Networking events are a mainstay of any industry. Affairs that bring together professionals for a talk, panel, or presentation to learn something and meet people in their field are invaluable. I've found, with every networking event I go to, I leave with at least one promising contact and I've maintained a habit of attending a few a month.
But how do you progress the initial meeting you've had with those promising contacts? What happens after the event? What about networking outside of events? How do you establish good footing with a contact you met maybe through a friend? That, my freelancing friend, is when you add caffeine (or tea, or a green juice, or a scone... whatever you feel like ordering).
The professional coffee date. It's the simple colliding of two hardworking souls (and their phones) over a brewed drink. Both parties should come ready to talk and ready to listen. Here are the steps to planning and practicing a great coffee date.
1. Get It on the Calendar.
You have the email of someone you would like to get to know better professionally. Now what do you do? Reach out, dang it! Send that first it-was-great-to-meet-you email and ask what dates in the next two weeks they are available to grab coffee. If they are busy (and we all are), nail down the earliest date you are both free. Many potential meetings never occur because both people do not follow-up with a specific day and time. Moral: nail down a date, time, and place.
2. Research and Prepare.
Research this professional. What did they study in school? Is it very different from where they are now? Look at their Instagram. What are their interests? What does the company they work for do? And, most importantly, how can you help them? Think of ways that you two can collaborate or connect and come prepared with ideas. During the coffee date, as you get to know the person more, you can come up with ideas together.
3. Attend Coffee Date.
Obviously show up.
4. Learn, Learn, Learn.
The nice thing about coffee dates is they are more informal and therefore encourage more personal conversation than, say, the professional lunch or pre-conference cocktail hour. You can really get to know someone over a cup of coffee. Ask a lot of questions and feel free to take notes. I love picking the brains of other professionals. From the apps that increase their productivity to how they handled a recent tricky situation in their business, some of the best advice I've been given has been offhand over some java.
5. Leave with Takeaways.
Yes, this was a casual meeting of professionals at a cafe but it should be productive (that's the point, guysss). I try to approach my coffee dates with an intention to give and collaborate. Once you two have shared your current projects, struggles, and epiphanies, ask the question: "How can I help you?" This is where you can share the ideas you prepared or present the new ones you came up with over the course of the conversation. Is there someone you can connect them to that would move along their side hustle, can you two collaborate on a project because you have the skills they need to complete it, is there a book or program you can recommend that they would learn a lot from, or a service you can share that would save them time or expedite their work processes? Leave with a little to-do list of things you are going to do after the coffee date, an article you're going to share, a person you're going to introduce them to, or a project you want to flesh out together. At the end, you should leave with a list of reasons why the two of you will connect again.
So why come with the intention to give? Focusing on giving helps to move the relationship along past the-two-strangers-with-business-cards point and, once you do provide them with the connections, contributions, and recommendations that grow and influence their work, they will become a contact that trusts and values you, and they will seek to positively influence and grow your work.
HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT ENTREPRENEURSHIP OR HOW TO BEGIN A FREELANCE CAREER?
EMAIL ME AT GLORIA@THE-BLVD.COM AND I’LL ANSWER THEM IN A FUTURE BLOG POST!