This post should be alternately titled "How I Had at Least Two Coffee Dates per Week for almost an Entire Year and Didn't Run Out of Money or Clients."
Or probably "How to Network, the Non-Sleazy, Boss Lady Way." Because if there's anything I'm about, it's being authentic, helpful, and relation-savvy in your business.
I realize that I love networking more than any other piece of business (I mean, have you seen my website? Clearly I spend way more time networking than actually, uh, learning to design in Squarespace). Networking comes easily to me, and it's definitely an inherent skill that I have that allows me approach people willy nilly with emails and requests without any prior relationship (and getting them to say yes to me!). I suspect this skill was honed from many, many years of living in New York City and simply having to ASK FOR EVERYTHING.
A few of those things include:
"Can you move over on the subway so I can sit here? Will you bag those groceries a little more compactly so they don't jostle while I walk home? Can you pull up a little further so I don't get out in a puddle? Will you lower my rent so that I don't have to move? Can you please stop bouncing balls for your dog AT ONE IN THE DAMN MORNING?!"
Literally. Living in a big city means you have to fight for every little piece of square footage that you've been offered, and have to always prepared to get a big fat "NO". So asking for coffee dates to talk about someone's career? Piece of cake!
So instead of just telling you how great I am at meeting people, I'm going to give you a few tips on networking that I've learned from years of trial and error.
Before you ask, do a little research on the people you want to meet.
Some might call this "stalking" (I mean, uhhh...), but it's extremely important to make sure you know what you're asking for and what the goals of your meeting are before you reach out to anyone and ask for their time or advice.
When I reach out to someone, I rarely think of them as a potential client; I'm mostly interested in getting to know them as a person and developing a potential relationship with them.
Usually, I make a written list of why I want to connect with this person. Then I write down what I have to potentially offer them (advice, a cup of coffee, lunch) and what I am hoping to get from our conversation (a new colleague, collaboration, help with a question I can't answer).
After that, I compose my email, making sure I mention that I've done my research (maybe I read their blog, or I identified deeply with something that they mentioned on their website). It's those little personal touches that make your email a lot more likely to be opened.
Make sure you're 100% clear in your request.
This is one of the biggest mistakes that people make when asking for a meeting: they're overjoyed and don't actually know what they want, but they want to sit down and have coffee and do some brain picking!
Hopefully, the people you're reaching out to are extremely busy. And they don't have time to just sit for coffee and give you free advice about life or business. However, if you can come up with a very direct question or reason as to why you want to meet with them and portray that in a 6-sentence email? Then you're doing better than 95% of the people who reach out for coffee meetings. Here's an example email that I recently sent to a woman who is another speaker at a conference at which I am also speaking.
I noticed that we're both speaking at the Blah-dee-Blah conference this month. I think it's always so fascinating to connect with other entrepreneurs and business owners, especially around our individual journeys to entrepreneurship, PLUS I always love knowing people in the room at a conference so it's not super awkward.
Would you have 30 minutes to sit down with me to talk about your presentation topic and also tell me your story? I'm happy to buy you some coffee. Looking forward to connecting!
See that? Simple! Easy! The request is clear as day! And because we're talking about personal experience, she's much more likely to say yes knowing that I'm not going to give her the ol' sales-pitch.
Remember that this is not a sales pitch.
So anyone that thinks that networking is about a sales pitch on the first, second, or third meeting is not going about this the right way.
Networking is like dating! You have to make sure you like each other a little bit before you go forth and make the relationship official. Sometimes, people will hire you right off the bat and that's great! But most of the time, people aren't ready to do that, so be patient and know that if you're genuine in wanting to connect with someone with no ulterior motive, they'll feel more comfortable around you and will feel more comfortable recommending you to their friends and wanting to hire you themselves if you're just genuinely there to help them.
The last thing that you should do is ask "How can I help you?"
This is how I close ALL of my meetings. "What do you need help with?" or "Who do you need an introduction to?" are two questions that people RARELY get asked...and they love it! Some people are so shocked that you, a person who asked for the meeting, genuinely wants to help them for free with no expectation.
Stay in community with them, even after the meeting is over.
I don't have any sort of system of follow up with people beyond sending them a thank you email or text after a meeting and making sure I add some of the resources/information that I mentioned during our meeting.
However, when I remember, I do send an email to them a few weeks or months later, mentioning that I was thinking about them while reading an article or meeting with someone else. I also do my best to recommend THEM for work (whether it's a speaking gig that I can't necessarily fulfill or someone in my community asking for a recommendation), which is the single best way to ensure a lasting relationship.
What is the point of all this?
So you may have noticed that I never said that I immediately got business from all of my coffee meetings. But I did get business, clients, customers, and lots of friends...but it was when I had something to offer them specifically.
And after I started implementing these practices, four months later I launched my first Boss Lady Bash...and it sold out in 48 hours BECAUSE of all the coffee meetings, lunch dates, phone calls, WHATEVER that I had gone on BEFORE I actually had a product to launch.
The point of building your network is not to build it when you need clients or customers. The point of building your network is to build it BEFORE you need anything. And to maintain it throughout your business ownership until you have something to sell or you need some feedback or you have client openings.
Was this helpful? Hopefully it showed a little insight into how I was able to grow my network and really, really help people AND my business at the same time.
Your turn! Tell me in the comments below:
What is your biggest struggle with networking? Do you find that relationships you make fizzle out? Or do you struggle to ask for coffee dates and meetings or go to networking events in the first place?