October 2013

10 Tips for an Awesome Coffee Meeting By: Sean Blanda

The coffee meeting is the Swiss Army knife of networking. It’s a low-risk way to meet new people, swap advice, and lay the foundation for a more substantial relationship.

CoffeeDate572x429-425x319

 

If the concept of a coffee meeting is foreign to you, you only have to remember one guiding principle: never, ever waste the other person’s time. They are providing their time, their most precious resource. The good news is that the bar for coffee meetings is pretty low. Most creatives can likely tell you of meetings that started with “let’s grab coffee” and ended in an unproductive conversation.

However, you’re better than that, dear reader. Here’s how to be the best coffee meeting participant around.

1. Be clear when asking for the meeting.

When you email your potential coffee meeting participant, don’t simply ask to “pick their brain” or “see if there’s any potential” in you getting to know each other. Those phrases usually show that you only have a vague idea of what you’d like to talk about. Instead, introduce yourself, show that you have specific knowledge of the person’s work, offer why you’d like to talk, and (most importantly) propose potential times. An example:

“Hey Josh, 

Sean Blanda here, managing editor of 99u.com. I’ve been following your work and really enjoy your email newsletter. We’re trying to launch something similar here at 99U, and I’d like to talk to you about any advice you’d have for us.

Are you up for a coffee meeting sometime next week at the Midtown Starbucks? I’m available Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 11-2 each day. Hope to hear from you!

–Sean”

2. Do your homework.

When you meet someone, it’s normal to ask a series of biographical questions such as “What do you do? Where are you from?” That’s fine for your friend’s birthday party. It has no place at the coffee meeting.

It’s likely the busy person you ask for coffee has some degree of notoriety and has articles, talks, and LinkedIn profile pages online that can offer more information about them. Coffee meetings are usually 30 minutes or less, so don’t waste your time talking about subjects you could easily Google. Additionally, a busy person has given their “elevator pitch” many times to press, colleagues, and others. Stand out from the crowd by moving past this base level of interaction.

3. Never, ever, ever be late.

Any meeting is about respecting the time of the other person. Leave early. Make time for traffic. Know where you are going. Being late for a meeting you asked for is the ultimate selfish act in business. Never be late.

4. Offer to pay.

Ask the other person what they’d like before placing your order. Then, pay for both. It was your idea to meet and grab coffee, it’s only fair that you cover the (admittedly minor) costs. If you’re a student, chances are they wont let you actually pay, but offer any way. If the person objects and wants to pay for their coffee, let them. Don’t spend more than five seconds on this interaction.

5. You don’t have to drink coffee.

Meetings over beer are for open-ended discussion. Meetings over coffee are for getting things done.

But even if you meet at a coffee shop, you don’t have to get coffee. More important is that whatever drink should take the same amount of time to consume as a cup of coffee. As for snacks, it’s hard to have a short conversation with your mouth full of croissants.

6. Have one clear, specific ask.

Let’s say you and I are deciding on where to go out to dinner. I say, “I don’t know, I’m up for anything, I guess.” Frustrating, right? But if I say “I’m really in the mood for the Mexican place down the street. If you don’t like that, let’s get Thai from downtown.” Now that you can work with.

The same goes for asking. There was a reason you wanted to get coffee with the busy person, so don’t be shy in telling them point-blank how they can help. They should have a general idea as to why you’d like to meet from your email, so don’t be afraid of being direct. By accepting the meeting, they have already agreed to provide assistance, so make it as easy as possible for them. Some examples:

Bad: “I need help finding a job”

Good: “I’m looking for an entry-level position as a junior designer at a small advertising firm like firm x, firm y, or firm z. Do you know anyone at those places?”

Bad: “Can you help me with my writing career? I’m struggling to pay the bills.”

Good: “Do you know of any literary agents looking for short young adult fiction?”

