Below, I posted a mock conversation that helps me deal with potential clients who insist on meeting me in person. When it's obviously a big client like Fortune 500, and the contact's title and authority are verifiable, hell yeah, I'll meet in person, and maybe even put on a tie! More often than not, however, there is nefarious intent or a cultural difference in expectations for in-person first meetings...which would be forgivable except that after 16 years of consulting, those meetings consistently leave me feeling used (especially when they buy me lunch)... which means cultural differences or not, it isn't innocent... it's a practiced behavior that has likely been very successful for them and they're good at getting stuff for free.
If my attempts to get them to meet remotely fail, I know my answer and change my tone to "firm". If the potential client is real, they are more likely to respect you for having a spine than they are to dismiss you for not playing by their rules. If the latter, it's likely that they're just pissed that they can't get you to sit down with them and give them free consulting for the price of lunch. If the former, I can tell you that I've gotten more signatures on proposals by being firm and adhering to my own personal standard than by pandering or allowing myself to be used. Demand respect and you'll get it.
Client: Let’s meet for lunch so I can tell you about my concept and meet you in person
Me: I’d love to learn more about your project! As a national company, it isn’t practical for me to schedule in-person meetings, so all of our first discussions are remote. Are you available on Tuesday at 1pm? I can send a Zoom link or call you on the phone.
Client: No but I really need to put my eyes on you.
Me: Unfortunately, I don’t take in-person exploratory meetings. It is vital that I learn more about your project and for you to learn more about our fees and how we work, however, we can accomplish this in a 15-to-30-minute video or phone call.
Client: But, you see, I don’t do business with anyone I don’t meet face to face.
Me: Frankly, this is a red flag for me. When a potential client wants to meet in person for lunch or to put eyes on me, it invariably morphs into a working session where they share details of their project in hopes of gleaning valuable information on the feasibility or direction of their project. I learned long ago not to do free working sessions. Working sessions with me, the principal of the company, are $1,500 paid upfront for up to 4 hours. I’d be happy to meet you for a working session. To get you a proposal for this we should have at least a brief call.
If this doesn't work, it's time to walk away... Horse Whisperer style. If they come back, you got em.
Me: I appreciate your tenacity and would love to help you. Please let me know when you're ready to schedule a video or phone call. I look forward to hearing from you. (read: "no, you pushy arse... I ain't driving across town so you can waste my time squeezing me for free information. Call me when you're serious")