In freelancing, it’s pretty rare that you’ll go visit your client. However, there are times in your career when visiting your client is the sensible thing to do.
There are three parts to this:
- Why you want to visit your client
- What clients you should visit
- How often should you visit
Let’s talk about why you’d want to visit your client first.
Why You Want to Visit Your Client
Physically visiting a client builds rapport and connection. That’s what it’s about.
You might be thinking …
“Yeah, but I do that over video chat. I’m good.”
Optimal? Not likely.
If you’re a creative professional that works in software, design, copywriting, etc. – you can and most likely will do all of your work remotely. You will have video calls, conference calls, and exchange upwards of hundreds of emails with clients. This is normal and also builds rapport. You should do this.
However, there’s something about a connection of seeing someone face-to-face.
You build a bond that’s much closer when you see someone in person.
When you go on a date, do they do it over video chat every time?
No. They meet up in person.
There’s a physical component involved that cannot be replicated over digital mediums.
When you meet up in person, you can shake hands, bump fists, hug, etc. You cannot get that same level of human connection digitally, regardless of how hard you try.
Not to get all woo-woo metaphysical on you … but … something exchanged between people in the same vicinity. Call it energy, presence, whatever you want … you can feel it. This brings people closer together.
There’s a reason world leaders meet together, in person. It builds more of a connection. Sure, they could do everything over a video call, but it is simply not the same as an in-person meeting/exchange.
Furthermore … humans are far more perceptual aware than most of us realize. Being around your client in their physical environment opens you up to many interactions that you may have been ignorant to previously.
This is also one of the key reasons why meeting up with your clients can be a good thing – you will learn more about your clients and the situations they face daily.
Perhaps you work with a construction client, and you’re not sure why your client can never get back to you between the hours of 10 am-2 pm. Upon visiting them, you witness that this is when major operational chaos happens during the day (for whatever reason). No one would have told this to you; you simply noticed it and can now connect the dots. This builds rapport and understanding. You can communicate more effectively and possibly even see a way to help improve those processes too.
You make yourself more valuable.
In other words … You get to see what the client is up to and how they work; you understand them better. You develop a common ground and shared experiences.
When you’re around people, you get to break bread with them and see the places they frequent. Notice the exciting things in their area. All of these things can be used in your communication with your client.
All of the things you witness and experience open the door of opportunity for you to have deeper conversations and connections with your client. I’m not saying that you need to know the skeletons in their closet. Not at all. However, knowing if they enjoy soccer or baseball, pizza or pasta, or getting up every day and getting to the gym by 6am is a huge connection that doesn’t happen unless you spend some time with a client. Yes, this can happen remotely, too; however, it’s more unnatural that way.
Before we continue … let me ask you this … (just to drill the point home)
Who do you think you’d get along better with? 🤔
A person who has never been to your favorite lunch spot, never eaten a meal with, and never had a more profound conversion with?
… or …
The person who has been to your favorite taco joint and eaten that delicious chimichanga while discussing your favorite movies and pastimes?
My guess is going to be the latter one.
That what this is about. It’s about building connection and rapport.
When clients are comfortable with you, like you, and want to be around you, you’re more likely to get your contract extended and renewed.
Additionally, you’re more likely to be referred internally within a company for other opportunities. Lastly, and most frequently, the people on the team will remember you and will reach out to you for years to come because you have a personal connection with them.
I can’t tell you how many consulting and freelancing opportunities I’ve had because I’ve decided to spend a little bit of time with some of my clients for dinner or a couple of days on-site. It always comes back to pay massive dividends to develop personal yet business-oriented relationships with your clients.
What Clients You Should Visit
Typically I will only visit a client if it falls under a particular set of pretty narrow circumstances:
- The client is highly valuable
- The client is close
- The opportunity cost to benefit is significant
I will not meet up with clients who need a small WordPress site built, and they are 200 miles away. I typically won’t meet up with clients if it’s a small job (a couple of days up to a month or so). There are always caveats to this – such as when the client is in the same town as you. However, if the client requires me to travel, I’ll only visit them based upon the criteria that you’ll learn about next.
