Best of ColoradoBiz: Nine ways to maximize your coffee meeting

Getting someone to agree to a coffee meeting is only the first step in obtaining leads. Your coffee meeting is an opportunity to build trust and exchange information. If you do it right, you will begin a long-term networking relationship. Make a major mistake, and all you get is some Starbucks and a lighter wallet. Here are some tips for making this meeting count.

1). Remember that it isn’t all about you. Many people think “networking” means pumping other people for information to help them. It isn’t. It is a two way street. Start the coffee meeting off by asking your networking partner what you can do to help them first.

2). Don’t go for the jugular. You’re not going to get everything you want in the first coffee meeting. Your first coffee meeting will give you a few things and establish trust. But too many people get frustrated if they don’t get 10 new names and five job leads out of their coffee meeting. But, remember, this person has just met you. You could be Jack the Ripper for all they know. They’re NOT going to open their Rolodex to you.

3). Have a concise synopsis of your career. Now is the time to give something resembling an elevator speech. But rather than the rapid and often insipid “fly-over” of your career, you have the opportunity to give a bit of detail. Notice I said “a bit,” not “War and Peace.” Your networking partners don’t need to hear your whole career life from the mail room to the board room. Keep it under two minutes and just hit the highlights. Make it conversational, and more like a “war story” than an elevator speech.

4). Ask the “who do” question. At the end of a brief synopsis, and, then, again after some conversation, ask the “Who do you know to whom I should be speaking” question. DON’T ask IF they know anyone. Of course they know people. But if you ask if they know anyone, the answer will be “no.” Assume that your networking partner does not live under a rock and actually knows people. Also assume that they’re willing to share with you.

5). Laundry list. You’ll often get the absurd response of “Gee, I don’t know anyone.” Resist the temptation to say, “You don’t have any friends? I’ll be your friend,” and help this person out. Give a laundry list of people they might know, including old co-workers, bosses, and subordinates, people they’ve met in networking, vendors, places they’ve interviewed who turned them down and so on.

6). Close the meeting. At the close of the meeting, thank your networking partner for their time and set things up for later. Exchange cards if you have not already done so. Ask your networking partner to keep you informed of their progress, and ask if they’d like to be kept informed of yours. If the networking partner has been helpful, suggest that you two meet again in a couple of weeks.

7). Leave an open door. As you’re closing the meeting, let your networking partner know that, if you think of more information, you’ll be happy to give a call and ask for the same courtesy. This leaves the door open to more contact.

8). Don’t be too nice, though. It isn’t bright to open your Rolodex to someone you’ve just met. You might be referring your friends to Lizzie Borden for all you know. Refer at most a couple of people and job leads that have been openly advertised. Then check with your networking contacts you’ve referred and see how your new networking partner handled things. If everything is good, you can then, at the next meeting, refer a couple more people. But don’t just give away the farm. Make your networking partner give you something for your generosity.

9). Be willing to broom a networking partner. If it has been two meetings and you still are not getting any reciprocity from a new networking partner, broom ‘em. Don’t waste your time continuing to meet with someone who is stingy or unhelpful. It may sound harsh, but your time is valuable, especially in a job search. Don’t be explicit, but just don’t “have time” for another meeting if you’re not getting help, too.

The coffee meeting can be the most valuable meeting you take, or a complete waste of time and good coffee. Use the above tips to make your coffee meetings count.