It’s a business fairytale, isn’t it? “Struggling entrepreneur sends angel investor witty email and they close $1 billion deal on a napkin over coffee.” If you read headlines like that and feel skeptical while also envious, you aren’t alone. We all know that many relationships are made outside the office, but it’s difficult to discern who to invite where and what to expect.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to worship caffeine to network effectively. They say, “different strokes for different folks,” but for the sake of this coffee theme, let’s say, “different blends for different friends.” You may be a cold-pressed juice enthusiast or enjoy business served with a cold brew. Choose whatever venue works best for you and follow these simple guidelines to build a more meaningful network.
The first item of business is your date. There are three types of people you should target.
The Visionary: Writes a blog, speaks at events, and you like their ideas.
“That person is so inspiring. I want to know how they do what they do.”
The Rockstar: Cool job and extracurriculars + mega success (as defined by you).
“I want to be that person when I grow up.”
The MVP: Adjacent business partner who complements your business.
“Let’s trade referrals.”
After you’ve done a few power stances at your desk and feel confident, you’re ready to send the invitation. In a brief email: introduce yourself, let your invitee know the purpose of the coffee date and just ask if they’d be open to meeting with you. There are infinite ways to say this.
I’d like to learn how you got to where you are. I’m also passionate about XYZ and would love to share some ideas and connections. Your business is really interesting to me and I’d love to learn more about it. Our customers overlap and I’d like to coordinate with you on referrals. I’m hoping to eventually transition to a role like yours and wondered if you could offer some advice. I admire your mission and would like to talk about how I can become more involved.
Your potential date may or may not accept. People are busy. Don’t take it personally. If someone declines, be gracious and find someone else to ask instead.
Listening and learning are the chief goals of your meeting. You will kill the potential relationship you’re building by talking incessantly for 45 minutes. Instead, bring several questions to discuss and have a three-minute elevator pitch about yourself. When the conversation slows or you’re approaching the 45-minute mark, ask what you can do to help the person across the table from you. If there’s any follow-up you need from them, this is the time to mention it. Afterwards, send a quick note saying how much you appreciated their time.
You’ll create significant lasting relationships when you start focusing on the quality and not the quantity of your connections. Now wake up, smell the coffee and invite someone to enjoy it with you.
How to politely decline coffee with a stranger
It’s encouraging to hear from people who are passionate about their careers and eager to learn. Unfortunately, time is a finite resource and not everyone is genuinely interested in networking. There is no guilt in forgoing an invitation to chat if you really don’t have the time and interest or you sense that the invitation is a thinly veiled sales tactic.
In your reply, thank the host for the invitation and give them a short reason for declining. You don’t owe anyone a “Dear John,” letter over coffee. If you’re feeling generous, you can always recommend an alternate contact.