The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Coffee Chats
Networking is vital for growing a business and, in today’s online business world, virtual coffee dates (also called virtual coffee chats) are a big part of the process.
If a global pandemic has taught us anything, being able to communicate remotely with others in the business world is extremely important.
Thanks to the Internet, it’s possible to meet face-to-face with almost anyone, anywhere in the world. These virtual meetings, often called “virtual coffee dates” or “virtual coffee chats,” can take place any time of day—and you don’t even have to put on real pants to do them!
I’ve been using virtual coffee dates to expand my network, visibility, and client base since 2013. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about their benefits, and how to do them well.
If you’re not sure how to get started or feel nervous about having your first online chat, read on for tips. Even if you’re not ready for virtual coffees, these tips will help you with in-person networking, too.
Benefits of Virtual Coffee Chats
Here are the top 4 reasons for investing your time in virtual coffee chats:
1. Building a Network of Peers
I don’t care who you are, what you do, or the stage of your business or career, everyone can use more people in their lives who “get” what they do.
Virtual coffee chats with peers in your industry provide an opportunity to talk about your work with someone who truly understands. They provide a sympathetic ear and useful advice based on their own experiences. Both are super valuable.
Plus, you never know who might later be able to help advance your career or business.
2. Finding Collaborators
There are likely a ton of ways you could partner up with someone else to create something powerful. This is especially true for entrepreneurs, who can collaborate with others on blogs, webinars, ebooks, courses, events, podcasts, and more.
How will you ever meet a perfect partner in crime if you don’t expand your network beyond your own office walls? Virtual coffee dates allow you to discover who is (and who isn’t) a great complement to you and your business.
3. Enlisting Cheerleaders
Want to grow your career or business faster? It helps to have other people in your corner, spreading the message about how awesome you are.
People are far more likely to support and endorse someone they know. The larger your network of people who have met and liked you, the more people you’ll have in your corner when you need help telling your story far and wide.
4. Landing a New Job or Client
This is last for a reason—getting a new job or client shouldn’t be your primary motivation for having virtual coffee chats. If it is, you’ll likely give off a used-car salesman vibe that no one likes.
Go into every networking encounter with the goal of meeting someone new and giving more than you get, and I promise it will eventually pay dividends.
How to Book a Virtual Coffee Date
Now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you to do 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 your business or career aspirations?
• 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 their website to see if there’s a link for scheduling coffee chats. If not, find their email to ask about meeting up. You may be surprised by how many people are open to the idea.
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If you don’t have specific names yet, turn to social media for help. Reach out to appropriate people via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook groups, Instagram, etc. Send a direct message asking if they’re open to having a coffee chat.
You’ll get more yeses than nos if you’re clear this isn’t just a pitch for a job or clients.
Tools for Virtual Coffee Chats
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 conferencing service like Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts. It’s more difficult to zone out or multitask when someone is watching you, and video makes the conversation far more personal and meaningful.
For the best experience, use your computer and a quality external microphone for your calls. This isn’t required, but it creates the most polished and professional image.
Prepare for a Virtual Networking Call
Make the most of everyone’s time by researching the person you’ll be meeting before you hop on the call. Visit their website and/or social media channels to better understand their work and to find some common ground.
Use what you uncover to develop a few talking points for the conversation.
You don’t need to follow a script during the call. In fact, doing so will likely feel rigid and impersonal. But it can be helpful to go into the call with a few prepared questions to avoid awkward silences. This is most helpful if you or the other party (or both) are nervous.
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During the Coffee Chat
Feel free to take control of the conversation from the start. If you arranged the call, it’s your responsibility to kick things off. But even if the other person booked into your calendar, you’ll appear more confident if you begin (you can ask, “How can I help you today?”).
A good rule for networking (or conversations in general) is to talk less and listen more. Everyone wants to feel heard, and they will remember a person who makes them feel that way. Listen intently, and ask of follow-up questions.
Bee careful to avoid making the conversation all about you. Shine the spotlight on the other party by asking questions about them. Again, people love to talk about themselves, and they appreciate and remember people who take a genuine interest in what they have to say.
If the conversation feels a bit awkward, that’s normal. Many people struggle with small talk and meeting new people. If you feel brave, you can share how you are feeling; you may find the other person is relieved to know that you are as nervous as they are!
Before the call ends, make sure you’ve shared what you do and your long-term goals so they know how they can help. If you have a specific request of the other person, don’t leave the call before you make it.
Never end a virtual coffee chat without asking this powerful question: “How can I help you?” And make sure you’re prepared to answer the same question. Do you need advice? Referrals? An introduction? Don’t pass up this opportunity to enlist their help if offered.
After Your Online Networking Chat
The coffee chat doesn’t end when you log off. Afterward, make sure you deliver on any promises you made. If you said you’d help with something specific, do it promptly.
Also, always send a follow-up email to thank the person for their time. Reiterate a few things you learned about them, and ask them to connect with you (on LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.). Encourage them to stay in touch and keep you informed about anything new in their business or career.
Here’s an example of a follow-up email:
It was great to spend some time connecting earlier this week. I appreciate your advice on … [Note: add a personal note that reiterates some part of the conversation, and makes it clear you took something of value from their time with you.]
Our conversation got me thinking about … [What are the next steps you’re planning related to your career or other aspirations]. Would you be open to … [Note: This is a great place to ask them for further help—referrals, introductions, job leads, a reference, etc.] Please let me know.
Finally, check back in from time to time. Circle back to everyone in your network periodically to see how they are doing, and to tell them about developments in your own business.
Virtual coffee chats mark the beginning (not the end) of a relationship.
Follow these tips to have some of the best chats of your professional life. If you make virtual coffee chats a regular part of your schedule, you’ll begin to see how they can help move you to the next level.
As my business has mainly be referral based, I always avoided networking (huge introvert!). But I know the importance of it so I recently started being more social within Facebook groups. It still makes me a little nervous, but I am getting really into it and connect with lots of amazing business owners. Think the next step would have to be scheduling some virtual coffee dates! Thanks for the tups.
You can do it, Melissa! It gets easier as you do more of them. I won’t lie, sometimes they can be a little painful if both people are nervous. But if you can find even one thing to bond over, it’s pretty easy to chat for 20 minutes!
Great post Laura! Your advice on after the coffee date holds true for in person meetings too.
Great article! I love Planet Internet for helping me connect with so many amazing like-minded women entrepreneurs! I also have found insane inspiration from local co-working spaces and the digital entrepreneurs who spend their time there.
My # 1 tip: find common ground FIRST and have a genuine conversation about NOT business. If that goes well, the conversation will certainly grow into “what do you do”?
Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Renee. And I love your tip. So true!
I just attended my virtual first coffee date today! It is definitely all of those things that you said! I can’t wait to go on another one!
Congrats! I’m so glad it went well.
Very helpful tips indeed Becky.
Many thanks. I’ll certainly be giving virtual coffee chats a go considering the direction with communication and social interaction travel now.