— July 15, 2019
How often should your agency meet with clients? Albert Einstein ostensibly said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
For agencies, my version would be: “Client meetings should be as frequent as necessary… but not more-frequent.”
Why? Every agency has a unique combination of Values, Goals, and Resources (VGR)—and each client has their own VGRs, too.
The right client meeting frequency depends on a range of factors—and it’s not just about budget. Here’s what one agency owner asked me:
“Over time I’ve gone from on-demand meetings to daily standups and everything in between—weekly, biweekly, and monthly. Is there a standard guideline in this area? I sense there’s a balance since ‘no meetings’ means you lose the opportunity to demonstrate value and discover new revenue opportunities. But too many meetings means you have tons of agendas, meeting notes, and non-productive time that you could use in better ways.”
Let’s look at seven factors to help you decide on client meeting frequency, along with 10 examples and my tips to help you apply this at your agency. Note that I consider pre-scheduled phone and video calls to be “client meetings” (since you’re likely billing for them). Basically, if there’s an agenda—or it should have an agenda—it’s a “client meeting.”
My 7 factors to decide how often to meet with your clients
I recommend creating a standard operating procedure (SOP) on how often to meet—but sometimes you’ll want to vary from the SOP.
Here are my seven factors to consider, to help you choose the right meeting frequency for each client (for the SOP and for variances):
- Total Budget: Bigger budgets permit more meetings; smaller budgets permit fewer. A tiny client can’t afford weekly meetings, especially if you need to bring multiple people from the agency.
- Budget Remaining: When there’s a smaller budget left, you want to be careful… but not too stingy, since you risk creating bigger problems if you don’t manage the client’s expectations.
- Deliverable Cadence: Don’t skip milestone meetings when you share major deliverables, especially if they’re likely to be misunderstood if you just “email them over.” This will change over time, too—sometimes you’ll want to meet more often, and other times the client needs more time between meetings to do their “homework.”
- Problem Prevention: If the client relationship is in trouble, don’t skimp on meetings—but also recognize that an unhappy client rarely shifts from unhappy to “meh” to happy; in my experience, unhappy clients usually don’t get happier than “meh” or “neutral.”
- Agency Attendance: How many people from the agency need to attend? It’s different if the core meeting is one or two agency people versus four agency people; you can also choose to bring fewer people to certain meetings, if appropriate.
- Client Neediness: What’s the client’s personality and sense of urgency? How important is this engagement to the client’s business? How often do they say they want to meet?
- Upsell Cycle: Are you looking to negotiate an upsell now or in the near future? An extra meeting might help.
Beyond that, you need to consider what you promised in your marketing and during the sales process—fulfilling those commitments is important, unless shifting client circumstances prompt negotiating a change. (And if you find you’re regularly over- or under-committing before clients start, now’s the time to fix that!)
Let’s look at some example combinations, to help you make the right client meeting frequency decisions for your agency.
10 scenarios on how often to meet with clients
Here are 10 sample scenarios to help you decide how often to meet with specific clients, including both retainers and projects.
Example #1: “Standard” client with a moderate budget
The client has a moderate budget (based on what’s mid-sized for your agency). They’re relatively engaged, but not too needy. You’ve passed the strategy deep-dive; you’re primarily executing, with some ongoing strategy adjustments.
Meeting Frequency Recommendation: Monthly meetings, ideally with weekly-ish status updates. Try to get your client’s boss in the monthly meeting—or at least the meetings after each quarter-end—so they’re in the loop on what you’re doing.
Example #2: Needy client with a big budget
The client’s a bit of a control freak, but they also have a big budget to cover more-frequent meetings. You’re OK with their neediness because you like them otherwise… and they’re always glad to pay for things.
Meeting Frequency Recommendation: Weekly or biweekly meetings, plus weekly status updates via your PM system. Negotiate specifics with the client, and then be sure you meet your commitments every time—missing them once erodes client trust.
Example #3: Needy client with a small budget
The client’s anxious about your progress. You’ve realized that if your agency doesn’t get results, they’re worried about getting fired themselves. But they don’t have a huge budget—they’re one of your smallest clients, yet it seems like they think the budget is enormous.
Meeting Frequency Recommendation: Have a sit-down with them to discuss expectations. Acknowledge they’re concerned, but reinforce that their budget covers only [monthly] meetings and that you can’t bring everyone from the agency to each meeting. Dig in to understand what’s really going on, to see how you can meet their needs without spending their entire monthly budget on meetings and status reports.
Example #4: Agile Scrum client during 2-week sprints
You’re doing a development or marketing project in two-week Agile Scrum sprints. During the sales process and kickoff, you reinforced that stakeholders must participate in daily standup meetings.
