In the modern world of business, the “coffee meeting” is an increasingly common phenomenon. As an informal way to network and meet potential new clients, this type of appointment is an invaluable element in a freelancer’s repertoire. Here are our top tips on making them count.
1. Don’t underestimate the importance of a “coffee meeting.”
One of the first traps to fall into is to minimize the importance of these meetings. Yes, it’s an informal chat over coffee – at least on the surface – but that certainly doesn’t mean it has any less value than a formal meeting in an office setting.
On the contrary, these kinds of meetings can open doors that would otherwise remain shut. Be ready to make the most of the opportunity and don’t take it lightly.
2. Be clear about your goals beforehand
The reason underestimating the importance of a coffee meeting is such a mistake is that it can cause you to under-prepare – or not prepare at all. Being clear in your mind about what you want to achieve in the meeting will help ensure the encounter is as confident and useful as possible.
With this in mind, don’t be afraid to sit down with a pen and paper in advance of the meeting to jot down a clear plan. This kind of clarity of thought will help you steer the conversation in the direction you want it to take when the time comes. Above all, don’t “wing it.”
3. Do your homework
Again, having accepted and understood the importance of the meeting and its potential benefits, make sure you do your homework before going in. You need to know about the company of the person you are meeting and about their particular area of business.
This is especially important if the company’s activity is in a field that’s unfamiliar to you. Doing the proper research will allow you to have an informed conversation and ask pertinent questions during the meeting.
4. Understand the etiquette of coffee meetings – don’t force it
You should go in with a clear idea of your desired outcome – but don’t be too forceful in pushing this. A coffee meeting is different from a meeting in a formal setting, and there are specific rules of etiquette you should follow.
The main point to remember is that a coffee meeting should start with ice breaking and general conversation. The “let’s get down to business” approach you might expect in a formal meeting or presentation is not appropriate here.
The whole point of a coffee meeting is to form a bond and begin building a relationship. Yes, you are looking for work opportunities, but this will come later. Talk to the person first and bring the conversation on to your primary interest slowly.
This is an art that may take some practice at first, but it will pay dividends later.
5. Come prepared to make a connection – don’t leave it to chance
If you remember that the overriding purpose of a coffee chat is to form a bond and to start to build a relationship and that the real business opportunities will come later as a result of this – don’t leave the forming of that bond down to chance.
In “real life” outside of the business world, we connect spontaneously with people with whom we have something in common. However, in a coffee meeting, when making a connection is the whole purpose of being there, the stakes are too high to go in just hoping for chemistry to happen.
When you do your preparation for the meeting, don’t forget to find out about the person with whom you are in a meeting. If you can find a common interest or something you can talk about outside the sphere of work, it will be much easier to form that bond.
Since you’re meeting in a coffee shop, types of coffee could be a way in – but it will work much better if you can find something less superficial.
Remember, though: it needs to be natural. If your counterpart feels it isn’t genuine, it will be counterproductive.
6. Be on time and respect the schedule
As with any meeting, you should never turn up late. Since coffee meetings take place in public locations over which you have no control, it doesn’t hurt for you to turn up early.
This will allow you to stake out the best table while at the same time demonstrating your reliability and punctuality. Similarly, respect the other person’s schedule and stick to the agreed amount of time for the meeting.
7. Dress properly
Be under no illusions; this is a professional meeting, not coffee with your friend. This means you need to dress appropriately. But in this situation, what does that mean?
It means you need to dress smartly and professionally, but not formally – a reflection of the setting. You should be thinking along the lines of a shirt but no tie, rather than jeans or joggers and a t-shirt.
8. Don’t expect too much from the first meeting
Remember, these meetings are supposed to be the start of a relationship that, if nurtured correctly, should lead to something more down the line. As we said, go in with a clear idea of what you want from the meeting but keep an open mind.
As long as you form a bond and there is a solid basis for your future collaboration, the rest will follow later.
Don’t go for the hard sell right from the start. If the meeting was successful and you made a good impression, a follow-up email will help move things on, and you can take things from there.
9. Keep in touch
Be sure to follow up. An excellent way to end the meeting is with a commitment to be in touch to move the discussion onto more concrete propositions at a later date. If everything went well, the next step is developing this new connection into a business opportunity for the future.
A skill that needs to be learned
Making the most of coffee meetings is a skill that needs to be discovered – like any other. Many people have trouble finding the right balance between formality and informality; if you can get it right, this type of meeting can lead to many profitable relationships that will help your career.