How to ditch time-wasting “coffee dates” once and for all
We’ve all felt the lure of that seductive question that seems to indicate a burning desire to know more about our fascinating business:
Why don’t we get together over coffee?
Such an unassuming little question. Such a seemingly great networking idea.
Such an amazing waste of time.
Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh. Not all coffee dates fall into this category, but, unfortunately, most of them do. I’d bet money that you can attest to this from painful personal experience. Once you clear your calendar, confirm the arrangements, travel to the coffee shop, wait for the other person if s/he’s late, engage in chitchat, eventually talk about your respective businesses, and travel back to your office….you’ve invested an enormous amount of your precious, limited time. Do you typically see a return on this investment?
I thought not.
Having said all that, I personally love meeting with people face to face, and I continue to do so. You can do the same; it’s just important to make sure that you meet on your terms and under conditions that respect the needs of your schedule and your business. Here’s how to do that:
Be prepared to say “no”.
Before heading off to any networking event, prepare a handful of professional, respectful ways to decline someone’s coffee invitation.
A gracious refusal could sound something like this: “That’s a lovely invitation; thank you. My out-of-office time is pretty scarce, so I’d like to counter-offer: What if we set up a 20-minute phone call, instead? That way we can both learn enough to be resources for each other, and still be able to jump right back in to our To Do lists.”
Make “no” your default response, to be changed to “yes” only if the person and situation meet certain clear criteria (see below).
Know what will make a coffee date worth your while.
When you have clear decision-making criteria, it’s easy to use those as a way to evaluate your brief initial conversation at the conference/seminar/luncheon/networking event. By listening with these criteria in mind, you’ll know when it’s in your best interests to spend time in further, face-to-face discussions.
While it’s totally up to you to decide what those criteria are, they may include one or more of the following:
- Is this person my ideal client?
- Do I see real potential for a mutually advantageous strategic alliance or joint venture (JV) partnership?
- Are we geographically close enough so as not to spend too much time in travel?
- Can I clearly identify the outcome I want as a result of meeting with them personally?
Planning and productivity go hand in hand.
Prepare for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
If you’re confident that you can benefit from a face-to-face meeting, plan how to make every minute count.
- Prior to the actual meeting, confirm via email or by phone that you’re planning to meet for X minutes. This puts both of you on notice that there’s no time to be wasted talking about the weather or Hollywood’s latest wild child.
- Prepare an outline about what you want to (a) learn from the other person and (b) share with him/her about your own business. This outline could be either mental or written, although I typically prefer the latter.
- Allow enough travel time to allow for traffic, construction delays, a misbehaving GPS, or other inconveniences. (This is probably the one I screw up most consistently. Perhaps in this one circumstance I ought to err on the side of pessimism…)
- Once you’re seated, remove your watch and set it on the table, or place your silenced phone where both of you can see the time display. This will remind you both of your commitment not to let the conversation ramble.
- Know in advance what your final call to action will be. Do you want to do a formal proposal for a JV partnership? Be regular guest bloggers on each other’s sites? Hire her as a service provider? Have him hire you? Then be sure you allow enough time to share that CTA with your conversational partner.
Keep your bridges in good repair.
Regardless of the actual outcome of the meeting, ensure that the other person leaves with a highly favorable impression of you as someone very much worth knowing.
- Consider placing yourself head and shoulders above almost every other person they’ve ever had coffee with: Send a hard-copy thank you card.
- Offer to send them the irresistible free offer posted on your website; ask if you could receive their IFO.
- If it’s a good fit for you, follow them on Twitter, invite them to connect on LinkedIn or follow you on Twitter, suggest you both subscribe to the other’s RSS feed for blog postings.
See? With just a bit of prep work and a clear understanding of your important business goals, you’ll find it easy to stop wasting time with coffee dates that benefit no one except the owner of the coffee shop.
What other tactics do you use to maintain a high level of productivity and a decreased stress level? How do you manage your activities (often unhelpfully referred to as “time management”) to ensure your business thrives?
Or are you one of the many entrepreneurs for whom high levels of productivity remain some unachieved dream? Even if you feel more confident now about handling coffee-date requests, are you still stressed out over how to handle the rest of your Too Much To Do list?
If that’s the case, you might want to give me a call. If we take 30 or 40 minutes to ask each other some questions, we’ll learn whether or not your current situation is similar to Cheryl’s. A talented designer, Cheryl’s business building had screeched to a halt because she couldn’t decide what steps to take next. In fairly short order, we clearly articulated her desired outcomes, streamlined her options, and crafted an action plan for implementing her best option. As a result, her plaintive question, “But what do I do now?” practically answered itself—much to Cheryl’s surprise, relief, and increased profitability.
What do you say? Shall we find out if a (virtual) coffee date could benefit both of us?
(By the way, thanks to chispita_666 for posting the sleepy coffee image in the Creative Commons section of Flickr.)This entry was posted in productivity and tagged action plan, effectiveness. Bookmark the permalink.