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3. If you aren't 10 minutes early, you're too late

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This is a very old rule of thumb. It was one of the first things I learned when I started my first job out of college.

You always want to plan on getting where you are going, whether it is a meeting two floors up, or across town, at LEAST ten minutes early. If there is risk in the travel, for example when driving downtown, and parking spaces is a constrained resource, you might want to pad the time even more. If you need to setup (for a demo, a projector, etc.) then make sure you are at least an hour early.

Something always happens to need that time. Such as:

  • Weird traffic
  • People who don't know how to move through a metal detector line at the airport
  • Don't know where you are going
  • "Annoying guy in office who never stops talking, regardless if you are on your way to a meeting"
  • Finding the conference room
  • Settling into the room (getting out laptop, etc.)

I knew a PM that would always walk around with his cell phone to his ear when he was busy trying to get to a meeting. This kept people from pulling him aside to chat about something while he was walking by. It was a great idea to use the cell phone as a decoy.

There is another aspect to why you should show up early, and it is more relevant for consultants. Don't ever let your client wait on you, you should always be waiting on them. I have always instinctively known this, but it really clicked when I heard a chef say that when he went into the kitchen to cook, he always started the oven and a pot of water on the stove, even if he didn't know what he was going to cook. He wanted the tools waiting for him, and not the other way around.

Making sure your client doesn't have to wait for you shows that you respect their time and attention. If you show up late, you are saying there are other priorities than them. While there might be other priorities in reality, the client you are with is the most important one at that time.

This extra time helps you settle into the room, meet and greet other people, and get ready to start the meeting ON TIME. The start time of a meeting is when the agenda starts, not when you should walk through the door.

I once showed up to a pitch for a project early. I didn't really expect to win the pitch, but it was a client that we were trying to win in a long term manner. Sometimes that means you need to swing at a bad pitch just to get noticed, hoping they know you later when they are ready for you.

I had showed up to this pitch with my materials and demos about an hour early. I was to demo right after another vendor. While I was sitting and waiting, the client came out and asked me to get started about 45 minutes early. The other vendor was late, hadn't called, so they were going to be skipped.

We won the deal.

Always plan to arrive early, so that you may be ready when you client is.

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