7. Take notes and follow up.

When you sit down at the table, take out a pen and a notebook. If, at any point in the conversation you say something like “I’ll send you that video.” Or they mention the person they’d like to introduce you to, write it down. I like to create two columns on the paper with the headings “My Homework” and “Their Homework.” On the top of the page I write the person’s name, company, and the date.

The moment you arrive back at your computer, make a note to follow up in a day or two. Doing it immediately can be a tad aggressive, but don’t let yourself forget. In the follow up, make good on anything you promised to send, as well as providing a gentle nudge on anything they offered. An example:

“Hey Josh, it was great to meet you, thanks for being so generous with your time. To follow up on some of the things I mentioned: 

Also, you mentioned you had a contact at firm x? I’d love to speak with her, let me know if I can provide you with anything to make this easier.

Thanks again,

–Sean”

8. Offer to add value.

Throughout the conversation, keep your ears open for anything you can help out with. Many simply ask at the end of the conversation if there’s anything they can do. But the best way is to have this mindset ready during the actual conversation with anyone you speak with, coffee meeting or no. In Maximize Your Potential, master connector Sunny Bates shares the right way to approach:

“You want to do it in an authentic way. I always appreciate when people ask in a way that’s somehow embedded in the conversation rather than as an add-on at the very end. Like, ‘Oh you gave me this, and so I have to ask you.’ It’s always good to try and steer the exchange away from debt and obligation and more into the spirit of generosity.”

9. Offer to end on time.

It’s likely you agreed to meet for 15 or 30 minutes. As those times approach, even if you are in the middle of a fruitful conversation, stop and ask the person if they have to go. If they agree to keep chatting, great. If your reminder kept them on schedule, even better. Be someone who respects the time of others.

10. Communicate any outcomes.

Author Ramit Sethi calls this the “closing the loop” technique.

After you send the follow up email (see #7) set a calendar alert 2-3 weeks in the future to follow up one final time. In this second follow up you should tell the person the results of anything the suggested. Example:

“Hey Josh, just a simple note to say that I met with Mary as you suggested and her an I are discussing a possible freelance gig. Thanks again and let me know I can ever return the favor!”
Read more →

How To Ask People for Things Via Email: An 8-Step Program by Jocelyn K. Glei

TheAsk572x429-425x319

One of the golden rules of writing is: Respect the reader’s intelligence. This rule gets magnified by a factor of 10 when it comes to composing unsolicited emails.

Most people who receive any significant quantity of email in a day have developed extremely refined bullshit detectors. They can identify an impersonal templated email in 0.5 seconds, and they can spot a time-wasting “let’s explore the possibilities” ask from a mile off.

In short, getting someone that you don’t know to pay attention to you—and respond—is a delicate art. One that requires craftsmanship, charm, concision, and a lot of self-editing.

Based on years of drafting, redrafting, observation, and misfires, here are a few pointers to keep in mind when composing an email “ask”:

Step 1: Make it easy to say, “Yes.”
When it comes to giving good email, making it easy to say “Yes!” is objective number one. Sadly, it’s also where most people fall down on the job.

I frequently receive emails from people who are interested in some sort of knowledge exchange but never clarify how they would like for me to take action. Do they want to have a coffee? Do they want to do a phone call? It’s unclear, which means that instead of saying, “Yes!” I have to respond by asking them what they’re asking me for in the first place. Or, not respond at all.

If you are asking someone to take the time to answer you, it should be very clear what you are asking for. Look at your email and ask yourself: “Can the recipient say ‘Yes’ without further discussion?” If the answer is yes, you’re doing well. If not, you need to redraft.

Step 2: Write an intriguing subject line.
Composing a good email subject line is akin to writing a great headline. If you’re cold-emailing someone you’ve never met, it’s important to strike a balance between being direct and being interesting.

If I were asking someone to speak at our annual 99U Conference, for instance, I might use a subject like: “Jessica + Behance’s 99U Conference?” (Analysis: Using someone’s name feels personal; mentioning Behance in addition to 99U gives more chance of name recognition; and the question mark gives a sense of possibility/ creates curiosity.)

