I make no bones about my dislike of meetings -- not because I don’t like talking to people, I actually enjoy that. But because most meetings are crap. There’s no agenda, they go on forever and most of them could have been an email. That’s so common that there are memes and coffee mugs about it. I’ve sat in more meetings about meetings or meetings to prepare for other meetings than I care to remember. I once sat in a 2-hour staff meeting where my boss actually READ PRINTED EMAILS to us.
Meetings are also a major limiting growth factor for any service business owner. They can’t be easily delegated or streamlined, and they suck the time right out of your schedule. They take as long as they take. In a meeting, an hour of work produces an hour of value, probably less. Unlike when you're doing work and the better you are at your work, the more value you can produce in an hour.
If the name of the game is to work less and still grow, ya gotta pay attention to what you actually do every day. If you're following the conventional script about how to work with clients, you probably spend most of your day in meetings.
That’s an easy way to put a ceiling on your potential for growth. Because clients have to meet with you, and you only have so many hours in a day.
So your choices are:
- Spend a bunch of time, money and energy trying to train someone to be you and take over some of the client meetings.
- Max out your day by packing in as many meetings as you can
But then when do you actually get any work done or have a freaking life?
It’s pretty easy to streamline the scheduling of meetings with tools like Calendly or Acuity. But that's really just a more efficient way of putting even more meetings on your calendar.
What about either limiting meetings, or opting out of them altogether? What if instead of a week full of back-to-back meetings, you did your work and managed your team? What if instead of managing the endless schedule juggling routine you just... didn't?
Give Yourself Permission
For starters, throw out your assumption that client meetings are required, or even expected. Just because that’s the way you've always done it, doesn’t mean that you need to keep doing it that way.
Your clients are busy, too. They don’t want to waste their day in meetings with you, either. Especially if your meetings aren’t all that effective at delivering that punch of value. Your clients want you to do your job well and let them know what you need from them to make it happen. So, if you think clients are expecting meetings and that’s your excuse for trying to cling to them, think again.
They hired you for the value you're going to deliver, not because they love staring at your face on Zoom. So, if you develop an effective way to deliver that value, and you explain your process to your clients, they won't miss the meetings. Guarantee it.
So, you officially have permission to throw the meeting rule book out the window and start fresh. If meetings were off the table and not even an option, how would you go about working with your clients? What would that look like for you and your business?
High-Touch Doesn't Equal High-Value
I get it. You’re a “high-touch” agency and your clients “expect” meetings. But let me push you a little here.
Yes, meetings are high-touch. Yes, you want to deliver an amazing experience to your clients.
But high touch doesn't necessarily mean high value.
Software sales guys are high touch. They'll email you 10 times a day, wanting to book a call, or "help you out". That's high touch, but it's damn annoying. And delivers no value.
So, just because you're touching, doesn't mean you're delivering value. And the goal is to deliver value.
You can create a fantastic customer experience without ever sitting in a meeting. Clearly explain your process. Describe the steps that will happen along the way. Create client touchpoints that are less invasive and more effective. Show them you've got your shit together with your very clear process and that's WAY more valuable than a meeting.
Shitty meetings aren't high touch, they're a pain in everyone's ass.
Match Your Communication Method To The Communication
Sometimes, we stick with meetings because we're too lazy to pick a better method. Meetings are expected, so meetings are what they're gonna get, right?
Now, don’t get me wrong -- there is definitely a time and a place for meetings. When you need to collaborate or when you know there will be questions or back-and-forth, sometimes a meeting might be the best choice.
But make sure you're clear on why first. Why are you communicating something and what are you accomplishing?
Are you trying to get information from them?
Are you trying to tell them what’s happening?
Do you need to have a real back-and-forth conversation about something?
Or are you just trying to let them know you’re still working on the stuff?
Once you're clear on the why and the what, you can figure out the best method to communicate that information. (Bet ya fifty bucks, it's not a meeting)
Here are two examples of classic client meetings, the project kickoff, and the status update -- and how I think about this process.
