Has a new connection just asked to meet you for coffee, and you have no idea what to do next?
You’re probably aware of how valuable coffee catch-ups can be when it comes to building your network. Informal chats with people we’d like to build solid professional relationships with offer all sorts of opportunities – new jobs, new projects, good advice.
But when you’re in the early stages of building your career, meeting with a relative stranger to talk about your industry can be daunting. Here are seven tips to help ease those nerves, and get the most out of what could be a valuable networking exercise.
Do your research
Before the meeting, Google, Google, Google. Check out any presentations they may have recently given, articles they may have published and commonalities you may share. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date so they have the opportunity to research you too and if they’re not yet a connection, invite them. Not only will this do wonders for the conversation, it shows initiative and a level of respect for their time and expertise.
Don’t hide your light
This meeting isn’t just about meeting someone new. It’s about showing your value. Show them how you can work with them in the future. If this is someone you met at a networking event, show them why it was worth it to follow up with you. Talk about what you’ve done, but just as importantly, let them know how interested you are in helping them with what they’re working on.
Prepare at least two points you want to cover
There’s a good chance that a conversation like this will open with a question around who you are, what you’re working on, and / or what you need. It can be a tough one to answer well if you haven’t taken the time to prepare beforehand. Have two things in mind you want to speak to – ensure you’re providing your new connection with the information they need to allow them to help you in return. It’s okay to jot these down.
Whether you initiated contact or the person you’re meeting did, it’s great to communicate beforehand if there’s anything in particular you’d like to chat about. Give them the chance to prepare while showing them that you’ve done your homework – don’t simply say you’re looking forward to ‘picking their brain’ or to ‘see if there’s any potential value’ to be had from your relationship. If you’re hoping to get advice on a project or job application, say so. Be specific.
The beauty of a coffee catch-up is that they’re only really expected to last as long as it takes to order and drink a coffee, so somewhere between 20 – 30 minutes. Such a limited time commitment means less pressure on you both, and allows you to stick to that clear purpose. As the end of your allocated time approaches, offer to end on time, even if you’re in the middle of a great conversation. If they’d like to stay a little longer and keep chatting, fantastic – but show you respect their time.
Always be on time, and always thank someone for theirs. Have a pen and paper handy throughout to take brief notes – not only are you showing how much you value their insights, you’re committing to following up. Afterwards, send a follow up email with any information they requested. If you’d like to continue the discussion, send through an invite for another meeting afterwards (within a week is a good idea). This time round, you should make the arrangements – pick a coffee shop that’s near them and easy for them to get to. Extra points for picking up the tab.
Speaking of following up
What you do after you’ve made a connection is arguably the most important part of it. If you met with a business hero of yours, or a potential mentor, you could convey your gratitude in a hand-written letter. After sending your follow-up note, set a calendar alert for around 2 weeks later. Use this reminder to follow up again with thanks for the positive outcome of something your contact suggested, or a win their help has contributed to for you. And if you didn’t do so pre-coffee, post-coffee be sure to connect on LinkedIn.
Image: Coffee by Unsplash CC0.1.0