Dear WordCount: I’ve been going to in-person meetings at a client’s office. I’m fine with going every once in a while, but it’s an hour’s drive each way and the more meetings I attend, the more it cuts into my hourly rate. I’d really like to cut back. Suggestions? — Tired of Driving
I hear you. Sometimes I think clients — editors, publishers, corporate clients, whomever — don’t understand what a time commitment meetings are. It’s not just the time you spend at the meeting, it’s the time it takes to get more dressed up than usual, travel there, park (if you drove a car), and then get back to your office. That’s a lot of hours away from your own office.
Here are some options:
Bill for your travel time. If it’s an existing client, the next time you negotiate a contract, build into your fee the time it takes you to get to their office and back. If it’s a prospective client, work it out so if they hire you, you won’t charge them for an initial meeting, but if they don’t, you’ll bill them.
Build it into your fee. If you work on a monthly retainer, calculate the time you spend in meetings into your fee.
Call instead. If you’ve been working together long enough, suggest substituting phone calls for weekly meetings, then schedule supplemental face-to-face meetings as needed. When I’ve worked on long-term contract editing projects, I had a standing weekly phone conference with the project manager. Some calls lasted 15 or 20 minutes if we didn’t have much to go over, but most were 45 minutes or longer. To make sure the calls were as productive as possible, I always emailed the project manager a short to-do list of things we needed to discuss.
Don’t rule out face-to-face meetings altogether. I’ve made a point of visiting editors and clients in different parts of the country every couple years. Mainly it’s just to check in, though we sometimes discuss story ideas. It’s expensive: flights, hotels, taxis, meals, etc. But I’ve established great working relationships with all of them, and over the years they’ve given me tens of thousands of dollars in assignments. That’s relieved me of doing much in the way of other marketing for new work — definitely worth it. Occasionally I’ve been able to piggyback meetings with out-of-town editors onto business or pleasure trips.
Ask for office space. If you can’t avoid meetings, make the most of the time you’ll be in the client’s office. Ask the person you’re meeting whether there’s a desk you can use. If there is, come prepared – set up your laptop, iPad or phone and plow through whatever else you’ve got going for that day. Who knows, hang around long enough, and you may pick up extra work.
How do you handle client meetings?
[Flickr photo by mark.woodbury]