These days, most of my clients are online, but I still occasionally meet a few here and there to see if we’re a good fit. While I could meet them at their office, I prefer “coffee dates,” I term I took from my experience in writing about relationships. Coffee dates in the dating world are one-hour first meetings where daters can safely meet an online match or blind date. (Here’s my dating blog for more on relationships, by the way.)
In the freelance writing world, coffee dates take on a completely different meaning.
Why Coffee Dates Rock for Freelance Writers
A coffee shop meeting lets a client know that you work for yourself. It sets a tone that you aren’t their employee, but will be a contract or consultant for them. This helps them see that you won’t be coming in to their office to work, but that you’ll be working from a coffee shop or home.
Setting a Time Limit
In the dating world, coffee dates are set up in advance to be about an hour. You tell someone, “I can meet you for an hour” and then at the end of that time you get up, thank them for meeting you, and leave. This makes it easy to end a date without being rude.
The same principle applies in the freelance world. You’re busy. They’re busy. You don’t want to give the impression that you can yak all day, but you also don’t want to be rude when you’ve got to go. The way to deal with it is to tell them up front how long you’ll be able to meet.
Feeling Out New Clients
Not every client is going to be a good fit. It can be a huge waste of time to go to their office, present your extended “why you should hire me” speech, and then find out what their looking for is not something you can deliver. Or worse, that you don’t feel their approach works with your client list.
Coffee dates can help with this because their more informal and you can get to the business of what they’re looking for right away. They can tell you what they didn’t like about other writers, what they’re hoping to achieve, and what types of projects they want you to work on. This helps you figure out if you’re the right writer for them quickly before you commit to a project.
I like coffee meetings personally because they help establish a neutral setting. Let’s face it, freelancing is about negotiation as much as its about writing. Negotiating terms and conditions outside both your offices help ensure an easy give and take. It’s very difficult to say “I work these hours” when you’re in their office. Or that you like to “work from home” when you’re at their place. Mentally, it’s better to have both of you outside your normal environment so you can focus on the new partnership.
A Better Way to Show Who You Are as a Writer
When I’d go in to a client’s office for an initial meeting, I’d dress up and bring donuts, and do all these things that aren’t part of my working regime. I think it set a different tone, one that I was a “floating employee” rather than an independent contractor.
With a coffee date, I dress tastefully but casually, I buy my own coffee, and feel comfortable showing my personal approach to projects. The vibe becomes more about a collaboration and less about “them hiring me.”