Virtual Assistants: Offering Face-to-face meetings?

Team_work_350x400As a virtual assistant, I try to avoid face2face meetings as much as possible – invariably they take longer than planned, it usually involves travel and the inevitable hold ups and delays.  They don’t always produce great results either – I’ll often have to sit down back at the office and compile an action list based on what we discussed, then have to ask follow up questions of the client, playing phone tag and causing more delay on getting the work done.

Being late is one of my personal bugbears – it always strikes me as being rude because essentially what you are saying is “My time is more important than your time, so I’ll keep you waiting”.  For years in the music industry I endured this stupid ego trip game of keeping people waiting in reception…  No more!

I know a couple of small business owners who are perennially late for meetings – because they’ve packed 5 into one day.  Whilst I value the face-to-face benefits of meetings, I’d question whether they are all necessary.  Wouldn’t we all get more done if we cut out the travel time and increased the effectiveness of meetings?

So here’s my meeting avoidance tactics:

  • Invariably someone will request a meeting, I’ll agree to it but explain that the time is chargeable.  The minute you implement this one change, meetings become a) less necessary and b) more effective.  My time is money, therefore I charge for it.
  • Alternatively I offer them a free phone consultation – we book it in the diary.  Telephone meetings have several advantages over face2face meetings.  They cut out travel time, they still have the formality of allocating diary space to discuss a subject properly, and you have your tools to hand to reference diaries/online resources/files thus eliminating extra follow up work.  If the meeting gets cancelled or rescheduled, then I’m not facing downtime whilst it gets sorted out, I can go straight back to work.
  • If a meeting is necessary, I will draw up a proper agenda and send it to them along with a list of the resources I think I will need.  E.g. if it’s a meeting to discuss marketing widgets, I’ll ask them for previous widget marketing plans to be sent over before the meeting so I can review them beforehand.  The agenda also helps keep everyone on schedule and can sometimes even eliminate the need for the meeting itself as people crack on with preparation before the meeting and have everything to hand so a decision can be made.
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So – how long would you wait for a delayed meeting?  Until the allocated end time?  20 minutes? Perhaps it depends on the importance of the person you are meeting?

Do you try and convert people into working virtually?  If you do one face-to-face meeting, does that set a precedent and will you be dragging yourself over there forevermore? Should VAs have soft skills and tools to make virtual meetings as effective as face2face meetings, or is that impossible?

3 Comments

  1. Yva on 9 August, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Hi Caroline,

    You have some really good, interesting points there. As a start-up, building a network from scratch, and a young business person without X years of experience behind me for instant credibility, I instinctively feel that I should go the extra mile to meet clients face to face and absorb the extra costs that this incurs. So far, I have found it easiest to gain clients and leads through offline networking, followed by ‘meeting for coffee’, as it allows my new contacts to get to know me a little on a personal level and builds trust. I definitely want to reign this in as my business grows and encourage more online or telephone meetings to improve efficiency but, while I still feel like I’m selling on personality, I don’t think I can get away with it (let alone charge for the time!). It’s different if someone comes to me with a specific task or problem that they know I can solve for them, but in terms of establishing long-term relationships, I think this is easier face to face.

    I’d be interested to know what your thoughts are on this and whether you have always had a policy to avoid f2f meetings or if you have achieved this over time? And also whether your policy changes depending on the type of meeting it is?

    Yva

    • Caroline on 9 August, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      Very interesting point – and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do loads of f2f meetings in the early days. They probably helped me feel around and get an idea about what clients were looking for, what their main motivations were, ideas for other projects I could help them with etc.

      However as the business grew, the meetings became a real problem in terms of producing good work for people – I found a lot of people had no intention of actually giving me work but just wanted to maybe talk over their business idea with someone or bounce some ideas around… Which is fine (and sometimes really interesting), but it was taking me away from work which I did get paid for.

      Also, over the past 10 years I’ve noticed a real trend for people being late or cancelling last minute – it seems to be an acceptable business practice now!

  2. Heather Greig on 9 August, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Hi Caroline

    Over the years I have attended a number face-to-face meetings with potential clients which I found were really beneficial as it allowed me to gain an idea of the type of person I was going to work with – of course these were people who had a requirement for long-term on-going work – not just the one-off type of project.

    I find it is not always possible to put everything down on paper that needs to be talked about during the initial meeting and I find that ideas can be better developed during a face-to-face meeting as I will watch their reactions and body-language and adapt the conversation accordingly.

    Of course it is not always practical to have a face-to-face meeting, so as an alternative to spending time travelling to various locations why not look at other options such as Skype. I recently agreed to hold a Skype consultation with a client who was living in Spain – mind you I think I might have preferred a face-to-face meeting for that one!

    I suppose the best option is to look at what works best for your business model.

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