As an independent consultant, I have coffee with a lot of people in any given year. In fact, I just blogged about 14 people I want to grab a cup of joe with in the year ahead.
It’s part of my job. Meeting new people benefits me in many different ways. The person I’m having coffee with could be a:
1) Potential referral source or client
2) PR Rock Star I feature on this blog
3) Candidate for one of two Mastermind groups I run
4) Potential speaker for the Talking Points Speaker Series
5) Professor for our social media training program, sparked
6) Guest on the Talking Points Podcast blog
As you’ll note, 5 of those 6 reasons also directly benefit the person I’m having coffee with.
Yet, I continue to see some of my invites for coffees go into a virtual black hole each week.
Now, I’m not writing this post to whine or look for sympathy. I fully understand that there are going to be people who ignore my asks for a quick coffee meet-up. But, for the life of me, I don’t understand why they don’t at least respond.
Because that’s my biggest beef with this whole process–the people who simply don’t respond.
I’ve thought about this from all the angles over the years, and I cannot come up with a good reason why someone would completely ignore a coffee request. Here’s a list of potential reasons that I came up with for why someone would do that, and my take on why that’s a bad idea:
- Reason #1: I’m just too busy for coffee.
- This one probably makes up the lion’s share of the reasons. But, it’s also by far the most lame. Why? Because, if you’re too busy for coffee now, I better not see you asking me to coffee in two years when you’re out there looking for that next job. Networking isn’t something you do just when it’s convenient for you. It’s an investment. And yeah, it’s going to cut into your time. I see a lot of folks using this excuse a whole lot. And it’s a very short-sighted approach.
- Reason #2: I don’t want to be pitched by a vendor.
- This is one of those reasons people won’t articulate in an email, but it’s definitely one of the larger “unsaid” reasons. But again, I point to that list above. The top five ALL benefit the person I’m having coffee with. Now, yes, featuring someone on my blog, or having someone as a guest on the Talking Points Podcast definitely benefits me, too. But, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. We both get something. That’s the kind of relationships I’m looking for. And, it should be the kind your vendors are looking for, too. Therefore, no pitching should ever be needed. That’s my approach, at least.
- Reason #3: I’m uncomfortable meeting people I don’t know all that well.
- Another “unsaid” reason, but I think this one might be bigger than we think. Meeting someone you don’t know for coffee is definitely a bit uncomfortable. And, after eight years of practice, it’s become much easier for me. I acknowledge that’s not the case for everyone. But, I would also suggest that getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing. And, shutting down coffees because you’re uncomfortable feels like a blockade to growth.
Those are really the big three reasons I see/hear about. And, for the reasons I outlined above, I don’t think they’re good enough reasons to completely ignore a coffee request. Because of the opportunity cost. What do I mean?
- Opportunity cost #1: You never know where that next job will come from.
- Typically, it will come from…you guessed it…YOUR NETWORK! If you’re turning down a lot of coffee meetings, chances are your network isn’t that large. Therefore, your opportunities for advancement are limited. Doesn’t sound like a rosy picture, does it?
- Opportunity cost #2: You might just meet a future best friend.
- About three years ago now, I asked Jamie Plesser to a quick coffee. I didn’t know Jamie at all, but he had a cool gig at Best Buy, and maybe just as importantly, I noticed he was a Jayhawk alum on his LinkedIn profile. He was gracious enough to grab coffee at that time. A few months later, we joined the MIMA board of directors at the same time, and got to know each other a bit better. A year later, I agreed to co-chair the programming committee with him. We’ve watched Jayhawk games together. And, just recently, we launched a social media training program together (sparked). And we’re talking about vacationing together with our families. I would consider Jamie a good friend. And it never would have happened if he had shut down that initial coffee invite. You never know who you’re going to meet.
- Opportunity cost #3: Good karma is a powerful force.
- I’m a huge believer in karma. It’s why I consistently choose to give so much back. I’ve sat on the PRSA, MIMA and Winona State Alumni boards over the years, and in each case, the reason for doing so was simple: To give back to organizations that had helped me. Essentially, karma in action. Sometimes, agreeing to coffee should be all about putting some good ju-ju out into the world. Sometimes, agreeing to coffee means helping someone else out. Sometimes, agreeing to coffee means taking the time to help out a student. Sometimes, agreeing to coffee means helping a solo consultant get his or her feet off the ground (like so many people did for me early on). It doesn’t always need to be about you. In fact, it should rarely be about you. Throw enough good karma out into the world, and it will always come back to you, in one way or another. You can believe that.
So, I guess the moral of this post is the next time you get a random coffee request, don’t ignore it. In fact, I would encourage you to embrace it. For all the reasons I talked about above, you never know where it might lead. I’m not saying you need to agree to every coffee–most of us don’t have the time. But at least respond. Maybe you can’t get together for coffee, but you could chat on the phone for 10 minutes. Or, maybe you could introduce the person to someone else you know who might have more time to help.
You simply don’t have a good enough excuse for not responding when someone asks you to coffee. So please, stop that. Respond. Be gracious. Throw good karma out into the world. And, enjoy a good cup of joe while you’re at it.