Step one: Ask
Why are coffee dates so awesome? I think it’s the most high value, low barrier maneuver out there. Most everyone likes some beverage to get them going in the morning and/or can stand a 15 minute break throughout the day. In it’s simplest form, you’re offering to pay for something they’d already be doing–but the value for both sides isn’t the free drink–it lies in making and sustaining the connection, until it potentially grows into something meaningful. Meaningful could look like a lot of things, so keep an open mind. Don’t go into coffee dates expecting something magical to happen right away, even though some might.
Here are some usual suspects that you could consider asking to coffee:
People you respect but don’t know: These are people who are not in your immediate reach, but you admire. How do you get a ‘big shot’ to meet with you? People are people. You never know, so you should just ask. A well crafted email or a warm introduction could do it. I’ll share how I go about both types of emails. If you’re inclined to make a phone call, this could also go favorably, just practice what you want to say.
People you want to get to know better: Think coworkers you only have time for fleeting conversation with or counterparts at different companies, even different industries. See what works in their business and how it might apply to yours. Don’t stop there, get to know your competitors. You’ll be more knowledgeable about your industry and can even get a pulse on things like market salary, job training opportunities, business referrals and job openings.
People you haven’t seen in awhile: I love this one, perhaps because it’s the first stop on the transition from acquaintance or colleague, to friend. I go into these meetings with zero expectations, simply to catch up and hear what’s new. Also, you never know when you might be able to provide value. I believe that giving value, versus taking, is actually a better position to be in. Think of anyone who’s gone above and beyond for you–you never forget, and would do almost anything to reciprocate, right? The more you meet with people, you’ll start to develop a database of connections and information that allows you to give value to multiple people you know. You learn new things, talk about new ideas and this makes life a lot more interesting.
Bottom line, you have to ask. I don’t know about you, but I love the uncertainty and possibility that comes along with reaching out to someone completely out of your realm to connect. I’ll walk you through a template for how I structure emails.
If you can have a friend introduce you, that is always the preferred route. Luckily, LinkedIn exists, but before you ping all your buddies for introductions, understand that introductions are precious gems that shouldn’t be treated lightly. If you are asking a contact for an introduction to someone else, you should have a good relationship with the person you’re asking. Have you connected in the last 6 months? Have you ever helped them? Do they trust and like you? All things to think about. When someone is making an introduction for you, it helps to send the introducer an email they can forward–explain who you are, what you think there’s to gain, and suggested steps–so that it can be forwarded on with little effort from the introducer.
I find people that’d I’d like to have coffee with through a variety of ways, including:
Reading: Local publications in your city, industry specific publications. I love finding thought leaders this way. If their email is not published, you can search on LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter for their email. If you can’t find it, you can direct message them on these platforms for their email address. Or, look on the website for an email@example.com so you at least know the extension. From there, you can try first name and last name combinations until you find the right email address.
Social Media: I comb Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn and keep an eye out for people who are being tagged, speaking at conferences or events, posting to community forums, publishing papers or books, etc. These people are notable, valuable (they are providing value) and you can usually find a common connection.
Podcasts: I listen to a lot of podcasts (#solopreneursbestfriend) and get exposed to a ton of different thought leaders I’d like to reach out to.This is a gold mine for finding interesting people in your field who are sharing great content. Find the podcasts that are relevant to your industry, subscribe to a few and listen. Or, subscribe to a podcast outside of your industry. At the least, this’ll make you an interesting conversationalist. At the most, you’ll be able to share relevant stories and information to friends.
Research. First things first, research the person you’re reaching out to. A good Google search will do, but I find that looking into the person’s social accounts also provides me with ‘real time’ content they are sharing and maybe some small, more personal, detail about themselves that I wouldn’t have seen from an article or a blog post. When you’ve actually engaged with someone’s content it is much easier to craft an email that’s relevant to them. It makes your communication targeted (you can reference specifics and show you’ve done your homework), flattering (shows that you care about their work) and more interesting (you’ll seem more likely to have something specific and valuable to offer from the interaction–rather than a vague idea of how you can benefit each other).
Know your audience. Why are you writing and what type of communication is that person used to receiving? I try to make my emails as short as possible, but having an idea of what the person’s ear is tuned into, will help get through. If I’m writing to another person in business development or who is used to looking at businesses in terms of numbers, I will frame my business in numbers. If I’m writing to a content partner, I’ll write in a slightly more flowery (that is my nature) and longer email, simply because it explains more about my personal story, and because personality and brand story is important to content partners. Whatever style your writer is using back, either direct or descriptive, try to mimic it as best as possible. This is an old sales technique called ‘parroting’. In Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, it’s a theory called ‘likeness’. People are more willing to trust someone who shows traits similar to their own.
Here are some templates:
Thank you for taking some time to chat with me at CCNYC! gives recent context. I mentioned I just joined XYZ and am a big fan of the community you grew. shows I understand her background.
As a new entrepreneur, reading your journey of fearlessness and building a tribe is very inspiring. flattering and makes my ask more relevant. I just launched a subscription lingerie and sleepwear service to celebrate women of all sizes. I’m in San Francisco this week and wanted to know if you were free to grab coffee on Wednesday or Friday. I’d love to learn more about your business and hear any advice you have on scaling a women focused lifestyle product. I’ve established I look up to her and want her to bestow her knowledge upon me. This is again, flattering and a bit hard to ignore without feeling bad.
