You’ve been pushing your product or service pretty hard and you’ve finally landed a meeting with someone (or a group of someones) who want to give you money. They either want to pay you to help you further develop your idea or they want to pay you to provide your services to them. It’s one of the best days of any entrepreneur’s life. But also one of the scariest. Especially when you’re 20 and the people sitting across from you are at least twice your age. Here’s how to handle it.
Understand why you’re there.
It’s not because you’re lucky. Thomas Jefferson articulated it best – “I find the harder I work, the luckier I get.” The reason you’re at any meeting at all is because you’ve been working hard and positioned yourself to have, or make, this opportunity. And that hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed – the people you’re meeting with think you just might be able to help them. Already the dynamic is set: you are there to help them solve a problem. While they may be skeptical of your abilities, probe your experience and try to poke holes wherever they can, they have already agreed to meet you and are only doing due diligence. If you were in their shoes, don’t you think you’d want to make sure you were spending your money in the best way that you could? That’s all they’re doing. It’s nothing personal.
Shake that hand.
Like a man (or woman). Don’t extend a noodle or break their knuckles. Be firm. Look them in the eye and smile as you introduce yourself. Don’t look away or down. Don’t appear to be uncomfortable or avoiding them. Just like animals, potential clients can pick up on fear. And, in their opinion (subconscious or not), why would a professional like yourself be afraid to meet them? They start to see you as a college kid and less like the expert they had planned on meeting.
Posture actually matters.
Don’t slouch. Don’t crumple into your chair. If you do that in front of them, it’s just easier for them to imagine you in the back of that lecture hall sleeping. When trying to make a sale, you want to distance yourself from your age and focus more on your skills. Age-ism is definitely a hurdle student and young entrepreneurs need to overcome. Don’t make that hurdle harder for you to jump.
Listen 80%, talk 20%.
All clients want to feel validated. They want to know that you are hearing their problems and understanding their perspectives. Not only that, but if you listen that thoroughly, especially in the first few meetings while you’re working on establishing a problem and a possible solution or two, you’ll find that your answer tends to present itself. They know their business better than you do and ever can. Listen to what they’ve tried, and establish what they haven’t and why. This prevents you from wasting time on solutions that won’t fit their business and also sets a solid baseline from which to build ideas. This also prevents you from coming across as too eager or close minded. Even if the idea you have during the first meeting is the one they end up going with, don’t present it until the second or third meeting. This way, it seems to the client that you were open to their needs and concerns and weren’t just trying to make a sale.
Or at least pretend to take notes. Even if you have a perfect memory, if they don’t see you writing things down, they’ll think you’re not paying attention. If you can’t pay attention to them during an hour long meeting, how are you supposed to pay attention to them as you work with their business?
End with an action.
Clarify what you’ve been talking about. Reiterate the action steps. Even if the meeting dragged, or you weren’t able to follow every other point perfectly, ending your meeting by communicating to your potential client what you will be doing for them right away communicates to them that you’re ready to work with them and that any flub during the meeting was just that – a flub – and nothing indicative of any ineptitudes or incapabilities.
As with any advice piece, this is just based on my personal experiences. Obviously, not everything here fits every meeting, every business or every client. Rather, I want this to serve as a starting point of things to consider before you meet a new or potential client.