By Michael Alter
During busy season it may seem like there are never enough hours in the day, which is a feeling many small business clients may easily relate to any time of the year. Being respectful of a busy schedule can include honing the skill of running an efficient and productive meeting with small business clients.
Given the inherent structure of a small company, small business owners may only discuss payroll, taxes, and other accounting issues with their accountant. During these meetings, it is important to strike a healthy balance between casual conversation that builds the relationship and their trust, while also moving forward in a timely way to start the meeting and work through the agenda.
Handling a client meeting with professional efficiency does not mean ticking through agenda items with military precision. The meeting needs to be handled with efficiency and finesse. Preplanning for your small business client meetings ensures the meeting will be productive and efficiently managed.
Prepare in advance
Developing a meeting agenda template for a small business client meeting will help to ensure all items are addressed, including unfinished business, the exploration of new issues, and handling of repeated regularly managed meeting agenda items. The formality of the agenda is not as critical as simply preparing ahead and developing a written agenda. Communicating and sharing the agenda items that require the client to bring appropriate documentation for the meeting will ensure items can be handled without delay.
Beyond sharing files with clients electronically, advancements in technology have made face-to-face time with clients possible through technologies like Google+ and Skype. Beyond face time, technologies like GoToMeeting and Join.me allow for screen sharing, which means neither party will have to travel for a meeting unless one of the parties prefers face-to-face time over a virtual meeting.
Virtual meeting technology allows you to conduct meetings with clients without either party having to leave the comfort of their office. Both sides will need an Internet connection, headset, and microphone. Having a camera involved on either side is not necessary; it can be more distracting than productive. Some technology is free, such as Google+ for a virtual face-to-face experience and Join.me for screen sharing, and others have a small fee associated with their service.
Rather than assuming clients will embrace virtual meeting technology, during your next face-to-face meeting, or in an e-mail message or mailer, simply ask. "Would you be open to this?" This question is a great lead-in to a discussion on leveraging technology to save time and increase efficiency. If clients are interested and open to leveraging technology, show them how to use it – everyone will benefit with increased productivity over the long haul.
Keep the meeting on track
Keeping a small business client on track in a meeting requires paying attention to the prepared agenda and sticking as close to the agenda as possible. If the client starts to stray off topic, gently guide the client back, or, if the item should be addressed, offer to address the additional item at the close of the meeting or make a note of the item for the next meeting. Staying mindful of how much time you have calendared for the meeting and each item on the agenda will help to ensure the meeting is kept on track and moves forward.
Actively listen, develop a list of action items, and follow up
Actively listening includes taking notes while a client is speaking, making eye contact, asking questions for more clarity, and repeating or rephrasing your understanding of a situation. If issues or questions arise that cannot be immediately resolved, take note and mark your calendar to resolve the issue for the client.
Items will surface that require follow-up action. Take notes and provide the client with a list of what action or documentation is needed. For example, if you need a specific financial statement from the client, make note of this in the client file, mark your calendar to follow up on the item, and write the client a note that lists the financial statement you need.
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About the author:
Michael Alter, payroll expert with an MBA from Harvard Business School, is a nationally recognized spokesperson providing thought leadership and sensible advice to help accounting and payroll professionals build deeper more profitable relationships with clients. Alter, president of SurePayroll, writes the Trade Secrets column on INC.com and is frequently published in Bloomberg TV, Wall Street Journal, and Entrepreneur Magazine.
May 1st 2013