I heard you speak on The Awesome Webinar recently. I loved your engaging slides and case studies. Thanks for being so generous with your time and even encouraging us to email you. relevant context. reminding him of what he promised, another Robert Cialdini concept called ‘Consistency’.
3 months ago, I launched an e-commerce brand on a mission to celebrate all bodies and personalize shopping, beginning with a $15bn industry, women’s lingerie. Framing this as a big, exciting opportunity.
We’ve seen X% MOM new member growth, X figure MRR and a passionate online community that’s grown X% every month. Framing with numbers. I would love to hear if you have any advice to go about growing an early business to the point of scale–pitfalls, mistakes you’ve seen, etc. I think asking for advice is a good place to start. If you develop a relationship, they might offer you other things to help you, like introductions. Would you be free to hop on a call or grab coffee next week?
I greatly appreciate your time and look forward to hearing from you. Thanks!
Warm Email (here is an excellent one that was sent to me, to make an introduction)
I really appreciate your offer to introduce me to your contact at XYZ to see if they would be interested in working with ABC (hyperlink to the home page). Point to the ‘why’ immediately.
I started ABC, a social beauty platform, a year ago. We launched an iPhone app (hyperlink to app) for users to:
Discover looks and products (makeup, skincare, haircare, nails, etc.) by following friends, bloggers and brands.
Save go-to products by simply searching and loving them.
Create and share looks (aka how-to’s).
Buy favorite products.
Succinct context for what they do, in quick bullet points. Great if reader is busy and skimming.
We have had great traction to date with our user growth doubling month on month, all virally. We have been featured in the Zoe Report, HelloGiggles and FabFitFun (hyperlink to articles) recently as a must have app in beauty. Social proof.
We are looking to partner with beauty brands to help them showcase their products to current customers and gain exposure to a new user base. Value statement. This would simply entail setting up a brand profile. Low barrier ask. We are working with Smashbox, Murad Skincare and a few other brands and would love to feature XYZ. More social proof! I look forward to connecting with them. Thanks! I use the phrase ‘connecting’ a lot too, leaves it light and open to a phone call, coffee, etc.
Step 2: Prepare
Plan ahead. Think about what you’d like to share with them, and if you’re in any way pitching a business or a partnership, you should have your stats down cold.
Research. Know the person’s background, dig into their company, their past jobs, their blog, the comments they post on social media, their Snapchat videos. All of this will give you context to have a much richer conversation and make a meaningful connection when you meet or chat on the phone.
Arrive on time. For business meetings, I schedule travel time into my calendar to be prompted to leave. If you’re running late, send an email with apologies.
Step 3: Give
Who buys? As the person who asked them to meet, you should buy their coffee/meal/drinks. If they offer to pay, politely insist that you’d like to cover them as a thanks for their time. Coffee, lunch or wine is relatively inexpensive, less time consuming than dinner, and is a low enough investment to avoid making the other person feel obligated.
This isn’t about you. When you meet, you should be thinking about giving value. You can do this by putting yourself into situations where you can provide value through information, connections or a platform/attention for their purpose. Once you start connecting the dots, you’ll see that you’ve created your own network, where you can provide value by connecting the right people or sharing knowledge.
Volunteering. If you aren’t involved in the leadership of an association, a non-profit or some type of community, you should find one and join as soon as possible. This is great way for you to give to people who need it while building all 3 of your value ‘banks’: information, connection and platform.
Step 4: Follow-up
Follow up. Send a thank you note or email within 24 hours of meeting with the person. Handwritten thank you notes are more memorable, so keep some cards and stamps with you at all times. Admittedly, this can feel burdensome at first, because we are so digital centric, but a handwritten card will differentiate you.
Next steps. Include next steps in your email and remind them of the value you want to deliver to them. Then actually follow-through if they are interested in whatever you’ve offered. This is big, many people are all talk, or vague when it comes to next steps. So be specific and then do what you said you would do.
Step 5: Repeat
Introduce. When it’s relevant, connect them to other people. How do you know when it’s relevant? I make introductions when:
- Two people share a common industry, market, personal interest, stage in business
- One person has a problem and I think another person can help them solve it. This can range from a more complex problem where the guidance of an experienced ‘mentor’ type makes sense–to a more direct problem where a referral to a trusted provider works.
Circle back. To ensure you stay in touch with this person, put a calendar reminder for you to follow-up with them a month to 2 months later. What do you send? If you see an article or event that’s relevant, forward it to them. If you’re listening to a great podcast episode that makes you think of them, share it. The key here is learning about their objectives, remembering them and then serving them when you can.
Update. In the same vein as sharing information that’s relevant, share updates on your progress. If they’ve shared advice with you or introduced you to someone you’re now working with, they’ll feel good knowing the time and energy they spent with you was fruitful. They may be even more likely to want to keep helping you, because it shows you listened carefully and are receptive to being ‘mentored’. If you’re working with someone they referred, they’ll be happy to hear they helped 2 friends solve a problem and might even get some kind of future perk from the person they referred.
So, now that you have templates and a 5 step plan to building your career and network through coffee dates, you have nothing in your way to stop you from shooting for the moon. Listen, read and look out for people you want to meet or get to know better. Make the ask, give value, stay in touch and watch great things happen. Let me know how your coffee dates go!