Highly Valuable Clients
I define a highly valuable client as one which has a significant financial upside long term. This is usually going to a client where the contract is 3-6 months or more. Especially if the contract is a year or more.
These clients help reduce the risk involved with freelancing and consulting as the contracts are much longer. I want to make sure I’m making this client as happy as possible so that the relationship and project(s) are successful. I also want to make sure this relationship continues to be a prosperous one.
The Client is Close
You need to make sure that you value the client and your time accordingly. If the client is “close,” then I will potentially meet up with them on-site or for coffee/etc.
What is close?
I consider anything 45 minutes or less is “close” for me. This will vary for you and your living situation. For you, 3 hours might be close.
This is going to have to be a metric that you decide. For me, it’s 45 minutes. For you, it might be an hour or two.
You have to gauge your hourly rate vs. travel and the network opportunity cost.
Put another way, there’s a big difference between meeting up with a dentist who is 3 hours away who wants a new website versus meeting up with a high-profile tech CEO who needs a new web app in your given area of expertise (who is also 3 hours away). You can imagine already which one will be a better decision (it’s the high profile CEO).
I’m not saying you should ignore the dentist. You should consider meeting up with the CEO in person while doing a video chat with the dentist. This brings us to …
The Opportunity Cost to Benefit is Significant
What is “opportunity cost”?
It is what you must forgo to get something in exchange.
An example might be going for a run for 45 minutes a day to stay healthy. The cost is the 45 minutes and the struggle that comes with the exercise. The benefit is the result: improved fitness and health.
In freelancing, the cost might be: traveling for 3 days to visit a client, but the benefit might be an extended contract or a new contact.
In the case of clients, I will often visit them on-site when the benefit of doing so outweighs the cost. In other words, I see them as very valuable to my longer-term success. I see more opportunities with them. Therefore I gladly accept the cost of visiting them. Which sometimes includes the cost of travel and logistics surrounding it, which I’ll talk about in another post.
The relationship needs to show potential value to outweigh the cost of visiting the client.
How often you should visit?
For me, this depends on how far away the client is.
I’m basing my experience solely on working in the domestic USA, so your experience will vary if you’re in other world areas, such as Europe, Asia, etc.
I have a matrix I use to determine how often I will visit a client:
0-4 Hours Away
For the first option, this would typically be clients I can drive to. When your clients are closer, it’s easier to get to them, and you don’t spend so much time doing so. Therefore, I will visit them more often.
In the matrix above, I do not make a visit unless it’s 1-3 months, but even then, sometimes it’s not necessary if it’s only a 5-week project (hence the 0-1 scale). After that, I will try to visit every month or every other month.
4+ Hours Away
These are clients that are going to require more than 1/2 a day of travel to get to. Therefore it’s a pain to get to them, so the frequency goes down. For a 12 month contract, the minimum I’d like to be on site is twice a year. If I can get there 4 times, great.
How long do you stay?
Typically I will say anywhere from 2-5 days. I find the sweet spot to be around 2-3 days usually. You can get in, work hard, find a rhythm, and not get too bored with the day-to-day minutiae. Your time will be valued, and you won’t be seen as an extra just lingering around the office. You want to get in, get known, get to know people, interact and build rapport with some meetings, lunches, and dinners and then be on your way. 2-3 days makes you squeeze stuff in there, but it doesn’t feel as rushed as a 24-hour turnaround trip would be.
The Final Word
There is much more to the strategy of traveling to visit your clients, such as how to break bread with them, having drinks, time and expenses, and more. I’ll share more of that in upcoming posts and it will be covered in-depth in my upcoming book on how to start survive and thrive in freelancing and consulting (coming out later in 2021).
By the way, if you want to get notified of the book and get some early bonus content, please be sure to hop on my mailing list (below or here).