The owner of a homebased business approached me after a speech to ask, "How do I keep clients from coming to my home? I've printed my address on all my materials, but I am raising my children by myself. I need to find some really good places to meet with clients!" When I was raising my young children and working from home as a producer of multimedia presentations and as a writer, I had similar concerns.
The reclusive actress Greta Garbo once said, "I just want to be left alone." In our homebased businesses, especially when children are being, well, simply children, our homes are not "do drop in" zones! We're glad to be available by phone, e-mail, instant messaging and so on.
I believe it starts with attitude. We let them know by our professionalism, even without a sign on our door or a notation on our business cards and brochures, that our office hours are "by appointment only." For persistent door-knockers, though, those visible signs are warranted.
When I appear by phone on radio interview programs, I post a bold sign on my door: "Please do not ring the bell or knock as I am in a remote radio interview and can't be disturbed. Thanks!"
Where To Meet
To solve the dilemma of where to hold client meetings, here are my favorite nontraditional places. I know they work because I've used 'em all!
Luxury solution: When your budget can handle it and you want to really make a powerful impression, you can rent a super-prestigious office by the day or half-day. I rented one just steps from New York's Grand Central Station and had an excellent experience. The companies that rent these offices can even make a sign for your company, and no one would be able to tell that this isn't your regular office. It's fully equipped (mine even had fresh flowers), and the staff is trained to make you and your guests feel at ease.
Mid-priced solution: Executive meeting space companies, such as HQ Global Workplaces and Regus, have recognized the need for small businesses and road warriors to have attractive offices available on short notice. Do a search engine query on "executive meeting space rental" plus the location where you want to meet, and you'll find lots of offerings. Kinko's, the copy center company recently acquired by FedEx and now renamed FedEx Kinko's, offers videoconferencing. In the past it has also offered the use of those rooms for meetings as well.
Depending on your community, you may find hotels that rent their small conference rooms affordably. When they know you are a local business owner who will also be a repeat customer, they can negotiate lower rates than they would quote during the first inquiry about rates.
Nearly free solutions: Starbucks offers more than coffee: Those plush chairs are comfortable environments for talking business while sipping java. Nonchain Internet-friendly locations are also sprouting up, offering eclectic food and snack choices.
Bookstores are great, too. Barnes & Noble and Borders are expanding their wireless capabilities. To find an independent bookstore, check out BookSense.com-it lists more than 1,100 independent bookstores eager for your business. Many adopted Wi-Fi early on and recognized its ability to lure small-business owners in for visits.
And there's always Dunkin' Donuts or even McDonald's. And before you laugh, remember that McDonald's now offers Wi-Fi in some of its urban restaurants.
Rock-bottom free: Public libraries are often overlooked places to meet for quality conversations with clients. Some also have small conference rooms available.
The irony of getting out of our houses to meet with clients in public places is that often we find new prospective clients there as well. How's that for a delicious extra benefit?