This article originally appeared on Forbes.com as part of BusinessBlocks CEO Justin Kulla’s column. See the original post here.
OK, it doesn’t have to be coffee, but the point is that relationships are fundamental to all businesses, and meeting in person is an important way to nurture connections. Great businesses are built by customers who buy from you and employees who work for you as well as key mentors. All relationships are not formed overnight, as Bennett Dwosh suggests.
Especially for introverts, coffee is a perfect medium to get exposed to new people, ideas and opportunities — both personally and professionally. It’s a fairly low commitment and can be fulfilled in a one-on-one setting on your own terms for a defined period of time with someone you want to meet and could potentially benefit from.
Think about it this way: If you arrange two coffees a week, you get exposed to more than 100 people a year.
“You’ll start or re-start the process of building your personal brand: who you are and what you can offer,” writes Pat Hedley in her book, Meet 100 People: A How-To Guide to the Career and Life Edge Everyone’s Missing. “The process of meeting 100 people will increase your self-awareness and social savvy. By adopting a growth-oriented attitude, you will become more resourceful and resilient. Once you’ve met 100 people, you will feel the strength and value of your relationships.”
Meeting people over coffee is about creating serendipity — having unexpected things happen to you in a predictable way. So you don’t need to meet people you know. Often, the most valuable conversations are with people you don’t. There’s something everyone has to offer, you just have to be open to hearing new ideas and perspectives. You can talk to a college student and they’ll have an interesting perspective on the world just like a seasoned 30-year veteran would.
Find people you think are interesting, who know people you want to know or know things that you’d like to know. This means you’re not going to be certain about the outcome, which essentially is the serendipity part. As long as you’re OK with having a few bad coffees and “no thanks” to coffees, you might be surprised that good things could happen. Approach it with an open mind and be willing to be rejected. After all, this kind of rejection is impersonal.
It’s a mistake to think about having coffee as networking because as soon as you do, it’ll feel like an empty transactional conversation. Unlike the relationships we want in life, networking can feel awkward and uncomfortable. Most people also feel it takes too much time or is burdensome for the people they seek advice from, especially when they’re not sure what you want out of the engagement.
If you’re doing coffees to pitch people, they’re going to figure out very quickly that conversation won’t go as well as you want it to. But if you’re looking to get to know them, the conversation usually unfolds naturally. That’s why a coffee is different from a sales call.
Create a moment of commonality if you’re reaching out to a stranger. Name drop a mutual friend or LinkedIn connection and a similar experience you share. One way you might approach the conversation is to say, “I’m a new business owner in the community, and I haven’t had a chance to meet you, but I’ve been impressed by your work. I’d love to see what you’re seeing in the market. Are you free for a cup of coffee?” Or “I’d love to meet somebody who’s an expert in this specific vertical or industry. Do you know of anyone who’d be willing to connect with me?”
Be open-minded. The conversation can evolve into something you don’t expect, and those might end up being the best partnerships. When I first developed an interest in pursuing venture capital, I reached out to dozens of venture capitalists in New York City to learn more about the industry and career trajectory for an associate. Fortunately, more than a dozen people took me up on the offer.
At an earlier stage in your career, it might be hard to figure out what you can offer to someone with way more experience than you, but keep it open-ended and let them know you’d be more than happy to help in any way when the right time comes. Most people won’t take you up on the offer, but some will, and it’ll feel great to help them out.
When somebody has made an offer to connect you with another individual, it might be worthwhile to send a quick email the next morning to remind them. They’re busy, so they’ll likely forget, but it doesn’t mean they don’t care to help. Most people don’t make empty offers.
Business doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but it often happens over a coffee. Even if it’s a bad drink or an awkward conversation, remember you’re only committed to about 30 minutes. For the most part, you’ll be amazed at the incredible people around you and the knowledge they have to share.