Keep in mind that while it’s always good to be clear, you also don’t want to give anyone a reason to dismiss your email before reading it. For that reason, you’ll want to avoid stock or cookie-cutter phrases that might get your email lumped in (and glossed over) with others.

For instance, for a speaker ask for the 99U Conference, I typically avoid run-of-the-mill phrases like “speaking opportunity” or “speaking invitation,” because they can turn people off before they’ve really assessed my particular opportunity.

Step 3: Establish your credibility.
“Why should I care?” is the tacit question hovering in most people’s minds every time they open an email from someone they don’t know. This is why establishing your credibility is crucial. Tell your reader why you are different, why you are accomplished, and why they should pay attention to you.

If I’m contacting someone about contributing to 99u.com, I might share stats on our monthly pageviews and social media reach to do this. If the ask is related to one of our events, I would share audience size, years sold out, and a power-list of past speakers.

If you don’t have “data points” to share, you can also establish credibility by being a keen observer of the person you are contacting; you could tell them how long you’ve followed their work, how you enjoyed the last blog post they wrote, etc. As long as it’s not fawning, most people appreciate being noticed.

“Why should I care?” is the tacit question hovering in most people’s minds every time they open an email from someone they don’t know.
Step 4: Be concise & get to the point.
Never assume that someone is going to read your entire email. You should make it clear from the get-go exactly what you are asking for. That means clarifying why you’re reaching out in the first sentence or two, and no later.

However, sometimes everything you need to say can’t be explained in 1-3 sentences. If this is the case for your ask, go ahead and say your piece (as concisely as you can) but assume your reader will be skimming it. This means using bolding, bullet pointing, and so forth as much as possible.

If it’s necessary to give some backstory prior to the ask, I like to just go ahead and break out the ask in paragraph two with a bolded preface that reads, “The Ask:” If you’re asking for something, there’s no point in beating around the bush. Make your objective clear.

Step 5: Give a deadline if you can.
People are often shy about including deadlines in emails, especially when cold-emailing. While it’s never a good idea to come off as presumptuous, deadlines do have great utility. In fact, most busy people like them. Bear in mind when you are emailing someone that—surprise!—they are probably also getting tons of emails from other people.

Most of those emails fall into one of two categories: 1) Things they have to do, and 2) Random requests for things that they might like to do, time permitting. Chances are, your email falls into group two. Which means it’s really important to know when something needs a response by. In other words, do whatever you can to help the receiver put the requested task on a timeline and prioritize it.

Step 6: Be interesting and interested.
At the most basic level, this means do not ever send anyone a templated email. If you are asking someone to take the time and energy to reply to you, make it clear that you actually know who they are.

That doesn’t mean being obsequious and singing their praises, it does mean talking to them like you are one human talking to another human. It’s nice to articulate why you’re interested in them. It’s also nice to articulate why they should be interested in you. Try to have a voice and say something funny, meaningful, or thoughtful—preferably all three!

Step 7: Never ever ever use the word “synergy.”
No single word lights up the experienced emailer’s bullshit detector like the word “synergy.” No one worth their salt wants to spend their time talking about exploring synergies. Emails with this language typically mean that the person asking for something hasn’t really thought through their ask enough to offer any specificity. If you want someone to take a chance on you, show them respect by thinking through what you are asking for and being up front about it. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time and theirs.

No one worth their salt wants to spend their time talking about exploring synergies.
Step 8: Preview your email on a phone.
You probably write most of your “ask” emails on a desktop computer. Bear in mind that your recipient will be receiving and reading your email on their mobile phone in almost all instances. And what looks “digestible” on a desktop computer looks like an epic poem on a mobile phone.

As per point 4, you may think you have already confirmed that your email is concise. But is it still concise on an iPhone? Once you check, you will probably realize there are a few more things you can remove. Edit your email again, and then send.

Read more →