The Meeting

I often think as a freelancer I'm better at getting the work than doing it - I love to sell and I love to close.

So I was going to be in New York anyway, and called up a couple of potential clients and said "hi, I'm Sasha, I work for lots of your competitors, and I know a fair amount about [obscure area of finance]. Do you want to meet?"

They all said yes. Two were professional and arranged a meeting. The third guy, let's call him Jacob, said "gee, we really want to open up in Your-RoPe - that's Europe to you and me - are you looking for an MD job?" He over-pronounced the P in Europe, like Woody Allen in the Early Nightclub Years, although I suspect not ironically.

I said I wasn't looking for a job at all, I do project work, I'm a freelancer, I don't like to be tied down to any one company.

He said let's have lunch.

I didn't want to have lunch, because I was trying to get my meetings at the beginning or end of the day so they didn't break up my valuable shopping/hanging-out time, and so I wouldn't have to wear a suit all day. He insisted we had a lot to talk about, lunch was the only way.

And that's what found me at 30th and like Eighth Avenue in some seedy office block, where I right away knew this wasn't what I was looking for. I take the elevator up to the fifth floor. It's all open plan, cube-farm hell, and wires everywhere. Somewhere between a health and safety nightmare and a really fun place to work.

The woman nearest the door says hi and asks me who I'm here to see. I say Jacob. She calls him, and then turns to me and says, "he'll see you shortly. Take a seat."

I look around and there are no seats. There's no reception. Why waste the overhead? I wander around, looking at the noticeboard (there's $38,000 in the 401k plan and at least 25 cube-rats), and read some old brochures, dating back to 2001. You can download them all off the web anyway, but I pick up a couple to while away the time while I'm kept waiting.

The unreceptionist interrupts my thoughts, and says, "Jake'll see you now." She doesn't tell me anything else, like where his office is, and he doesn't come out to reception, grasp my hand firmly and say "thanks for shlepping from London."

So I find Jake's office, and walk in. He's wearing a headset like he's going to teach an aerobics class, but I proffer my hand anyway, as he's "sent me" in, but he indicates he's talking on the phone. I take a seat and wait. He finishes up his call, and says hi. Like he's better behind a keyboard than real life. We shake hands. Limply. I can't help thinking he's backoffice.

He sees the brochures I've been reading and says: "whered'ya get those? We don't generally let people take those." I resist the urge to say you can download them all off the web, as he snatches them out of my hand. I feel things have started really well. He's matched my corporate trouser suit with a 1992 Citibank funrun t-shirt, and two days of beard. We're clearly on the same page.

"So, Sasha, waddya want?"

I explain that he can outsource research projects to me, and talk him through what I've done for other people. He asks all sorts of commercial-in-confidence questions that I can't answer. He pushes me. I demure. I say I would do the same if I was working for him. He pushes me more. He asks to keep the brochures from my projects, and I say they're my only ones. He looks disappointed.

I wonder if I want to have lunch with this guy. While I'm thinking that, he answers his phone, still wearing his headset, and says "lunch? gimme ten minutes. See you you in the lobby." So I figure, no lunch. Glad I blew out my friends.

He turns to me, clearly wanting to wrap up, as his lunch date's waiting.

"You don't know me, I don't know you," he says, stating the obvious. Like yeah, I'm thinking, that's why we're having a meeting. "All these clients on your resume, they know you. I can't risk a whole project with you if I don't know you. I'm thinking win-win for both of us. How's this? You sell some sponorship, just a couple of clients, on our big event for Your-RoPe for the spring, and I'll give you 25% of whatever you sell."

Now I don't really sell. I brief salespeople, and I put together the content, but I don't sell. And I know he means commission only.

"And what sort of fee would you be looking for, for a project like that?" I ask.

"I can't risk a fee. What if you don't sell anything?"

I explain that all my other client work is fee-based, so I'm going to inevitably spend less time on his project if it's straight commission. It's the truth. He thinks I'm negotiating.

"Tell you what," he counters, "let's call it 35%. No risk for you - we do the venue, logistics, marketing. And you get the feedback from your clients about us, what we're like. It'll be a couple of calls."

"I already have client feedback," I tell him, "people in the market respect you, that's why I approached you." I don't add that his respect rating is spiralling during this conversation.

It's clear that we're not going anywhere, and I'm clear that it's going to be pretty hard to do business with someone who doesn't beleive in the old-fashioned work-money trade. "Why don't you send me a proposal," I say, "and I'll be happy to consider it."

"Great," he says, relieved at a way out.

"Obviously if you want me to sell for you, it would be helpful to have some background on the company - how many events you do, how long you've been in business..."

He looks uncomfortable. "We do a bunch of events. We've got a few people working here. We've been in business for a little while." I wonder how he'd feel if he knew that I know how much is in the corporate 401(K) plan.

"That's really helpful, thanks." I close my notebook, indicating that I want to get the hell out of there. "I look forward to getting your proposal. Thanks for making the time to meet with me." I add the "with" to show how transatlantic I can be.

He gets up from his desk for the first time, to escort me from the building, and he's about six foot six. Not that I mind tall; some of my best friends blah blah blah. I just wish I'd have had some warning, I was a little... surprised. He behaved like an extremely short person.

"You're a very smart girl, Sasha," he says to me. I avoid eye contact, and think about the fact that he's probably ten years younger than me, if a little taller.

Jake walks me out to reception like Daddy Long Legs and shakes my hand by the elevator. While I'm still waiting, he turns away towards the faux-receptionist, and exclaims:

"Why d'you let her take the brochures? You know we don't let brochures out of the office?"

Sasha has left the building.

February 2004

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