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Why “let’s do coffee” is an insulting request

(Business Editorial) You’ve been told by the gurus that you should be sending out mass “let’s do coffee” email requests to influencers, but I’m here to tell you that you’ve been misled.

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let's do coffee

let's do coffee

“Let’s do coffee”

So you’ve been told by Jim that Sally (who is a stranger to you) is really connected and it would be beneficial to know her, so you reach out to Sally who points you in Jeff’s position, and you email Jeff casually suggesting that the two of you do coffee.

The request is seemingly innocuous, in fact, you’ve probably been to a dozen seminars where gurus tell you to grab coffee with as many people as possible. You’ve been told that it’s the golden ticket to advance your business.

Wrong.

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What the gurus advised you is true – getting coffee with an “influencer” can certainly advance your career. Your career. Yours. Your career. What a one-sided concept.

So offer to buy the coffee, right?

Let’s say you’re trying to be generous instead of selfish, so you offer to buy your new contact whatever coffee drink they want. That makes up for the lopsided relationship before it is ever even initiated, right?

Wrong.

My husband and I get these emails all the time, and we’re fortunate enough to host a monthly networking event that we can funnel people into instead of falling into the “let’s do coffee” trap on a daily basis, but most people aren’t that lucky.

Most people are faced with a choice, a choice you’re forcing them to make. Do they politely decline and crush your dreams of coffee talk, do they accept based on a pre-determined set of criteria, or do they blindly accept all invitations? And how many invitations do you think they get in a week? The more influential the person is, the more “let’s do coffee” emails they get and are forced to sound rude for rejecting people.

What’s the solution?

Consider this – each time you ask someone to coffee, they not only have to spend the time crafting a response, but they must take the time to look at their schedule and offer you times, then do the email dance of “where do we meet?” and usually, it’s in the middle out of politeness. Then, when coffee day arrives, you’re asking them to stop their work day, get in their car, drive to the mid-point, chat with you about your needs, drive back to work, and one to three hours later, you’re asking them to try to find their focus at work again.

What a huge investment. For what? The chance to be your stepping stone?

There is a solution. Instead of making influencers the bad guy and insulting their value by putting them into a win-lose proposition, invite them to a networking event. Better yet, find out via their social networks what events they already attend and reach out to see if they’d be willing to connect there.

Meeting influencers where they gather is not only a more considerate way to connect, but you may actually win favor by mentioning you aren’t looking to impose on their day, rather connect to see if there is any commonalities between you, given how many people have recommended that you two connect.

From now on, thou shalt not send out endless “let’s do coffee” invites. You make people feel like the bad guy because they have a legitimate job to tend to, and meeting them where they gather is a much more considerate (and potentially memorable) move.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Ricci Neer

    June 24, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Agreed!

  2. Tinu

    June 24, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    My policy is, if there’s even the smallest chance that I will one day want a favor, I do at least two favors first. A favor can be as small as a retweet or as big as buying a round of drinks after a networking event.

    And I do it for the pleasure of it with people I like. That way if it turns out to yield nothing professionally, I file it under friendship.

    I also reject all requests from strangers and just let them know, it’s not personal, it’s my policy. I book appointments with clients a week in advance and I can’t afford to make them wait or reschedule the people who are paying me just because someone’s feelings might get hurt.

    If they think it’s rude that’s their problem. If you want my attention, provide value first.

  3. bobledrew

    June 24, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    I’m happy to meet up with people for coffee (especially when they buy) for a couple of reasons.

    When I was fresh out of university, I was in a bit of a state of limbo. 21, ditched a plan to go to grad school, living in a community with a 25% unemployment rate. I literally walked into our local CBC radio station (like the BBC, but Canadian) and said “I’d like to learn how to do radio. Can someone help me?” Someone did, and that changed everything.

    Since then, I have felt a moral obligation to respond when someone reaches out. I like the idea that I could be a stepping stone for someone, or maybe more accurately, to link my hands and maybe give them a boost over a wall.

    I also believe that the law of averages suggests that when I do that enough, someone will do the same for me.

