Let's Not Have CoffeeI’ve belonged to and visited a number of other business networking groups since 2007. I’ve learned a lot about how to waste time on fruitless business networking activity. One of the worst offenders is poorly executed one-on-one’s.

A “one-on-one” is a meeting with another person for the purpose of deepening the relationship. One-on-one’s are important. One-on-one’s lead to new opportunity—but only when they are done for the right purpose, with the right people, at the right time, and in the right way. Done incorrectly, they are a complete waste of time. Even worse, they create a false sense of progress.

I’ve often received requests for one-to-one meetings for purposes that were not very clear. The conversation almost always goes something like this: “You and I should have coffee so that I can learn more about what you do.”

But should we, really?

If I’m going to carve time out of my schedule for a meeting, there needs to be a very clear reason why we’re meeting. In my experience, there often isn’t. In my experience, most one-on-ones end up going nowhere. When two people get together with no defined goals, no next steps and no plan to follow up or measure results, there is almost no likelihood of the meeting being productive at all.

All of that said, if you’d like to get together for a one-to-one, I’m potentially interested—but here are my guidelines.

Respect my time.

If you get together with me in person, that time is precious. We get to talk in real time and see each other’s nonverbal cues. Make it count. Don’t waste this time on questions that can be handled with an email or a short phone call—or God forbid, questions for which the answers are already posted on my web site. (Hint: read my web site before we get together!)

Find out where I’m going and meet me there.

If you want me to adjust my schedule to accommodate your request, I’m much more likely to say yes if you make it easy for me. For example, you can usually meet me after my Toastmasters meeting on Thursday (if I’m going that week). If you ask me to make a special trip across town and break apart my day just to meet you, it’s probably not going to happen unless you’re writing me a check.

If it’s social, call it social.

If you want to be friends and get together socially, cool! As long as I like you at least a little bit and as long as it’s fun, I’m up for it. My idea of fun, by the way, is getting together in groups of 3-5 people and having deep and thought-provoking discussions about controversial subjects. I love writing, blogging, taking walks in the park, video games (though I’m a bit rusty), board games, learning foreign languages, drawing, and painting. You can also feel free to join my Toastmasters group at Deja Brew Coffee House in Raleigh every Thursday at 8:30.

If you call it business, let’s actually do business.

If we’re on working hours, let’s get to work. Tell me what you want to accomplish and what you want from me. If you’re the one asking for the meeting, the onus is on you to prepare for it. What do you want to walk away with at the end of the meeting—and why does it require a meeting? Why can’t we just talk about it on the phone? If you claim to want to meet me for business purposes and can’t answer those questions, then I am not interested.

If you want to sell me something, say so.

I once had an advertising salesman tell me that he wanted to hire me to provide copywriting services—and then he showed up with his flipbook and an order form. He proceeded to dive into a sales pitch and tried to get me to buy an ad in the Yellow Pages. He acted surprised when I abruptly got up and left. I have no problem with people selling me products or services. I buy stuff all the time. I have a big problem with people who show up to meet me with a hidden agenda. If you want to burn a bridge with me, lying about your motive for getting together is a great way to do it. I have a zero-tolerance policy for bait-and-switch tactics.

If you want to pick my brain for free, say so.

I’m not going to promise that I’ll say yes, but I will respect you a lot more if you’re honest with me up front about what you want. I’ve had people ask for a meeting, claiming to be interested in hiring me—only to find that they were really just looking for free advice or information. I once had a “prospect” ask for a meeting about a “paying” project that turned out to be a no-money proposition. After having already lost two hours out of my day to meet with this person, I was not inclined to donate more of my time to a free project. Had she asked me honestly to donate an hour of my time without a meeting, I might have been open to it.

Show genuine interest in building a relationship.

The type of meeting I try to avoid usually starts out with a question like this: “So, tell me about what you do.” Unless you’re ready to write me a check, I’m not interested in getting together to tell you about what I do. That’s what I have a web site for. If you want to know what I do, save us both some time by reading my Services page—and if you still have questions, call me or send me an email. If we get together and you ask a question like this, I will interpret it as laziness and a lack of effort on your part.

If I haven’t scared you away yet—then let’s have coffee!

This blog post might give you the impression that I want to have less meetings. Actually, I want to have a lot more of them—but with a much smaller number of people. If you ask me to get together with you, I’m more likely to be interested if you tell me that you want to meet a dozen times in the next six months. If you want to meet only once, I’m unlikely to want to meet you at all—unless, of course, that single meeting has a very well-defined purpose that makes a lot of sense to me (or unless you’re writing me a check).

The fact is, you can’t build a relationship over one cup of coffee. It takes a lot of time and a lot of cups of coffee. If you’re ready to invest that time, great! It helps a lot if you visit the groups I belong to. If you’re only willing to meet me once and then move on, let’s just skip it. Just send me an email about whatever you want to sell me. Frankly, I’ve got stuff to do.

If you want to begin building a real relationship, let’s talk!

6 thoughts to “Let’s Not Have Coffee

  • Olalah Njenga

    Another brilliant piece of insight Dave. Well said!

    • Dave Baldwin

      Thanks O!

  • Remy

    Still welcome for coffee every Tuesday and Friday mornings. It’s a little social, a little business, a little fun and a lot of random. 😉

    • Dave Baldwin

      Thanks Remy, I’m glad my post didn’t get me banned 🙂

  • Chris

    Great thoughts and so true. Not many say this out loud yet think it in their mind either during or after a “coffee meeting “.

    Well said.

    • Dave Baldwin

      They may not say it out loud, but you can see it in the look on their face!

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