We've just returned from a three week trip to the UK during which we were able to catch up with a host of friends and clients. Our profession is ideal for working remotely which we've written about previously, but our recent visit reminded us about the importance of face-to-face meetings.
When we are contacted by a potential client or start a new project, our preference is for both of us to meet the client in person at least once. Good client relations are really important to us, and a face-to-face meeting is the best way to start off on the right foot and get to know each other properly. We've recently launched a number of websites for clients we hadn't met previously, so we were very happy to be able to follow up or check-in about the projects in person while we were in Cornwall. During three weeks we managed to cram in twelve meetings!
Meeting at a client's place of work can give us a chance to see first-hand what's involved and how their website needs to support their business. For private individuals, a website often needs to reflect them personally and a meeting at their home can be helpful to understand their style and taste, which can then be incorporated into the design.
Building a working relationship based on trust and communication is key and being able to look someone in the eye is a good basis for starting that process. Our aim is for our website and social media to reflect us honestly but we humans are better at getting a measure of people in the flesh, rather than digitally.
Words are only a small part of communication. Body language, eye contact and gestures speak volumes and make it possible to identify when someone is feeling confused, unconvinced or unsure even when they're saying the opposite.
Emails can be a challenge for some people who aren't so comfortable writing while others have a different phone manner to how they act in real life. In short, a lot can get lost in translation unless you're speaking face-to-face. Tricky issues often need a spoken conversation to get resolved; sometimes it's not until they're discussed out loud that you realise the nub of the problem and can figure out a solution together.
Meetings are also a great way of focussing; on a Skype call it's possible to check your email or get distracted by another screen (I'm not saying that's ever happened to either of us, of course) but not when you're sat together at a table. Frequent, unstructured meetings can be pointless and a waste of everyone's time; the beauty of occasional face-to-face meetings is that the time is precious so people tend to be well prepared and the meeting is effective.
Once a rapport has been established, phone calls and emails are much easier and more natural. We find that after one meeting, most clients are happy to continue communicating in this way.
We're all on a huge learning curve about how to use our digital shared spaces and means of communication. Perhaps, in time, we'll all become adept at using it - or technology will improve so much that it's as good as real life. Until then, however, face-to-face has an important role to play. Remote working suits us perfectly, and email, phone and video conferencing remain excellent ways of cutting down on unnecessary travel and work lost through regular day-to-day meetings, but if we're in the neighbourhood we'd love to pop round for a cup of tea and friendly chat.