You will note from my previous blog post “Networking Inside Company Walls” that I am a big fan of the coffee catch-up.
I think sometimes we forget that a good, old-fashioned coffee meet-up can be the most powerful networking/relationship building/business development tool you have in your arsenal. The trick is to make these meetings worthwhile and not merely ‘social’.
There can and should be a lot of thought and effort put into every coffee you have be it with a work colleague, potential customer or referral partner.
Each interaction you have with these people is helping them form their perception of you. Don’t think for a moment this is not important. Those coffee chats help people form their opinions of you and the work you’re capable of.
Take that very seriously.
Given that, here are some additional tips (to those I shared in my previous post on networking within your company) on HOW to make the most of your networking coffee chats:
Treat each meeting like a job interview.
Meaning, do your homework. Research the person you’re meeting up with on LinkedIn. Look for commonalities….did you go to the same school/uni? Do you have common friends? Did you work for the same company in the past? Similar interests outside work? Check their blog (if they have one). Ask around to find out what’s currently top-of-mind with them and do some digging to see if you can help answer questions or point them to a potential resource/solution.
Be ready to answer the “What’s new with you?” question
It’s the question most people start the conversation with. Yet, we’re typically under-prepared to answer it. Don’t be. Have an answer ready, but not just any answer. One that tells the person exactly what you want them to know. Perhaps the project/s you’re working…or that you’re chasing your next project…or that you need more resources…or that you’re looking for answers to a particular issue/challenge you’re facing. Whatever the case, make sure you’re giving them information that will A) allow them to help you and B) help them form an impression of you that you want them to have.
Close with an offer to help and one “ask”
Always, make sure you finish your coffee chats with an offer to help. Be specific. If the person is looking for new work, offer to help connect them with 2 or 3 people who can help. If they are looking for a provider of some kind, refer them to a contact you have. Just make sure that your offer to help relates to that person and is something you can act on immediately. Then, make your own ask. Do you need a referral to a ‘buyer’ you want to meet? Do you want leads for your next piece of work? Are you chasing networking opportunities? Or maybe it is just a couple of additional contacts you want to make? Don’t ask for too much, but do be sure to ask?
Be sure to follow through
Obviously, take action on any promises you make right after the meeting. If you don’t have an immediate follow-up item, create one. At the very, least shoot off a quick email after the meeting thanking the person for their time and referencing a few of the topics you discussed. Finally, include a link to an article or two that you’ve found interesting over the last week or so and tell them why you thought they might find it interesting too. Follow-up is key. It cements the personal connection and builds the all-important trust factor.