Getting strategic about coffee meetings

Networking is great for making connections and friends! Leah Zins, me and Jenny Huschka at the MN Blogger Conference.

I’ve been thinking about my goals for the new year, some centered on daily work habits while others are more long-term. And while I’m excited to tackle new things this year, I’ve also been reflecting on my goals from last year and thought I’d share some of those thoughts here.

One thing I tackled in 2012 was to shift my approach to networking meetings. I love making new connections. In fact, I make time each month to attend educational and networking events, as well as connect with people on Twitter. Even still, there’s no replacing a sit-down, face-to-face meeting with someone. And I have a tough time saying no when folks ask to meet up to talk shop, learn about the industry (think new grads) or seek advice or leads for a career move.

As much as I enjoy these meetings, I needed to find a new way to fit them into my schedule so my work productivity didn’t take a hit. After talking with some colleagues about my challenge, I came up with some new strategies.

Timing – I decided I didn’t need to fit everyone in the same week they asked for a meeting. Although I wanted to be responsive, these requests aren’t urgent and people are generally patient if they are asking for your time. So now I try to spread them out to one (no more than two) meetings a month. I also realized that depending on the person and the topic, I could often contain the meeting to 30 minutes. This is usually enough time to have small talk, learn about their goals and see if I can be of help. Gaining those 30 minutes back in my schedule was a big win.

Location – I realized I was losing even more time by driving to meet people to “get together for lunch” or “meet for coffee” – an hour lunch could easily turn into 1.5 or even two hours once you factor traffic and drive time. So I began intentionally piggyback networking meetings onto an event I’d be attending, inviting the person to attend as well if I knew it would be helpful for them. If that doesn’t work, they are welcome to come to my office. We have coffee.

The ask – I noticed all of these networking meetings were initiated by others, and that I had been doing a poor job being strategic about meeting with people who could help me with my professional career goals. So I reflected on those I admire in my industry and greater community, asked friends for recommendations and made my own requests to meet throughout the year. And as the person asking for time, I was clear about my goals, willing to work around their schedules and certainly flexible in traveling as needed. When the shoe is on the other foot, it’s my job to be as accommodating as possible and respect the gift of time I’m being given.

With the help of this new structure, my “coffee meeting strategy” felt much more productive and I was able to stick to a plan rather than feel overwhelmed when new requests came in. And as for my personal outreach, it was time well spent. I didn’t get through my entire list due to time and distractions, but those I met with have become stronger connections and I’m grateful.

For more ideas on how to make the actual meet up more effective, check out my friend Arik Hanson’s thoughts: How to Make the Most of Your Coffee Meet-Ups.

What do you think, friends? Are coffee and lunch meetings a regular occurrence in your industry? Would any of these strategies help? What else works for you?

 

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  1. These tips are very helpful! When I want to schedule an informational meeting with someone, I have been very clear about my intentions. I schedule the meeting for 45 minutes. I always come to the person I’m meeting with, so as not to put more trouble on them or take them away from their schedule. In addition, I will send a handwritten follow-up note, thanking them for their time and telling them what I really enjoyed learning from them. I am glad that you are going to seek some professionals that you admire. You never know what you will learn from a brief, but effective, meeting!

    • Leah, I’ve been impressed with your informational interview strategy. You’ve been building a solid network of contacts and learning a ton about the industry you are entering. It’s great how much work you put into making the meetings meaningful!

  2. Another good tip to maximize time: Fold a bunch of coffee meetups into one bigger coffee meetup. I’ve used this approach with happy hours. A bunch of people I’d like to see/keep in touch with, but no time to meet with them all on a one-off basis. So, I organize a happy hour, and invite them all. Works well because I get to see them all and catch up a bit–but also THEY benefit from meeting new people, too. I don’t do it that often, but every time I have, it’s worked beautifully…

  3. Hey Arik – I’ve been lucky enough to attend one or two of your happy hours and they are great! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I’m a part of a couple Meetups in the Cedar Rapids / Iowa City area. Looking to have some more one-on-one time to pick some interesting brains. Love the suggestions presented here Missy. Definitely going to try to incorporate some of the suggestions, especially piggybacking on existing events.

    • John – thanks for stopping by and sharing. Meetups are great for getting to spend time with many people at once! Nice connecting with you on Twitter, too! :)

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