“Let’s grab coffee sometime.”
How do you respond to that?
Do you add the coffee appointment to your already brimming calendar? Do you refuse all coffee appointments? Do you put off answering?
On the day I began writing this, an article from Entrepreneur magazine called Why I Don’t Want to Have Coffee with You was being circulated. It was an interesting take by a small business owner, and a couple of fellow small business owners I respect praised the article for encouraging discipline when it comes to this practice. Then a respectful rebuttal article, Why I Do Want to Have Coffee with You was written, which was also interesting.
So, I decided to share the article on my Facebook page and ask for feedback. It generated lively dialog, which was fascinating.
Initial feedback on my page was completely opposite of what appeared on my other friend’s. Most felt the author’s take leaned toward being self-absorbed. As is often the case with me, I land somewhere in the middle.
So, if you ask me to coffee, here are some questions I may ask myself before I say “Yes” or “No.” Feel free to use these questions yourself when you have similar opportunities.
- What’s the purpose of our get together? Are you wanting to have coffee so we can make a real connection (not necessarily a lifelong friendship but a sincere, warm acquaintance) or under the guise of “tossing ideas around” so you could push me to buy or join something? You know the difference.
- Could something bigger than business be happening? There are times that a conversation becomes something more important than business. (Those practicing a faith may consider these “divine appointments.”) If I have a hard-and-fast rule not to have coffee with someone unless it would be good for my business, I may miss something very important.
- Could you become a good friend, or at least a pleasant business acquaintance? Sometimes you hit it off with someone and make a good friend out of what started as a networking opportunity. And even if you don’t become personal friends, there may be value in our having a warm business-based acquaintance–if nothing more than for the joy of knowing a good person.
- Would it be good for future business? While I may wonder whether the time will have an immediate “payoff” for current business (and let’s be honest, many professionals think this way) is it possible that the seeds we plant now will pay off later? For at least three of my VA clients, we met weeks in advance of any money changing hands for my serving as a VA.
- Does our meeting have a reasonable goal/agenda? While the above points may be valuable, I probably don’t have time to have several “Let’s grab coffee” meetings a week. There’s nothing wrong with being wise with my time. Can we have at least a loose purpose to the meeting? (Although, I admit, one of my best client relationships came about because someone else said, “You two need to know each other.” At first we weren’t sure why. It became evident the more we talked.)
- Can the meeting happen in some other way? The original article mentioned this, and in the case of two of the above clients, we met at a conference we were already attending, and with the other, via Skype. Technology can be of help and a 20-30 minute phone or online call saves the additional time spent commuting, chit chatting over the coffee, etc. This works particularly well with ongoing relationships where you already communicate regularly (i.e. with clients)
- Do we currently do business together? The original article noted the “difference” between small and large clients and the attention they would get. That’s a slippery slope. A “small” client now may have more work later, or be connected to a potential “bigger” client they would recommend you to. If we currently have a working relationship–small or large–it’s probably wise for me to be open to cultivating that relationship, if for no other reason than to appreciate you for trusting me with your business.
- Have we had coffee before? Depending on the purpose of getting together, I may need to discern whether these sessions are becoming complaining sessions (i.e. if a colleague or co-worker goes over the same stuff each time) and to evaluate how our meetings tend to go. Do we walk away uplifted or frustrated over what feels like a waste of time?
- Are you suddenly more interested in me because I could help your business? I’ve had at least a couple of occasions where I run into someone I’ve known for years but don’t have regular interaction with, and either the conversation ends up being all about them (i.e. lacking mutual back-and-forth small talk that would be expected) or they are suddenly interested in talking with me because they now own a new business and think I would be great for it, when I am pretty sure if they weren’t in this new business, they wouldn’t be reaching out to me. I can see right through that and I’m not inclined to go further in the conversation.
- Can you or I be of true help to each other? In some cases, a person who wants to have coffee needs some encouragement, resources or even some coaching/counseling–or maybe just be put in touch with another company or vendor that can serve them better. If I discern that is happening, be prepared that I may give you a referral and decline future invitations. Or, it may be a great opportunity to get to know what the other does so we can make referrals in the future to one another.
The question of whether I should have coffee with you can’t be answered in a black or white way. It really needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis, with humility balanced with wisdom.
Now You: [reminder]Do you accept coffee invitations? Why or why not?[/reminder]