When should writers meet clients face-to-face? Almost never.

Meetings and travel impair productivity.

Writing, editing, revising, and research are all activities better conducted solo. The presence of others is a detriment.

Tools like Google Sheets, Google Docs, and Microsoft Word Track Changes make it possible to collaborate virtually and asynchronously.

It’s a good idea to meet regularly with clients to discuss your work, communicate intent, and make course corrections. But that’s typically quite effective across videoconferencing tools like Zoom. You can boost the effectiveness by including “why I did this” type comments on drafts and edits, so that everyone comes to the video meeting with as much understanding of context as possible.

When in-person meetings make sense

Despite these challenges, there are times when you should set up and conduct meetings in-person.

In the last 12 months, I’ve had exactly three face-to-face meetings with clients. All involved travel to the clients’ locations. And all were extremely worthwhile. Not coincidentally, they shared these attributes:

  • The contracts were in place. In each case, the clients had committed to a significant-sized project and made an up-front payment. Either the client had agreed to pay for my travel, or the meeting was in a location where I already had a visit planned. And these weren’t pitch meetings. I’d rarely travel to pitch a project (and the one time I did, I struck out).
  • This was my kickoff meeting with the client. This was my chance to make an impression on them, and to better understand their needs, at the start of the project.
  • There were multiple people from the client present. One-on-one meetings on video are almost as effective as in person. But when there are several people on the client side, I want to see how they interact. What can I learn from watching the primary client? How do they interact with the rest of the team? If there are multiple authors, what is the dynamic between them? Those dynamics are tough to observe on a video call.
  • The client dedicated significant time to the meeting. Two of the meetings were kickoffs for ghostwriting projects; one was the start of an idea development project for two authors. Because they knew I was coming in person, they were willing to dedicate several hours to tasks like presenting content, identifying themes, answering my questions, and understanding my process. As a result, the project made significant progress during the day. It’s very hard to get clients to dedicate that kind of time unless the meeting takes place in person.
  • This was the project’s only planned in-person meeting. The rest of the project would be conducted with video meetings. Unless something goes horribly wrong, I won’t need to meet in-person with these clients again.

Put those reasons all together, and the in-person meeting is a high-value activity that’s well worth the inconvenience of travel. Those meetings were worth it. For writers, most other meetings aren’t.

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