Meeting Frequency Recommendation: Do daily standups—plus the sprint demo—and encourage (or require) client participate in sprint planning and sprint retrospectives. But remember that standups are supposed to be short. If they constantly run long, consider whether the client needs an additional meeting or if the client needs a reset.
Example #5: “Waterfall” client shifting from design to development
During the project, you’re shifting from the strategy and design phase to development. You’re working on primarily a “waterfall” (rather than Agile) basis, so it can be several weeks or even a month between your client-facing deliverables.
Meeting Frequency Recommendation: Schedule meetings around each deliverable. Manage the client’s expectations about what happens if you need to delay a meeting due to deliverable progress (for instance, their CEO shouldn’t plan to fly-in for a meeting six months away just because the project plan says there’ll be a milestone then). Include status updates between milestones, so that clients don’t wonder about your progress; remember, no one likes [bad] surprises.
Example #6: Client’s boss regularly reappears for “swoop & poop“
Your day-to-day client contact is fine, but their boss veers from ignoring your work (most of the time) to randomly appearing for a “swoop & poop” (where they deposit negative feedback and then fly away, leaving you and their underling to clean up the mess). It’s like they weren’t aware of all the decisions you and your day-to-day contact made… which is probably accurate.
Meeting Frequency Recommendation: Have a heart-to-heart with your day-to-day contact. Odds are their boss does this annoying behavior in other areas, too. Your goal is to reverse-engineer why the boss is doing the swoop & poop. Sometimes this means getting the boss engaged more often, sending them advance updates, or building the schedule to assume pauses to wait for feedback. This may also require training your contact on how to “manage up” with their boss. Weigh the ROI on doing this complicated relationship work—but if your agency wants to work with enterprise clients, understand that “navigating client politics” is part of the job.
Example #7: Dis-engaged client shifting to maintenance mode
After completing the initial development project—which was like pulling teeth—the client wants you to handle maintenance. They’ll occasionally submit “need help” support tickets—but most of the maintenance is likely things your team handles directly (like plugin and security updates).
Meeting Frequency Recommendation: Quarterly meetings plus monthly status updates. The client might even decline meeting quarterly; you’ll have to decide if that’s OK. I recommend insisting on meetings if you know a maintenance update is likely to create significant website or application downtime, so your client can coordinate internally.
Example #8: Client reappears occasionally for “on-demand” projects
A long-time client has you do annual campaigns or updates—or perhaps they reappear randomly every few months—but they otherwise don’t really need your help. They always pay on time, but you’ll regularly go months without billing them anything.
Meeting Frequency Recommendation: Schedule a planning and logistics meeting before each new project, to help you understand and then schedule the work. Reinforce that since they’re not on a retainer, you need to schedule them around what you’ve committed to do for retainer clients. (And in general, decide if your agency wants to handle this kind of infrequent work. That will depend on your workload.)
Example #9: Client is frequently past-due on their invoices
The client needs ongoing help, but they’re regularly late on their monthly retainer or hours-billed payment.
Meeting Frequency Recommendation: Monthly meetings… but note that you’ll need to pause work—including deferring a meeting—if they become past-due. Assuming the client wants your help, this should get them paid-up. Here’s my advice on agency collections.
Example #10: Client keeps calling or emailing for between-meeting updates
You’re doing regular meetings, but the client keeps asking what’s going on. It seems like you’re already keeping them updated, but it’s like it’s never enough.
Meeting Frequency Recommendation: Apparently not often enough. It’s time for a sit-down with the client to ask how you might better meet their needs… and then balance their request with what the budget and your team can handle. The solution may involve more-frequent meetings and/or more-frequent status updates, or perhaps something else. But you won’t find the right answer ’til you understand their underlying concerns.
Anything else to consider? Yup—read on!
And a few more tips…
Whatever frequency you choose, be sure to follow my 3 rules for better client meetings—have an agenda, send a recap, and send followups to confirm progress on post-meeting actionables.
Remember also that you need internal meetings to prepare for—and debrief from—the client-facing meetings. People like to make fun of the idea of “the meeting about the meeting,” but those internal pre-meetings are important—otherwise, your team risks looking uncoordinated at the external client meeting. And internal post-meetings are often important, too, especially if the relationship has gotten rocky.
How often should you be in the meeting as the agency owner or leader? Ideally as little as possible, at least on a day-to-day basis. You’ll want to change the team structure as you grow, to help make yourself “needed but not necessary.”
Outside of the billable meetings, you also have non-billable “social” meetings—where you’re in town and meet for coffee, lunch, or dinner. You’ll touch on some business, but they’re more about relationship-building than billables. (And this is a case where being the owner or senior leader can “count” more than your account manager doing the meeting.)
Question: What’s your agency’s standard client meeting frequency?