Before the pandemic, it used to be so simple. Two professionals could meet and catch up in person over coffee. These brief “check-ins” were a convenient way to remain top of mind and to stay abreast of market intelligence. All that changed in March and, since then, we have all been forced to use digital replacements.
If you are entrusted with maintaining market visibility for your firm, the solitude-laden summer of 2020 was disorienting, emotionally taxing and, at times, downright depressing. But recently, since shelter-in-place orders have been lifted and venues have become more accommodating, I’ve hosted several one-on-one, in-person, networking coffees and found them to be extremely worthwhile. These meetings brought on a brief sense of normalcy but could be more accurately described as “business as unusual.”
...an invitation for an in-person networking coffee, in most instances, will be much appreciated by your clients
If done with proper forethought, extending an invitation for an in-person networking coffee is no longer considered cavalier and, in most instances, will be much appreciated by your clients, referral sources and prospects.
Before reaching out, consider these six steps to help ensure success.
1. Listen Carefully
Get a reading on your potential invitee’s comfort level with in-person meetings. Your goal is to identify others who share your desire to meet face-to-face and not to guilt anyone into stepping outside of their comfort zone.
There is no reason to rush.
I hesitate to call it risk tolerance, but that is probably the most accurate definition of what you are attempting to assess in others whom you may consider inviting. If you sense any wariness or trepidation from your potential guest, politely assure them that you are happy to wait until a later date to meet in-person. There is no reason to rush.
2. Research Your Venue
Locate a venue that has plenty of outdoor seating, follows local social distancing guidelines, limits the number of patrons, employs attentive staff who wear masks, and displays a consistent, visible cleaning regimen. Visit the location ahead of time to make sure that their posted rules and regulations are being practiced.
Spacious hotel lobbies, outdoor cafés, open-air galleries, and restaurants with patios all make the most sense. Avoid small coffee shops and restaurants that appear crowded and ramp up everyone’s anxiety. You may also find success in neighborhoods, parks and on greenways with walking or yoga meetings. Just add coffee!
3. Consider Your Timing
Always avoid peak hours.
It is easy to determine when most places are busy by checking their “popular times” information online. Even with social distancing rules in place, it is important to avoid the rush. Try a 10am coffee or an early afternoon tea.
Ask your guest when they would like to get together, and you may be surprised at the flexibility most people now enjoy during their work from home days.
4. Bring Your PPE
Personal Protective Equipment is important to stay safe and to help relieve anxiety. Make sure to wear your mask initially and always bring extra, packaged masks with you in case there is a need.
...put your guest at ease
Many people may prefer to keep their masks on in public even while seated and distanced, so be prepared to do the same. Also, it is prudent to have some hand sanitizer for yourself and to potentially share with your guest. I always suggest pocket-sized disinfecting wipes in case you want to do some extra cleaning on the table or chairs, which may help put your guest at ease.
5. Stay Flexible
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is not to be surprised if something changes. Things happen, schedules blow up, personal or professional emergencies can and will arise.
Don’t sweat it. Gather the pertinent facts, make informed decisions, be prepared to offer logical next steps and then move on. It might be you it might be them. Trust me, everyone gets it… it is 2020 after all.
6. Be Empathic
Keep in mind that everyone has a lot rattling around in their heads these days. We are all shouldering many visible and invisible burdens, so don’t be surprised if your guest begins to unpack a lot more than just their current business issues.
Always listen with intent and be willing to offer encouragement where needed. We can all use a little moral support these days. “That must be hard” or “I hear you and I get it” can be miraculous phrases at times. Listen with empathy and positivity.
Follow these suggestions and, undoubtedly, you will plan a safe and successful networking coffee and create an atmosphere that will reward you and your guest with a renewed sense of purpose and connection.
Virtual meetings are serviceable but nothing can replace the authenticity of an in-person visit. Make the effort and you’ll both likely find it therapeutic and energizing.
Good luck and stay safe!
David Burkhardt is Client Service Director at law firm Wyrick Robbins.