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The perfect first design meeting

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Most creative businesses get a majority of their projects from word of mouth. This can seem hard to control, but at the heart of it lies good customer service. For a client to come back or refer someone else, they need to feel happy about the results and comfortable that you can consistently produce great work. This means that as a creative business owner, we have to focus on making sure our clients understand the way we work, manage expectations and keep them updated throughout the project.

The first meeting is the perfect time to find out if you and the client are a good fit. After all, the first step to getting a client that will come back is to find someone who will enjoy working with you.

client onboarding


  • What to prepare

  • Manage expectations

  • Understand their motivations

  • Get ready for the proposal

What to prepare

Everyone has their own preference for how much research you want to do before a first meeting. I personally like to see if the company has an existing online presence and how they interact with customers on social media. If they have a visual identity, knowing this can help you understand their style preferences.

If your prospect is in an industry you are not very familiar with, it can be helpful to find out who the main competitors are. This will allow you to speak more strategically with your client which helps them feel more at ease.

If you would rather not prepare for the meeting to keep an open mind, I suggest being honest about this if your client asks what you know about their company and market. As long as you explain your reasoning, they will respect your process.

Manage expectations

There are a few key questions that will help you determine if you and your potential client are a good fit. The first one is their goals. If the client is looking for something you are not comfortable doing, this needs to be addressed right away. Either you can let them know that this is not your expertise but that you are happy to give it a go, or you can refer them to someone else.

The second topic is timeline and budget. This is very straight forward, if their expectations do not align with yours, you might not be a good fit. It is always good to ask how they came to those numbers and explain why you would need more time or a bigger budget.

The last question is about working style. Some clients are looking for someone to execute their design ideas rather than a creative partner. If this is not your cup of tea, ask if they would be open to your process and if not, refer someone else.

It is your job to make sure you and your client are a good fit and that they feel comfortable with your process. If you value yourself and your client and talk openly about your expectations, you will create a great foundation for the project moving forward.

managing clients

Understand their motivations

It is very common that your client will ask for a specific deliverable, such as “I need a new website”. It is crucial to dig deeper and find out if this is the best solution for the client’s problem or if there is a deeper problem that needs to be addressed. For example, perhaps the company does not know how to describe their products and are not sure who their competitors are. This would make creating an effective website difficult so you can propose they hire a copywriter before you get started. If you build a network of creatives with different skills, you can suggest including them in the client’s project.

Get ready for the proposal

It's a match! Great, time to make sure you collect enough information to create a tailored proposal. Think about the sections you would like to include and plan the questions you need to ask. Think about the words your client is using to describe their frustrations and the solution they are looking for. Repeat these key words in your proposal and use them as a jump off point to explain the opportunity in more detail.


Always let your client know when to expect your proposal and don't wait more than one week to send it. If you are working on a very complex proposal that requires more time, I suggest sending a teaser with a few case studies in the mean time.

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