The Business Coffee Date

Solopreneurs meet a lot of other solopreneurs at local mixers and there are a variety of reasons they may decide it would be worth their time to get to know one another better.   They have just met someone who could be a possible prospect, partner, service provider, or referral.  They may just be a source of useful information or merely be someone with a shared interest.  Normally they will decide to get together to find out. This is what is known in networking circles as a “business coffee date” at a local coffee shop.  But how will they ensure that this time has been enjoyable, productive and useful to both parties?  If the meeting isn’t conducted with finesse, someone will feel the meeting was one-sided.

Here are some ways to ensure both parties come away from a business coffee date with something of value:

  • The invitation should state the purpose of the meeting.  Do they just want to get better acquainted, or will they explore the possibility of doing business together?  Well, it’s way too soon in the relationship to suggest doing business, so someone will say something like “I like to make helpful connections and referrals in my network and I’d like to hear more about what you do…..”
  • Someone will suggest a convenient place, date and time.  If the date set is a few weeks out, it never hurts to confirm by text or e-mail the day of the meeting.  It indicates respect and interest to be on time when the day arrives.
  • It’s a good idea to decide ahead of time what you want to know from the other person. e.g. their website, preferred social media platform, preferred method of communication, business card, their business need/pain.
  • Important to remind oneself of some basic principles:  ask open question, listen with interest, be ready to answer open questions and ensure both parties get equal air time – this is an exchange, an exploration.  Be ready to offer something helpful.
  • Once seated with coffee in hand, conversation can begin where you left off with some chit-chat about the experience you shared.  e.g. “What did you think of the speaker at the mixer last week?”
  • A good way to lead into business discussion is to ask something very general:  “Tell me about your business.”  “When did you get into business?”  “What’s new in your industry this year?”
  • As time goes on, your questions can become more specific and they will be determined by the kind of product or service that you provide.  Your purpose is to find out you date’s need that you can fill:
    • Who is your target client?
    • How would I recognize one?
    • How do your customers find you?
    • How would you describe your health?
    • What is your biggest time suck (or frustration) right now?
    • What is the one critical fact that determines your business success right now?
  • Important to remember that when you finish answering a question that came your way, to turn it back to the other person by asking “What about you?”
  • At some point you might want to ask:  “Is there something I could do to support your business?”
  • Depending on any need that you identify, offer to do something – send a resource, make an introduction,  invite to join an inner circle
  • Depending on where the conversation goes, you might even ask “Do we see a potential for doing business together?”  Careful with this one.  Better to take things slow and easy so that trust can build.
  • After the coffee date follow up is very important; do any or all of these actions:
    • Visit their website and subscribe
    • Connect with them on their preferred social media platform (See Building Relationships in Business for more detail)
    • Add a positive comment to their posts
    • Send a message of thanks for an interesting meeting
    • Do whatever you promised to do/send
  • In your own Prospect Relationship Management system, record the meeting content, so that you will remember details for further follow up in the future

It being Monday, your task for this week is to look at the membership list of your favorite local networking group and flag those people you think would be potential prospects.  Now decide how many informal meetings you can do in a week and go to the next mixer resolved to arrange a Business Coffee Date or two or three.

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