The art of the coffee meeting requires a special set of brushes when it comes to creating new business development and networking opportunities. How you approach the meeting and what you expect to take away from it, will determine the gravity of your own law of attraction. I perk up my coffee meetings with the best practices i call j.A.V.A. (Join, Attraction, Venue and Authentic). They are my brushes for successfully expanding my network of contacts, friends and opportunities for a rewarding journey in life.
COFFEE IN HAND
Last week, I got an early morning call on my cell from an out-of-state number I didn’t recognize. It was a corporate executive asking me, point blank, if I was available to help with a multi-million dollar project that was in trouble.
I recalled that we had met over coffee a few years ago when I traveled to his city to meet with a client. I asked him with such a project, he surely had an agency of record and an A-team of consultants, so why was he interested in retaining my services from Tallahassee? Note: Half of my clients and their projects are outside of Florida, but I wanted to know what cued this call.
He explained that he had a special dinner the night before with key project leaders and partners. My name was unexpectedly brought up by an ally who encouraged this executive to engage my special grassroots public relations services.
Up to that point, neither one knew the other had known me, so it was an affirmation. The ally’s unexpected recommendation, coupled with our coffee meeting, created enough efficacy for the executive to reach out beyond his cadre of consultants.
After the call ended, I got a fresh cup of coffee and reviewed my notes. As I sipped on some java, it occurred to me that I wouldn’t be engaging this project, if it wasn’t for coffee meetings!!
As I thought more about it, many of my business referrals and projects originated from ice-breaker coffee meetings and calls. The person who recommended me to the executive, I had met over coffee five months earlier.
This got me thinking about the art of the coffee meeting and I jotted down some best practices. I then had some fun and encapsulated them in my J.A.V.A. (Join, Attraction, Venue, Authentic) approach for successful coffee relations and its impact on the Law of Attraction.
GET SOME J.A.V.A.
JOIN: An invitation for a coffee meeting has a universal message to friends and strangers alike: It’s an informal, low expectation conversation that can be achieved in 30 minutes. In the context of meeting a new business contact, the invitation to join up can be accomplished with an initial email.
In the email subject line, I put – Coffee Meeting Request.
My coffee meetings have been done around the nation. Whenever I have a business trip to say NYC or DC, I try to block some time to have coffee with people I haven’t seen in a while or new contacts I would like to meet.
In the email, I often lead with mentioning a mutual friend, which is always ideal. If we don’t have a shared network, I simply say, I’m visiting in your neck of the woods and would like to buy you cup of coffee and spend 20 minutes breaking bread…no strings attached.
No strings attached is very important. See Authentic.
The purpose of the coffee meeting is not to sell or pitch the person you’re inviting. Moreover, expecting an offer of business over a simple cup of coffee is self-serving and undermines the purpose of your coffee relations.
The goal of your inviting him/her is to put faces with names and establish potential relationships moving forward. In this digital age, a firm handshake and eye contact still stands out along with a rewarding conversation.
This is where Law of Attraction comes in.
ATTRACTION: The Law of Attraction is the latest definition of an age old and deeper philosophy that attempts to explain how we as a society are interconnected. Synchronicity, serendipity and luck play into this equation as well. The great majority of successful executives are positive thinkers; projecting positive thoughts and affirmations into the universe to create whatever edge they are seeking for themselves.
It’s very possible that your timely email invite may be playing a hidden role in this law of attraction.
Still, you need to proactively answer the question “why” this person should take 20 minutes out of her busy schedule to meet with you.
In my case, I simply state, “In this new economy it’s not who you know, but who knows you…you never know how we may be able to help each other in the future…it can only happen if we shake hands and share a coffee for 15-20 minutes.”
I follow that by briefly, very briefly, saying what I do and if they want more info they can go to my website www.PatrickSlevin.com.
Nearly nine out of 10 coffee meeting invites are favorably received and it becomes a matter of day and time, as well as the location.
