that goes round in circles. It’s not good for anyone.

2) Are you having a meeting with the RIGHT person?

If you’re doing design work for a medium to large business, chances are you could end up working with a wide range of people. So ask yourself... are you having a meeting with the RIGHT person?

I had a meeting once with a client’s assistant (aka underling) so that he could plan out a future meeting between myself and the actual client. Suffice to say I was not amused. :(

So whenever you start a job, make sure you establish who the official representative for your client’s company really is, who has the authority to make key decisions.

I know this can be a bit tricky as you don’t want to alienate the assistant who you may be working with as well, but a simple question of ‘who is going to have the final say in the creative?’ and ‘who has to sign the project off?’ will let them know of your expectation that they will be there.

And just to be sure... always double check and ask ‘will so and so be there?’ before every meeting. 

And if the right people aren’t in the meeting, ask why not. You may just be saving yourself a half day of work. Try to keep your relationship with as few members of your client’s company as possible, as these are the people who can give you the answers you need to move your project forward.

3) Am I really needed there?

Are you really needed there? I’m sure there are many times a company has had a meeting and they said “get the designer in whilst we’re at it.”

You should consider if whether your presence there will help or hinder the purpose of the meeting. For example, a client should be approaching the designer AFTER they have made certain key decisions about what they want from their website. Your presence in this scenario would actually hinder the process.

Always ask for the meeting agenda and who’s attending, then you’ll be able to make an educated guess as to whether you should attend.

And if it’s clear it’s a waste of your time (and theirs) don’t be afraid to suggest you skip this one, as ultimately it is in everyone’s benefit for you to spend time doing actual design work.  

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4) What time is the meeting? How long will it be? And where will it be?

Once upon a time I was invited to a meeting by a client and I readily accepted it far too quickly.

It wasn’t until a week later I got an email telling me the meeting was an all day company overview, and instead of being in their local office (about 20 minutes away), was going to be held in their head office about three hours away. AGGGGHHHHHH! 

Remember... I didn’t work for this company, I was *just* a freelance designer, and I really didn’t want to be stuck in a 5 hour + meeting on the other end of the state which had nothing to do with me. Thankfully this was one of the first times I mustered the courage to say “no”... and I’m so glad I did.

After this I vowed to carefully schedule all of my meetings in conjunction with my work load. This way I was able to effectively change or say “no” to a meeting, simply because I knew time wise they weren’t possible.

Ultimately time is money, and when you quote your client for your work, you need to take meeting times into account. In fact, I recommend your quote states how many meetings are included, and then outline an hourly rate for any extra meetings above this.

There are nice ways to do this, for example your quote could say something along the lines of... 

Your project is important to me and I’m only ever a phone call away, but please note I do limit in person meetings to the initial brief meeting in order to spend the majority of my time on projects. Should you require more, there is a charge of $x per hour (including travel time).

5) What do I need to prepare for the meeting?

I’ve recently started mentoring a few designers as of late (get in touch if you’re interested) and I was surprised to learn how many designers go to meetings completely unprepared. And then I reminded myself, I was exactly the same when I was starting off too!

Even when you know the purpose of the meeting, make sure you ascertain what it is your client is EXPECTING from this meeting. This way you can either prepare to deliver what they are expecting, or manage their expectations beforehand to make the meeting more realistic.

For example, I once went to a meeting and the client was expecting a finished website. Little did he realise that at that stage I had only had early designs of the website for his approval and was awaiting for his feedback.

If I had managed that client’s expectations correctly, I could have made that project go a lot smoother! :(

On a related note... expectations go both ways. If you’re expecting something from your client (say feedback from a design), ask them as to whether they will be bringing it along with them. You’ll be amazed how much time you can save simply by asking your client’s to deliver something early.

It’s also a good way to get the client to delay or cancel a meeting because they have to produce something too! 

Treat your client how you would like to be treated, and you’ll be fine.

The reason a lot of designers (especially those starting out) don’t say “no” more often to meetings is because they are scared of offending their client.

However I’ve found that as long as you’re polite and reasonable, your client will be fine about it. Remember it’s a two way relationship, and they know it.

Personally I like to treat my client like they’re a bestie, and I let it show that I enjoy working on their project with them (because I usually do). This helps me build more rapport and it makes it a hell of a lot easier when I need to say “oh sorry mate... no can do”.

Just remember, don’t just brick wall them and say no, always suggest an alternative solution, whether it be a Skype conversation, an email or a phone call. If they’re asking for a meeting then there’s something they need, it’s now your job to work it out BEFORE it drains more of your time!

Are there any others questions that you ask yourself before you meet with a client? Share them with the community below and I’ll use them in a future blog post!

What do you think? Share your comments below.


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