The Project Kickoff
The point of a project kickoff meeting is to introduce your team and how you'll work together. Things like project details and schedules. But is a meeting really the best way to give a client that information?
They have to take notes, or try to remember names and positions. You have to remember to tell them everything and keep to your agenda. And you probably follow up with an email after, with all those details anyway.
So, maybe a meeting isn't the best communication method. What if you skipped the meeting, and sent that email? You could include a thorough explanation of your process, your team, the schedule. They have the email to look back at if they forget something. You can standardize the information, so you don't have to type it out each time. And then each client gets the same high-quality information.
With an email, neither one of you will waste an hour on a call. And everyone gets the documentation of how the project will go forward. Client still gets the information they need. You can ask for the information you need from them (and they have a handy list right there to help them complete it).
The Status Update Meeting
Let’s look at another bane of meetings everywhere -- the recurring update meeting.
There are SO many more effective ways to communicate where a project is than a meeting. This is the quintessential coulda-been-an-email situation.
Do you really need to meet face-to-face to tell them what you've accomplished this week? Or what you're going to do next week?
Send them a quick email update if it’s just a list of things you’ve done.
Include a video if you want to make it even faster than writing (and have a human touch).
Give them access to your project management system or slack channel. Then they can SEE where you are on the project (and you can communicate back and forth in real-time). Which means faster movement on your project. And faster results = better value for your client.
An added bonus is that switching to some of these communication methods will force you to standardize your process. If you take this opportunity to turn your processes and services into a standardized delivery, you’ll see an immediate drop in the amount of admin and communication work you need to do.
Here are some communication methods to consider using to replace meetings. Don’t feel like you need to limit yourself to just one -- play around, mix and match. The goal is to use the best communication method for each touchpoint.
Alternative Communication Methods
This is probably the easiest method to replace a meeting. You’re already using it to communicate with clients, most likely. But when you're using it to replace a meeting, you have to up your clarity game. In order for email to replace a good meeting, you have to pre-emptively answer their questions.
So, when it comes to something like onboarding, make sure you’ve got all the details laid out.
- How are you going to work together?
- What’s the schedule look like?
- What do you need from them (and by when) to succeed and to stick to the timeline?
- When can they expect to hear from you next?
You can even take this to the next level and use your email marketing platform to send a scheduled welcome sequence with all the basics. Once you’ve got the details standardized, then you can add them to this list and all your onboarding information is taken care of. And just because it’s automated, it doesn’t need to be boring or generic. Make ‘em fun and give ‘em a bit of personality, but make sure you’re being clear.
You can also use emails to replace a weekly status update meeting. If you can say it in a meeting, you can say it in an email.
If you like the idea of email, but you want to personalize it a little bit (and make sure they see your face every once in a while), videos are a great way to go. You can make a quick update on Loom, Soapbox, Vidyard, etc. and send it along in an email. It can replace anything you’d send in a written email.
It’s best for communication that they won’t want to refer back to, though. Videos are a great touch-point. But it can be annoying to have to go back through the video several times to figure out what tasks to do.
Project Management Tools
Another option is to give your clients access to your project or task management system. Instead of updating them in a meeting or an email, they can login and see the progress.
You can assign them tasks that they need to complete. Or have a back-and-forth discussion about how to proceed on a particular task.
You might be a little hesitant about this one because of the transparency. But with good project management tools, you can control what they see (and what they don’t). So you can have those internal task lists, and still give clients access to what they need. As a bonus, you get to keep all the conversation, tasks, and project details all in one place -- which will help both you and your team be more efficient.
If you’re going to use this method, though, I would encourage you to use it for ALL communication (or at least most of it). You might use an onboarding email to give them access and explain how to use the system. Then all the rest of the communication should happen IN the system.
Some of my favorite project management tools that have good client/guest access and communication tools built-in are: ClickUp, Notion, and BaseCamp.
