Read This Before You Ask Someone to Coffee

I go to a lot of coffee dates.

I mean a lot. And I live in Seattle, so that’s saying something.

In fact, I say yes to everyone who asks me to coffee. Usually they want jobs. Often they want connections. Frequently they want ideas. But sometimes, they just need someone to listen. Looking for a job is hard work.

I’ve been there. There was a while when I first started my own PR business a decade or so ago. Wow, it was tough. I never forgot those who had coffee with me then.  My favorite story involves a guy who ran his own PR firm here in town. He kindly agreed to coffee and I am horrified to recall, I got a little wobbly during the meeting.  It was hard getting my business going and I was exhausted. He could tell. He told me I would do great and I would treat him to lunch someday. As he said, “I know you are going to do great. Good people always do.”  Then he continued to meet with me over the years, as I built my business.

As we all know, it’s not simple sometimes, especially in public relations. Good people struggle to find jobs or start businesses or network. And thus, the all-important coffee date.

Like I said, I am always happy to have coffee. But lately, I have noticed the coffee dates don’t always go as planned.

So I decided to give people my Top 10 Tips for Coffee Dates.

1) Always show up.  Lately I have had people arrange coffee dates and be late or maybe cancel with short notice. I understand things happen. But it has to be pretty big to cancel someone willing to have coffee with you.

2) Bring a notebook. It is amazing to me that so many people come to courtesy meetings and then don’t write anything down. There I am, listing connections and contacts, and they are not writing it down. Really?

3) Don’t ask me to do work.  It is also amazing how many people actually ask me to do work. Finding time for all these coffee dates, in addition to my actual work, is hard enough. Then people you meet with sometimes ask me to send long introduction notes to colleagues, or summarize our meeting or send them recaps.  Tip? Make it easy for me.

4) Have a resume in hand – or on email – and send it to me before coffee. This is super-helpful. Let me know who you are before the meeting. Then we can use our time chatting and brainstorming.

5) Be positive. I know, it’s a long road. Sometimes it wears you out. But try not to show it too much at the meeting. Come in with positive energy and be your own best advertisement.

6) Know your ask.  Work ahead of time to figure out what you want of me. Know your request and have it worked out. Is it names? Is it leads? Is it a brainstorming? Come in ready to make the most of my time.

7) Don’t be critical of others. I often have coffee with people who spend the whole time criticizing their last employer. It doesn’t engender much confidence, especially at our first meeting.

8) Be understanding on the scheduling. People who agree to have coffee are doing it around the actual jobs they have. Sometimes, it means things get rescheduled. Be patient, and know it will happen.

9) Pay it forward. You will land on your feet. Sometimes it just takes longer. The best thing you can do if someone has coffee with you today is to pass it on and take someone else to coffee someday.  Remember the kindness others showed you.

10) Last, but certainly not least, write thank-you notes. Thank people who make time to help. It matters.

Earlier I talked about the PR business-owner who helped me along the way.  The first thing I did when I came into my current job was to reach out to him and ask him if I could buy him lunch. I thanked him for listening over the years and for his support. I could tell it mattered to him. But buying lunch was really just a first step. There is a bigger way to repay him for his kindness.

Now, I pass it on.

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