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9 Ways to Make a GREAT First Impression on your New Freelance Client

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Let’s face it—talking to people is hard. Especially when your burgeoning freelance career is on the line. In fact, the stakes might feel higher in a meeting with a new freelance client than in a public speaking setting: In a meeting with a potential freelance client, you’re not risking public embarrassment so much as the possibility that the client won’t trust you and therefore won’t hire you for the job. And on top of that, the initial meeting doesn’t just feel like an audition—it is one—where you need to not only impress your potential client but also impress them more than the competition. This meeting is your one shot to make a good first impression and convince your prospective client that:

  • You are capable. Do you have the skills you need? Can you complete the project for the client?
  • You are trustworthy. You’ll meet deadlines. You won’t steal a client’s identity, commit copyright infringement, or abuse their social media accounts.
  • You are easy to communicate with. It’s easy to talk to you. You are relatable, reachable, and reasonable.
  • You can solve their problem. You have the skills it takes to deal with the issues that are stressing them out (so they don’t have to). 
  • They should pay you. You deserve to compensated fairly for the labor that you will complete on the job.

Remember: You aren’t just competing with yourself, you’re also in a race with all the other freelancers and services on the market. With so much competition out there, how do you win a client over from the get-go?

Step one to client retention is a solid first meeting. Having a strong, informative kick-off meeting is crucial to keeping both you happy and the client coming back. And with preparation, a huge amount of the initial stress around your first client meetings can be nipped in the bud. Here are my top tips for making a great first impression and taking this process from nerve-wracking to no big deal, so you can start making money—fast!

1. Start Off With a Little Small Talk

Your goal is to get the client to trust and hire you, but that doesn’t mean you should jump right to business. Before the tech talk, take a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting to chat and get to know your client. If you’re on a video call, ask about where they live or comment on something you love in the background. If you’re together in person, ask them something like how they like the taco place across the street.

In short, make small talk. Really relating to your potential client goes a long way towards helping to smooth out potential conflicts in the first meeting and throughout the whole project. During your conversation, don’t focus on your roles as “the tech expert” and “the customer.” You’re just two people who are hoping to work together. Small gestures of politeness and genuine interest in things that matter to your client are a great way to set yourself apart from the competition. They’ll remember the white glove service and you’ll gather information on some of the things that have influenced their business and personal brand.

2. Make an Agenda or Welcome Packet

After a little small talk, it’s time to get down to business. Use an agenda or welcome packet (a few pages about your services, general procedures, and forms of payment) to make sure you cover everything you need to during this important initial meeting, and send it to your client before you get started. In terms of choosing between an agenda or a welcome packet, that’s up to you! It depends on how busy your business is and what kinds of communication you prefer. But whatever form it takes, documentation is important in making a good impression. Besides helping you stay on track and cover all the important odds and ends—from your hourly rate to design ideas to a project timeline—an agenda or welcome packet shows you have a plan and you are good at communicating it to others. This small way of showcasing your organization skills both gives the client reason to trust you and shows how reliable you are. As an added bonus, both you and the client then have documentation of the first meeting, what was covered, and in the case of a welcome packet, documentation of all the finer points of your business. Paying attention to the details at all steps of a project is critical in building a strong reputation as a reliable freelancer.

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

First time client meetings can feel like auditions (because they kind of are). A good tactic to subvert the feeling that you need to bend over backwards to please a new client is to pepper the conversation with questions, so that your chat is more of an equal exchange. Some questions will be totally practical and some will just be clarifying as you both learn how to best communicate with each other—and don’t shy away from open-ended questions that help you see the bigger picture. For starters, think about asking some of the following:

  • What do you already love about your site?
  • What are some examples of other sites that you love?
  • What are the goals of your business?
  • Do you need to be able to edit the site?

Your questions will change with each client and each project, so keep in mind that there’s no one right script when it comes to asking client questions. Keep it polite, direct, and friendly, and you’ll be on your way to great, level communication in no time!