If you don't want to include your clients in your project management tool (or it doesn't make sense for the work you do), try using an internal communication tool, like Slack or Twist.
This creates a channel where you can have back-and-forth conversations just like you would in a meeting - but they happen in near real-time. So you’re not sitting around waiting for the meeting to happen before you can take action. AND you document the conversation in case either one of you has to go back to it.
If you’re working one-on-one with a client (like coaching, etc.) you might consider using a tool like Voxer, which is a voice and text chat tool. We did a great episode of the podcast all about using Voxer with clients.
These kinds of tools can keep communication all in one place and open a channel for more immediate conversation. You can move projects forward faster than you would have if you were waiting on the meeting to happen.
Are most of your meetings are just training your clients on the same stuff, over and over? Or are you always answering the same questions? Think about developing a training library or list of resources that you can provide.
Once you develop these, the possibilities for uses are pretty much endless. But you only have to spend the time to create them once and then you can use them over and over. Include them in your welcome sequence or put them on your website as FAQs. You could even develop an actual course that you give clients access to.
You can even use these resources to train your client on how to be a great client. My favorite example of this is Lead Cookie. They actually use a Kajabi training course to help onboard new clients. But they also make sure that you know how the service works and how to get the most value out of working with them.
These resources add value for your clients and establishes you as an expert in your field. They can get access to the question they have whenever they have it (instead of waiting of a meeting). It reinforces that you KNOW them and their kind of business because you’re able to provide answers before they even ask the question.
Creating training resources has a big front-end commitment. You’ll spend some time developing good resources. But you only have to do it once and then you can reuse the information with each new client. And it'll save you a ton of time typing the same answers to the same questions (or sitting in meetings).
Maybe you DO want to provide an opportunity for clients to ask live questions. So, you might consider creating office hours. Consolidate all those individual client meetings into a single group meeting. There’s a specific time available for folks to show up, ask their questions and get answers. You can even record the sessions and make them available in your training library.
This is especially effective if you happen to work with businesses all in the same niche or industry. Office hours can function as a mini-mastermind. You don't have to be the only one answering questions, other folks can chime in, based on their own experiences.
This style doesn’t make sense for every business, but when it works it can be extremely effective - for you AND your clients.
Parker Stevenson approached this by turning client calls into office hours and creating a training library. And Greg Hickman created a Done-With-You service where he teaches his clients to do what he does.
Ok, so this might be kind of cheating because these are technically meetings, but they’re concentrated and with a purpose.
Intensive style meetings can take many different forms. The basic idea is that you compress all the meetings you were going to have over weeks or months into a day or a few days. You filter out all that fluff you would have from status update meetings or kickoff calls or weekly emails. And you get the same project that would have taken weeks or months and you do it in a very short time frame.
Intensive style meetings work well for projects where you need collaboration from the clients. They hold the information and you need to get it from them. Having an intensive style keeps projects contained and on schedule instead of dragging out endlessly.
You deliver a big punch of value in a short amount of time, which helps everyone. Clients get results faster (and often better). You know exactly how long you’ll spend on a project, and you both finish fast. Win-Win.
But, how you implement the intensive style has a lot to do with the type of work you do and your own work style. The sky’s the limit in what you do with the idea that you want to compress your project.
I do this with my workflow intensives, where I take one project and execute it in one day. Pia Silva does something similar with her one-day BrandUps.
Hailey Thomas created the Worktreat. It's a weekend intensive (with spa time). Ashley Gartland has specific project types, based on project goals for her intensives.
We all followed a similar process to create our own style of intensives. We thought about the work that had to get done. What could you drop from the project completely? Things like status updates could be completely eliminated. You don't need to update anyone because you're all working the project together, and no time has passed.
We also all thought about how to create a structure around the work, so we can move efficiently through the process. And everyone tailored the style and length of their intensive to their unique work style and project type.