From the Consultant Files: Make That First Impression Count

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We all know that phrase, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Trite as it may sound, it’s also true. I put the shoe on the other foot (to borrow another cliché) and recently interviewed vendors for my website redesign. It was a stark reminder of how important that first meeting is. Here’s what I learned.

Do Your Homework

When I interview for a gig, I prep: research the position, company, potential client, you get the idea. One of the vendors I spoke with seemed to have no clue about the project (even though I emailed her about it in advance). Worse yet, I had to spell out my website address, which is my name. Don’t be that vendor. I’ve learned everything I need to know before we (don’t) go any further. Being unprepared reflects poorly— either you’re not interested, too busy, disorganized, or all of the above. Harsh? Yes, but goes back to that first impression.

Go Easy on the Critique 

That first call with a potential client always walks a tightrope: You want to show your value, but too much feedback or criticism can backfire. For instance, when the gig is to rewrite website copy, I don’t trash the current site since the person I’m speaking with may have approved it, or worse yet, wrote the copy. I let the client lead the conversation. One vendor suggested I get rid of my blog, even though I told her it was part of my marketing strategy. Another commented that it was a “red flag” when I told her I was busy and might be delayed in getting back to her sometimes. (Ironically my red flag was  her saying that.)

Gig First, Money Second

No consultant wants to waste time on a job that is not in his or her price range, including yours truly. But it’s not the first question that I ask about a contract. Sure, it’s in the top three but we’ll get to the money soon enough. One email exchange with a vendor ended the job before it even started when he relayed his minimum project amount (which was over my threshold). It reminds me of that famous quote from former supermodel Linda Evangelista back in the ’80s: “I don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.” It’s not always wise to reject a gig outright before you have all the info. What if this work leads to bigger and better projects? Or I can introduce you to others that can hire you? Don’t close a door before you know what’s behind it.

Follow Up the Right Amount

We’ve all been there, even for a 9-5 job: You have that first call, everything goes great, and now you have to gauge when to check back in. You want to show that you’re interested but not appear desperate. There are no hard and fast rules, but do something (unless you don’t want the work). Several vendors followed up at the right cadence; one even sent me ideas for potential design directions. Another vendor’s proposal didn’t come through due to an internet service glitch, which I only found out by contacting her. On the flip side, there can be toooo much communication. One vendor asked me to fill out a lengthy questionnaire before our call, even though I told her we were having an intro chat (she then shrunk the meeting invite to a measly 15 minutes). Unsurprisingly, that didn’t go over well.

Chemistry Matters

Like most relationships, that first call is a microcosm of what’s to come in the future. Did you have a natural back and forth, or was it awkward and stilted? Did the person ask the right questions? Did you have anything in common? While being chummy is not a requirement to work together, a decent rapport and good communication are. You’ll be collaborating closely, so pay attention to how you relate to one another. Building a client relationship isn’t just about your expertise, it’s also the interpersonal dynamics. Both matter and are part of the hiring package.

Treat Referrals with Care

When someone gives me a referral, I am not only grateful, but well aware I have an inside track to getting the contract over some random vendor. But it’s also not a guarantee I get the gig either. I still have to put in the work to show you’re the best fit for the job. Of the referrals for my project, some weren’t right fit, which is to be expected. That’s why I extended the same respect to the them that I would want when I don’t get a job. After I made my decision, I notified the candidates and thanked them for their proposals. We all put time and energy into landing a gig, so don’t leave vendors hanging.

In the end, I followed my gut from first impressions: I chose someone that I thought had the right mix of skills, clearly wanted the work, came with good references, and seemed reliable. Hopefully my next blog post won’t be another cliché: “Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” 😆

photo credit: Frabz.com

 

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