4. Research the Client and Their Business

Even though you’re going to ask your client a ton of clarifying questions, this meeting shouldn’t be the first time you gather information about them. Taking the time to get to know your client’s resume, existing work, and business, goes a long way towards ensuring your questions are pointed and intelligent, and that they feel you’re really paying attention to their specific needs. Besides, coming in to a meeting already having a little background will help calm your nerves—and make the client feel better as well! Doing some homework and showing that you care helps gain the trust of a new client and makes them feel good about starting a project with you.

5. Research the Client’s Competitors and Peers

This small step will help immerse you in your client’s world and solidify the fact that you care about meeting the specific needs of their business. Keep in mind you don’t need to become an overnight expert on another field—you just need to show that you’re dialed in. The more knowledge you bring to the table about industry standards, common issues, or new changes in the client’s field, the more your client will trust you to make sound decisions throughout the project. They can relax knowing that you’re giving them high-quality, informed work, and you can relax knowing you’re on the right track.

6. Take Notes and Repeat Their Answers Back to Them

There are a couple reasons to take notes—the first is practical, the second is to build trust. Besides ensuring you won’t leave anything out or forget what was talked about, taking notes also shows the client that you’re engaged and focused. You’re taking their words seriously. Clients want to be reassured they’re making the right choice in hiring you as much as you do in agreeing to work with them—after all, this is a partnership. You both want the best possible product with the easiest collaborative process.
This is also your chance to employ my favorite client tip ever: say their words back to them. For example:

  • So I’m hearing you say that the Twitter feed is more important to you than the social media links because it’s gotten you more user engagement in the past. Did I get that right?

The point here isn’t to be a parrot—it’s to repeat key takeaways back to your client so that they know you’re listening. While you’re at it, go ahead and write these points down too. If there’s been a miscommunication of any kind, this is a great way for your client to correct you and communicate their expectations in a neutral setting. Everyone wins!

7. Say “Yes,” But Manage Expectations

I’m the first one to tell new coders to always say “yes” and then learn a skill later. This does work to an extent. But if you’ve just learned HTML and CSS and are a tech newbie, it’s probably not a good idea to exclaim with glee that you will code a Rails app. As a compromise, try qualifying your yes’s like this:

  • That sounds doable. I’ll look into it and get back to you.
  • I don’t have experience with image sliders, but I have colleagues who do. I’ll get the scoop on that for you so I can make it work on your site.

When you agree while also conceding that the idea is new to you, the client won’t be shocked if you find that the extra little thing you agreed to is a bit outside of the project scope. Establishing where you stand with certain aspects of the project early on and in person, is a great way to solidify an open, honest relationship that you can both feel good about.

8. Be Aware of Your Body Language

Sure, this meeting is all about exchanging information, but your body language can set the tone for the entire relationship and play a part in the outcomes between you and your new client. For example, if you shrink your shoulders and crouch down while speaking, the client might leave feeling uneasy or unsure. Sit with your shoulders broad and your chin level, and make lots of eye contact while speaking. You don’t need to become a different person, but you should be aware of the tone you’re setting and how you can come across confidently.

9. Dress Professionally, But Not Out of Character

Along those same lines, take care with how you dress for this meeting (another important way to nonverbally communicate your professionalism). You want to look capable of course, but if you don’t normally wear a blazer, don’t come decked out in a business suit. Dress in a way that makes you feel competent and comfortable. If you feel at ease and presentable, it’ll also be easier to feel in control.

Remember, above all, clients just want you to be able to solve their problems. The most important thing that can happen at this is meeting is that your client leaves feeling like you’ve totally got this and that they’ve made the right decision in choosing your services. Taking the time to curate your dress, agenda, conversation, questions, and overall professional tone, to the specific needs of each meeting experience will help you build strong, lasting relationships with freelance clients.

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  7. Imran Replied

    Nice article definitely going to help the new bees

  8. Stephen Replied

    Great tips. I’m a developer too, getting ready for my first client meeting. I’ve been thier webmaster for a few years, but this is the first time face to face on  new project. Using agendas and asking questions are spot on, but I always worry about losing them when I talk about technical stuff. Any tips there?

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