Holding client meetings when running a home business

Nothing says unprofessional quite like a sink full of plates or the sounds of arguing children. Can you really hold successful client meetings when your office is also your home? This guide outlines the best and worst places to have meetings when running a home-based business.

When you can, avoid holding meetings at home. Though views are changing, it's not uncommon for potential customers to view home business owners as 'not successful enough' to own office space. Obviously this is not the case, as there are a number of benefits to starting your business from home. But this opinion can still negatively affect your company, so think twice before inviting clients to your house

The ideal solution for most meetings is not to host at all, and offer to go to your client. Make sure, however, the travel costs don't outweigh the benefits of this choice. Would a conversation on the phone suffice?

Meetings at your home should be reserved for people you know well. Set up a designated space for your discussion, containing a comfortable place to talk, in a well lit, un-cluttered room. Ensure the location is quiet and you won't be distracted: consider holding the meeting when children are at school, and anyone else is at work.

Meeting clients outside the home

Fortunately, there are a multitude of alternative locations available to you. These range from those that don't cost a penny, to the downright expensive, meaning you can choose what works best for your client, and your budget. Good places to hold business meetings include:

  • Libraries - A library may not seem the most obvious place to have a meeting: almost all of us have been shushed by a librarian at some point in our lives. But many libraries have private (sound-proof) rooms, which can be reserved and used for free. The British Library Business & IP Centre has a designated networking area where you can hold your meetings. If you're on a tight budget this can be the perfect choice.
  • A coffee shop - Because almost all coffee shops are equipped with wifi, all you need to bring with you are your laptop and phone. They tend to get busy, however, and the professional atmosphere can be lost if you're constantly having to repeat yourself to be heard, or can't find anywhere to sit. Plan ahead and pick somewhere you've checked has plenty of space at the time you'll be meeting. Coffee shops are better for informal catch-ups rather than full-scale meetings.
  • Restaurants - Buying someone lunch can be a great way to impress, but it can also prove expensive, and send out the message that you've got money to burn. However, it is worth it for important clients. Noise could prove to be an issue, however, which is why it's again important to plan ahead.
  • Rent office space - Renting an office meeting room for the whole day or by the hour gives the benefit of privacy. Clients will also appreciate you've gone to the trouble of booking a serious, professional space to talk. Prices for renting meeting rooms start from around £35 per person for half of the day. Regus are key providers of office space, so be sure to visit their site. Meetingvenues also offer a number of spaces for a variety of prices.
  • Hotel conference room - A meeting in a hotel conference room can also create a professional atmosphere. You can choose from a variety of places, with one to suit almost any budget. Renting a meeting room in a Premier Inn, will cost around £50, which includes tea and coffee. If you've got the capitol, though, consider somewhere like Rydges Kensington Hotel in London, which charges £200 to rent one of their rooms for the day, a price which also includes refreshments.

To find hotel meeting rooms in your area, visit meetingsbroker.com, a great site because they almost always have someone ready to help via instant messenger.

  • A business club - Alongside providing great working environments, joining a business club gives you the ability to bring clients there for meetings. The staff will assist you in any way they can, and being a member gives your company a professional image. The membership costs of these clubs vary. One Alfred Place, a prestigious business club in London has annual membership price tag of £1,500. Adam Street members club, alternatively, offer a place to work in the day and party at night for an annual membership price of £495 or less depending on where you live. Membership to London's Soho House costs around £600 per year, whereas the Hospital Club ask for £550 or less annually depending on your location. Manchester's St James' club provides a great place to both work and meet clients, but the only way to find prices is to apply for membership!

They can be expensive to join, but a business club is also a great place to make contacts, so if you can afford it, they're worth the price.

Bad places to meet clients

  • Pubs - First meetings, or those of particular importance, should never be held in a pub. It looks unprofessional, and can become stressful if anyone drinks too much. Pubs can be used for informal chats, but nothing more.
  • A fast food restaurant - Not only will the smells and noise be distracting, but the location gives out a distinct message: "I have no money".
  • Your bedroom - If your 'office' is also your bedroom, don't bring clients there. It will make people feel uncomfortable, especially if one or more of you have to resort to sitting on the bed.

The golden rule

How you use the information in this guide all revolves around your knowledge of the client. Where are they going to be happiest? Ask them if they'd prefer a chat over lunch, or a cup of coffee. It's also up to you to decide which location will be appropriate for which type of meeting you're having. Is it an informal catch up, a sales pitch, a talk about collaboration, or a meeting to discuss existing business? Choosing the right location for different types of meeting is key to success.

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