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Summary:

I am in a constant state of “meeting avoidance mode,” especially for those meeting requests that don’t directly relate to revenue generation. However, I just finished an interesting IM conversation with a friend of mine. It went something like this: Him: “What are you doing on […]

580773_dont_be_lateI am in a constant state of “meeting avoidance mode,” especially for those meeting requests that don’t directly relate to revenue generation. However, I just finished an interesting IM conversation with a friend of mine. It went something like this:

Him: “What are you doing on Friday afternoon? We want to bounce some ideas off of you before you go to Beer and Blog at 4pm.”

Me: “Sure, let’s meet for lunch”

After we disconnected from IM, I noticed that I never even bothered to ask him what he wanted to talk about, and I realized that this is a recurring pattern with this person. He has introduced me to so many great people and projects over the years that I’ve stopped asking what and why and started skipping right to when.

Maybe this is how some people handle requests for meetings, but it’s not my usual strategy. I get many requests for meetings, ranging from people wanting to discuss my consulting services, to people wanting to pick my brain about some online community topic, to those who want to talk to me about one of my many side projects. I get more requests than I can reasonably handle, as I have a chronic calendar problem of having too many events, meetups and meetings with random people, while not having enough time for paying client work. As a result, I normally try to avoid extra meetings, and I have a few meeting avoidance techniques that I use.

I combine efforts whenever I can. I try to get people to meet me at existing events that I am planning to attend anyway, and this works great for those first meetings where someone just wants to talk to me about a new project. If we are going to need a little more time, I schedule meetings with people for right before or after events like Beer and Blog to combine activities into blocks of time.

Diversion is another good strategy. I tend to grill people with requests for details about why they want to meet while secretly hoping that I can make an introduction to a better person for them to meet with about their topic. I avoid the meeting, and they still get to talk to someone about their project. It’s not that I don’t want to meet with interesting people, but I can only allocate a certain amount of time to meetings and business development activities without jeopardizing my client work.

Just say no. This one is the hardest, but sometimes you just need to tell someone that you can’t make the time to meet with them. If the topic isn’t interesting to you or if you can’t make the time, sometimes you just have to let people know that a meeting isn’t going to work. In this case, honesty really is the best policy. Let them know that you aren’t passionate about the topic or that you don’t work on the type of projects that they want to talk to you about. If you don’t have any time to spare and are on a tight timeline, you are better off letting them know rather than avoiding their email or phone calls, which can make you seem unresponsive or unprofessional. I don’t use the “just say no” option often enough.

I suspect that this is a common problem for many web workers, especially those of us who rely on consulting or other freelance work as our primary source of income. I love meeting with smart people where we can both share information and learn from each other, and it’s a great feeling to walk out of a good meeting with a potential new client. Spending time meeting with new people is an important step toward finding new clients, and it is a fantastic way to stay energized with new ideas.

How do you handle requests for meetings? How do you “just say no”?

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  1. Amber Riviere Thursday, March 26, 2009

    ESP? I needed this post. This can be a real problem with clients. Some tend to take several meetings where we chase our tails before they finally commit to something. It can be very frustrating, not to mention a huge drain on time. After one particularly “meeting-intensive” project, I checked my phone log to see exactly how much time we spent talking. We had spent exactly the same amount on the phone as we had actually doing the work. Going forward, that client will always be billed by the hour. :)

  2. Emily Brackett Thursday, March 26, 2009

    I try to do meetings over the phone to begin with, to cut down on travel time. Then, a good technique is to say that you only have 30 minutes because of another call or appointment. 30 minutes is generous feeling without taking nearly as much time as going to a meeting.

    What I find most difficult is factoring in these meetings into the billable scope of things. I tend to think of them basically as “marketing” because some are essential for building rapport with a potential paying client. I try hard to sniff out high likely it is that they’ll actually be paying me something in the future.

  3. I took a page from the book of professors — I have “office hours”. If my schedule is full, especially if it is full with paying work, and someone just wants to meet me to pick my brain, I tell them sorry, my schedule is packed, but I am free at XYZ time, if you would like to drop by.

    I hold the office hours at a cafe where I can sit and drink coffee and read a magazine. If no one shows up, I enjoy the time anyway. If people show up, I am relaxed and happy to offer advice, because what else would I be doing, besides drinking a coffee and reading a magazine?

  4. Taryn Merrick Friday, March 27, 2009

    I own a Virtual Assistant company, and have to manage my time very carefully. Some processes I’ve implemented are to only speak on the phone with people on a scheduled basis, ask prospective clients to fill out a pre-call questionnaire, and to read some articles I’ve written which explain my policies, etc.

    When we actually start working together, my contract states that I work only via email and any phone calls have to be requested, scheduled, and are charged at my regular rate.

  5. Blogging Elsewhere at Consulting, Online Communities, and Social Media: Fast Wonder Blog Saturday, March 28, 2009

    [...] How Do You Respond to Requests? [...]

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