Around 90% of my work as a web programmer occurs via email. I just ran the numbers and I’ve talked on the phone to just 3% of my clients and in person to just one single client. The rest of my work was done strictly through email.
Of the small amount of phone meetings I have with clients, I would label maybe one or two as effective meetings. Most should have been accomplished via email. In fact, I always follow up phone calls with a confirming email so that I have a record of our conversations for future reference. In extreme cases, I’ve actually sat through meetings, afterwards emailing a summary of actions the client said they wanted, only for the client to completely change everything once they saw it in writing, rendering the phone call a waste of time and money.
The trick to having effective meetings is decide if the meeting is necessary after all. Look at the following reasons you think you need to schedule a meeting:
I Have a List of Changes to the Website/Application that I Need to Go Over With You.
Send the list to the designer or programmer and ask them to let you know if they have questions. I do the work from the list you send me, so if you need to be specific, be specific in writing. If you are vague in writing and expect to clarify things in a phone call you’ll be charged for the phone call and the time clarifying what you need done in writing for you to approve before I actually start.
I Have a Question About X.
Ask the question in an email. Most of the time there is an easy answer. If the response you get doesn’t clarify things, then ask for a quick call for clarification.
If You Really Require a Meeting, Have an Agenda.
Send the agenda to the programmer or designer well before the meeting so they can review it and get together any information that may be needed for the call. Group agenda items that involve the programmer or designer and put them at the start of the meeting so that they can leave the meeting when their part is addressed. I once spent two hours on a conference call where I said one sentence. Only one small part of the whole meeting needed my input. The client could have saved 2 hours of billing by just asking me those questions via email instead.
Ask for Meetings to Be Included in the Quote
I keep my project quotes lean by not including time for meetings in the pricing and stating that explicitly on my quote forms. If you expect meetings, make sure you let the programmer or designer know ahead of time so they can be wrapped into your initial quote, otherwise you may be surprised when you receive your invoice.
I’m often surprised by clients who don’t understand why I charge for meetings. Time is a commodity for programmers and designers just like it is for an attorney or an accountant. The time spent in an unpaid meeting is time that could have spent working on a project and getting paid for it. Unpaid meetings reduce a programmer or designer’s income.
Insist on Written Confirmation of Decisions Made in Every Meeting
Anything decided in a meeting should be written down and sent to everyone involved for review. I phrase my confirmations as “Action Steps”, each of which included who is responsible and can be checked off when done and approved. This need not be formal – sometimes just a “Pursuant to our call today, I am going to change the headers on the site to blue” type of email is needed.
Organize your thoughts and questions before scheduling a meeting. You may find that the meeting is unneeded or you can save money by making your questions efficient.