VENUE: Coffee meetings are often in the windows of 8am to 10am and 2pm to 3pm. When, is often determined by, where. Typically, coffee meetings are located at a nearby coffee joint that’s easily accessible and convenient. Sometimes, the coffee meeting is in the office of your invitee or the conference room. Other times, the coffee meeting (lunches too), are “off the reservation”. Meaning, far enough away from the office where there won’t be any interruptions and/or the discussion can be unguarded and candid.
If the coffee meeting is outside the office, then be sure to arrive at least five to 10 minutes before to secure the best table for your conversation. Don’t be surprised if your guest is a few minutes late.
AUTHENTIC: For most professionals, coffee meetings go nowhere and fail, which explains why they don’t do them. If your motivation is to simply try to pitch or close a sale, then you’re wasting your time as well as the person you’ve invited.
I learned a long time ago, when I was a 27 year old mayor of a Tampa Bay city, that everyone has a unique story filled with life’s lessons. Moreover, I’ve also learned that if I meet someone for more than just a few minutes, that meeting has some relevance on our mutual journeys.
Therefore, I genuinely want to learn more about the person I’m meeting with regardless of who initiated the coffee meeting - me or them. You can find common areas of interest in 20 minutes and develop a rapport that plants the seeds for future follow ups and meetings. On many occasions, the 20 minute coffee meeting would go to 45 to 60 minutes.
Of course, there’s an exchange of our professional roles and goals, but only after a broader context of initial trust and respect have been established. If it doesn’t happen in 10 minutes or less, then both parties will be thankful they agreed to a short coffee meeting.
If you come to the meeting with a sincere desire to forge relations, then your coffee meeting should be mutually productive.
For example, I’m always curious to know why my guest chose his career path and what he hopes to accomplish. How does he view public relations in furthering his company’s goals and whether he sees his consultants as vendors or partners? I’m always asked about my experience as a Generation X mayor and how that experience underwrites my stakeholder engagement skills to this day.
Occasionally, I will get a referral or at least an offer to be introduced to another person who may be interested in my consulting services. In other cases, I'm happily in the role of a go-giver, helping my coffee mate with referrals or some kind of follow up assistance.
It’s exciting to meet new people who are driven, successful and understand the degrees of separation gets smaller with the more contacts you make.
When I met with a president of a subsidiary of one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, over coffee, I asked him what was his primary duty? He said, “I’m a salesman, promoting our company, our products and our employees…I can only accomplish that by meeting with people and exchanging information and building relationships.”
I learned from that coffee meeting that despite our titles, we are all selling ourselves to some degree. And we cannot do it alone or with a static network of contacts.
Coffee meetings have proven to be a rewarding forum for building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. If you approach your future coffee meetings with my J.A.V.A. best practices as a guide, then you will not only expand your network of contacts, but more importantly, enrich your life with dynamic people who share your drive to find satisfaction in life.
Don't be surprised to receive a new business call out of the blue. Odds are you will be holding a cup coffee when it happens.
May J.A.V.A always perk up your new business coffee meetings.
PATRICK SLEVIN WAS NAMED ONE OF THE "GREAT COMMUNICATORS" BY INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.
Over the span of his 20 year career, Mr. Slevin has earned a national reputation for empowering corporate executives to lead, communicate and inspire the stakeholders who impact their bottom line interests.
Mr. Slevin is two-time winner of the PRSA Silver Anvil Award of Excellence. He has been recognized by Campaigns & Elections Magazine as one of the nation’s top political “Movers’ & Shakers. Mr. Slevin is also a former Florida mayor who has worked on two presidential campaigns.
Whether it's crisis management, corporate initiatives, public affairs, issues advocacy, zoning & development, political campaigns, or field operations, Patrick Slevin and his firm, SL7 Consulting, will you get your high-profile, high-stakes projects across the finish line.
Contact Mr. Slevin at 850.597.0423. Email: P.SL7@patrickslevin.com.