There are times in a meeting planner’s career that the best client is the paying ones. However, when you can choose clients based on criteria other than whether the income will pay for the mortgage and groceries, how will you know which ones will be good fits?
Shawna Suckow, CMP, seeks clients for her business, Shawna, The Buyer Insider. She says:
“List the top three to five qualities you want in a client. According to Michael Port in Book Yourself Solid, you need to have a ‘red velvet rope’ policy, meaning not everybody gets into the cool kids’ club to work with you!
By clearly identifying the type of clients you seek, you can easily recognize them when they come knocking.”
There are many ways to rate potential clients and I encourage you to customize your list. The following are some key considerations to get you started.
Think of your worst clients, not your best. Your most challenging clients can teach you a lot about the type of clients you do not want. Consider them practically and not emotionally by identifying what made working with that client difficult.
Remember: you were half of the challenge so your behavioral style, values, or work flow may have been a bad fit for them too.
For example, your client’s budget was far more restricted than you were initially told. You’re paid a project fee, not an hourly fee. Since planning a meeting on limited funds takes a lot more time than planning one on adequate funds, you spent more hours than estimated, decreasing your compensation.
Instead, your ideal future client would pay you an hourly fee or agree to parameters in your contract that calls for add-on fees for changes to agreed-upon circumstances or conditions.
Mismatched behavioral styles have the potential to affect your client relationship more than anything else. Bumping heads wastes valuable time and emotional energy that neither of you should expend.
For example, you can confidently take an idea and run with it, but your primary contact has a hands-on management style, which actually means you’re working with a control freak, micro-manager and/or perfectionist.
Conversely, both of you are laid back so tasks go nowhere fast as you’re both waiting for someone to make a decision.
Your ideal future client would have a complementary behavioral style so you can leverage each other’s strengths for efficient task completion.
Scope of work
Scope of work is what you’re expected to do on a project. In this case, plan a meeting. Many clients do not, or cannot, clearly list the scope of work because planning a meeting requires more tasks and more time than non-planners realize.
When considering a client’s meeting, read between the lines. Ask them to describe what they think they’ll need. Fill in the blanks afterwards. Don’t assume that your client knows anything about the planning process.
For example, maybe the client says “We’ll plan the tours; you don’t have to do that.”
In my experience, that meant they would conceive the idea and secure the tour guide and venue. Never having planned tours before, they gave no thought to transportation or food or admission fees or transfers or signage or… You get the idea. Learn from my mistake of assuming too much.
Other than wonderful compensation, having fun at work is an excellent perk, so include that quality in your equation. Consider how much you will enjoy working with the client. Not only the primary contacts, but their colleagues, volunteers, and even suppliers.
The industry might be an important factor because of the average type of person who works in it or the enjoyment you’ll get from that field.
For example, I would choose the Association of Sidewalk Chalk Artists over the Association of Sidewalk Installers. I would choose clients with an optimistic attitude over those who are generally pessimistic.
Your ideal future client will make you smile every time you tell friends who you’re working with.
There’s no mandate that forces you to only work with clients that have similar value to you. However, doing so will make your life a lot easier.
It may be challenging to determine their values, but it’s worth a bit of sleuthing by asking other industry professionals and suppliers. You can influence clients in meeting planning decisions, but you can’t influence their values.
For example, the client’s values represents an industry or a cause you don’t support; leadership makes decisions that you question; and/or your primary contact treats people differently than you would expect.
Your ideal future client would have similar values so you can work without distractions that are unrelated to your tasks.
There are times when you just need money and are willing to throw your list of preferred qualities out the window. That’s fine but throw selectively. Prioritize your list and protect the most important things you’re looking for from a client.
For example, in desperation, I could waive the fun factor and accept a scope of work I might not typically accept, but my non-negotiable is matching values.
In this case your ideal client is tolerable and short-term, perhaps with potential for spin-off business.
Suckow, also founder of SPIN: Senior Planner Industry Network, reminds us that not everyone is a potential client. By identifying your ideal type of client, you’ll spend less time on clients who don’t align with your core beliefs.
Mismatched clients drain your valuable time and energy. Ideal clients give you the opportunity to work on something you’d be proud to show others, and hopefully you can retain them for future projects.
Remember, the planner/client relationship is a two-way street. You have to deliver on everything promised to your client, but they should also be the right fit for you to do what you do best.
Dana L. Saal, CMP, CAE, Coach & Consultant for Saal Meeting Consulting, has been a meeting planner professional and association manager for more than 30 years, working with trade and professional associations as both a full-time staffer and as a freelancer. Since 2016 she has been coaching and consulting with association leaders to refresh their meetings and boards of directors so they better serve their members by fulfilling their missions. Feel free to contact Dana by clicking here.