As my success has grown over the years, I’ve had an increasing number of demands on my time and a lot of people seeking to get me to hire them for various purposes. Additionally, I often look for new people to fill specific roles on my team, and as a result have discovered some pretty odd practices for when people are booking that first appointment with me. When you’re booking prospective clients, please, please, please don’t make these three mistakes. And please really don’t make Mistake #3, what I call “The Biggie.”

Mistake #1: Not having a clear agenda for the call

There are usually two reasons why people want to meet with you: a) They think you can help them (meaning: they want to hire you) or b) they think they can help you (meaning: they want you to hire them). The reason is usually pretty clear from the way people contact you. However, on occasion, I get emails like this:
Dear Susan,

I found you on [insert social media site here] and really liked what I saw. I like to get out of the online environment to talk with like-minded people and get to know more about their businesses. Can we schedule a time to chat for 10 minutes or so?

Sincerely, 

Person Who Has A Lot of Time

When pressed, this person usually says that they want to see if there’s a way that you can help each other in business and if you actually do schedule time to talk with them, it won’t be the 10 minutes they asked for and you’ll most likely sit there wondering what the point of this phone call is. I hate these phone calls. I don’t have time for them, they never really result in anything useful, and most of the time it’s really just a guise for someone to try to get me to hire them. Gross.

Instead: Be clear about what you want when booking prospective clients. Set a clear intent from the get-go that isn’t just “get to know you.” Too many people waste far too much time in those “get to know you” conversations. Don’t get me wrong here- I love getting to know people and do it all the time, but I’ve found that the people who “network” in this fashion tend not to be the people who are successful because they’re spending so much time getting to know people and not enough time in clear, directed, productive conversations.

So get to know people online first by studying their status updates and commenting on their blogs or tweets. Then when you’ve gotten to know them enough that you can see if it’s a good fit for you, contact them don’t be vague- really put yourself out there and say, “I’ve been looking at your web site and studying what your services are, and I’ve been following you on [insert social media site here] for awhile. I have a specific idea about how we could work together in a mutually-beneficial way to grow our businesses together.” If you’ve been doing the things I’ve been suggesting here, then the person should know who you are and the request for their time shouldn’t come as a surprise. Plus, your time will be well-spent when you actually do get on the phone.

Mistake #2: Giving too many or not enough time options

Have you ever gotten an email from someone you’re trying to book an appointment with and they give you one time when they can meet? Have you ever had someone suggest about 10 different times when they’re available?

This is a delicate balance. Give too few times when booking prospective clients and you’ll have a back-and-forth conversation that will go on forever while you try to set a time when you can both meet. Give too few times and you’ll not only overwhelm and confuse the other person, but you’ll also make it look like you have a ridiculous amount of free time.

Instead: I’ve discovered that the optimal number is three. I discovered this when my schedule began to get so full that I really could only manage to give out three times most of the time, and that was pushing it. But when you send out three times, you’re really giving the other person enough options that at least one should work, and few enough options that you’re not going to overwhelm them. And trust me- the last thing you want when you’re booking a prospective client is to overwhelm and confuse. You’ll be lucky if you ever hear back from them.

Mistake #3 (The Biggie): Using automation when booking prospective clients

Let me be honest: this mistake is the biggest reason I wrote this article. In the last week I’ve been in contact with three people who I was interested in talking with to see if they are a good fit for my team (meaning: I am looking to hire them). When it came time to set the appointments, two of those people sent me to an automated scheduling system (Timedriver, I’m talking to you).

Want to know who got the job? I hired the person who took the time to choose a few times in her calendar and personally set up a time to meet with me. In being personal with her communications with me, she sent a very clear message that she was interested in my business and she would treat my business (and me) with care. I could see that I would receive good service from her (and our conversation later showed that I was correct in my assessment of her).

When you’re booking prospective clients, do you know how off-putting it is to send someone to an automated scheduling tool? It might be more efficient for you, but it certainly doesn’t make a prospective client feel like you care about him or her. In fact, you’re sending the message that you’re far too busy even to schedule a simple appointment and you’d rather have a robot do it for you. Am I inclined to hire you if that’s the message I’m getting? Probably not.

Instead: Save your automated tools for after you’ve been hired. Honestly? This isn’t about what’s easiest for you. It’s about what’s easiest and most pleasant for your client.

For example, my business coach uses Tungle to book weekly client sessions. At the beginning of the week, he sends out an email to all his clients, and we race to book our sessions on a first come, first serve basis. That doesn’t work for me in my business- I schedule the next week’s sessions at the end of every session- but it works well for him and I never feel put off when I see the Tungle email because when we met for the very first time and I was still a prospective client, he took the time to schedule a meeting with me personally. I didn’t use his automated scheduler until after I was a client.

In summary…

Here’s the essence of what I’m telling you: when you book that first appointment with a prospective client, avoid these three mistakes. Instead, be clear about what you want to talk about, offer three times when you’re available, and don’t use an automated scheduler.