Networking is vital for growing a business. In the old days, networking for self-employed folks meant driving to a local Chamber of Commerce for glad-handing with a big group of muckety mucks, or hitting a coffee shop for a one-one-one sesh with a peer.
If you lived in a small town, you were basically out of luck. Even in larger cities, it usually didn’t take long before you started seeing the same people over and over again at networking events. How limiting.
No more! Today, you can use the Internet to meet face-to-face with other creatives anywhere in the world. These “virtual coffee dates” can take place any time of day and you don’t even have to put on real pants to do them!
Wondering if virtual coffee dates have value? Not sure how to get started? Nervous about actually doing them? I got you, boo.
This year I’ve really concentrated on expanding my network and visibility, and virtual coffee dates have been a big part of my strategy. Here are some tips I’ve discovered to help you get started with virtual coffee dates, and to make them work for your business.
Why Have Virtual Coffee Dates?
I could probably write a novel just on this topic, but instead, I’ll just give you the highlights. Here are my top four reasons for investing your time in virtual coffee dates:
1. Peers: I don’t care who you are, what you do, or what stage your business is in, we can all use a more people in our lives who “get” what we do. Your family and friends likely try to be supportive of your business, but very often they don’t really understand what you do, how you do it, or why it can be so hard sometimes.
Virtual coffee chats with others in the online creative space give you an opportunity to talk about all those things with someone who truly understands. They can simply be a sympathetic ear, or they can provide really useful advice based on their own experiences. Both are super valuable.
2. Collaborators: You may not even realize it yet, but there are probably a ton of ways you could partner up with someone else and create something magical—guest blogging, joint-venture webinars, co-writing an ebook or course, co-hosting a podcast, etc.
But how will you ever know or find the right partner in crime if you work alone and never get to know other creatives? Virtual coffee dates allow you to discover who is (and who definitely IS NOT) a great complement to you and your business.
3. Cheerleaders: Want to grow your business faster? It helps to have other people in your corner, spreading the message about your product or service.
People are far more likely to support and endorse a person than a business, and that’s why it’s important that people get to know you. The more people who know and like you, the more people you’ll have in your corner when you need help telling your story far and wide.
4. Clients: This is last for a reason. Yes, there’s always the chance your networking efforts will bring in new clients, but that shouldn’t be your primary motivation. If it is, you’ll likely give off a used-car salesman vibe that no one likes.
Go into every networking encounter with a goal of giving more than you get, and I promise it will eventually pay dividends.
How to Find Virtual Coffee Dates
Now that you’re convinced you should be doing more networking, you may be wondering how to find virtual coffee dates.
Start by deciding who you want to meet. What types of professionals make the most sense to serve as cheerleaders, collaborators, and confidantes? Which industries are most compatible with yours? Which personalities best align with yours? Are there any specific influencers or leaders on your wish list?
Next, think about ways to find and reach those people. If it’s someone specific, visit her website and see if she has a link for scheduling coffee chats (many people, like myself, do). If not, send her an email and ask for one. You may be surprised by how many people are open to the idea.
If you don’t have specific names yet, turn to social media for help. Reach out to appropriate people via Facebook groups, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Send them a direct message asking if they’re open to having a coffee chat. Again, you’ll likely get more yeses than nos, especially if you’re clear that it’s not a sales pitch.
If you don’t yet have an online calendaring system (like Acuity or Calendly), it’s time to get one. You can stick to the free version, but it’s much simpler to arrange these dates when you can send someone a link to your calendar and let them find a time that fits their schedule.
It’s possible to do virtual coffee chats via phone, but I highly recommend using a video service like Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts. It’s impossible to zone out or multitask when someone is watching you, and video makes the conversation far more personal and meaningful.
Before virtual coffee chat, do some research on the person you’ll be meeting. Visit her website and/or social media channels to learn a bit about what she does and to find some common ground. This will help you develop talking points for the conversation.
During Your Virtual Coffee Dates
Armed with some knowledge about your date, you can going into the call with a few prepared questions to avoid awkward silences.
Don’t be afraid to take control of the conversation from the start. If you arranged the call, it’s really your responsibility to guide it anyway. And don’t make the conversation about you, put the spotlight on her. Listen to what she says, and ask plenty of follow-up questions.
Before the call ends, however, make sure you’ve shared your elevator pitch so she knows what you do and how she can help.
Finally, never end a virtual coffee chat without asking this powerful question: “How can I help your business?” I got this advice from the amazing Reina Pomeroy and have used it ever since. She also advises making sure you are prepared to answer the same question. Do you need a launch cheerleader? Do you need advice? Do you want referrals? Whatever your ask, don’t pass up this opportunity to get this person’s help.
After Your Virtual Coffee Dates
Your coffee chat doesn’t end when you hang up the phone (or end the Skype call). Afterward, make sure you deliver on any promises you made. If you said you’d help with X, Y, or Z, then do it promptly.
Also, always follow-up a chat with an email thanking the person for her time and reiterating a few things you learned about her and her business. Tell her how she can connect with you online and encourage her to stay in touch and keep you informed about anything new in her business.
Finally, check back in with her from time to time. Your virtual coffee chats should mark the beginning (not the end) of a relationship. Circle back to everyone in your network periodically to see how they are doing and to tell them about developments in your own business.
Follow these tips and I’m certain you’ll not only have some of the best chats of your professional life, you’ll also see how virtual coffee dates can help your business move to the next level.