    That being said, there’s a line, and here’s when I draw that line — if I feel like I’m being “pumped” for knowledge or skills that I should be rightfully paid for, I find a way to say no thanks. At one point, someone essentially suggested to me that I could meet up with them every week and teach them about social media in exchange for them buying. That was a no. Also, while I am happy to pursue a long sales funnel, I am not going to have endless dithering coffees with people who just can’t pull the trigger. At some point, if there’s work to be done, you have to s**t or get off the pot.

    I think the insult in the request for a coffee is this: if someone asks me for a coffee, they’re imposing themselves on me. If you follow up that imposition with: being late, taking way longer than promised, a noshow, a blatant and unanticipated sales pitch… that’s insulting.

    On the other hand, if you contact me and ask for 30 minutes to talk about what’s happening in the city re: social media jobs, show up on time, take 30 minutes, and pay for my coffee, you have respected me and my time.

    • Dennis "DenVan" VanStaalduinen

      June 25, 2014 at 10:57 am

      Hey Bob, you are an awesome influencer and I totally agree with everything you said here, but let’s not grab coffee. Your time is too valuable. Beer is better.

  4. David Holmes

    June 24, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    I’ve never turned down a request like this and have always gotten something out of such meetings; from a renewed energy to different perspectives or valuable intelligence.

    When I started doing some new things and needed to request a few meetings of my own, I was astonished that the rest of the world doesn’t see things the way I do.

  5. jmacofearth

    June 24, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Great point. I found myself at a coffee ‘date’ a few weeks ago with a friend of a friend who was sure to have a business deal in the works and could use my expertise. I took the coffee date, but had bought my own beverage long before the gentleman arrived.

    He picked my brain for an hour. I explained how we could work together. And Poof he’s gone and my afternoon had a 2 hour bill-less hole in it.

    Okay, next time, I’m gonna MAKE him send me the “pitch” or idea first, IF I want to invest the time in a business prospect.

    Love the post. Thanks.

  6. Hank Miller

    June 25, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Amen. I don’t do coffee or lunch or dinner….or golf…..

    Best case, email me what you want to discuss I’ll review it and email you back. Failing that, YOU come to my office (bring coffee) and pitch me.

    There’s not a coffee around worth the lost hours “meeting” for this.

  7. It Will Never Be Right

    June 25, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    Perhaps this is a trend below the 50-ish group of professionals. The offer to “do coffee,” much less that type of jargon, is not part of my profession. I’m a sole proprietor, a consultant in a specialized area of software expertise, and people are usually asking me to come to them. But not for coffee. Too time consuming, and simply not interested.

  8. LiveFromATX

    June 26, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    There’s obviously a line at which these requests may become too numerous and imposing, but I am against painting them all with the same brush as disrespectful and selfish across the board. Whatever happened to “influencers” using their influence for good, to give younger professionals a bit of advice or mentorship? Or someone established in a specific industry giving some pointers to someone trying to switch careers? I’ve received some of these requests, and I’ve always responded – yes or no – depending on the situation and how I was approached, and I’ve also sent out some of these requests, and have been greatly disappointed when they was simply ignored. Why not handle each one on a case by case basis? The attitude suggested by the author of this piece is reminiscent of Kelly Blazek’s now-infamous LinkedIn diss of an advice seeker, because she was too high and mighty to bother with little plebes.

  9. Scott Langmack

    June 28, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Yikes, the article approaches getting coffee in a way that strips humans of humanity. Instead, define coffee in three different contexts – someone you know, someone you can get a quality introduction to, and someone you don’t know. If you know them, the coffee request is fine. Humans are social animals, tens of thousands of years of community-based instincts is why successful people want to help others they know, and they are flattered when asked. The issue is if you don’t know someone, asking for time/coffee is intrusive. I coach people to have their mutual connection ask their friend to meet, so the favor is split between the asker and the coffee meeting requestor. People have a natural sense of their social capital with others, and wont agree to make the intro if there is not a perceived benefit for both parties in the meeting. Remember that senuir executives are primarily human brokers, they spend the vast majority of their time finding, training, placing, firing, and referring people. When you want to move your career ahead, meet with human brokers who know you or have a strong social connection to you. As far as “blind” requests for coffee, skip it – there is no social contract for the person to accept the meeting or help you if they do.

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Opinion Editorials

The secret to self improvement isn’t always about improvements

(EDITORIAL) Self improvement and happiness go hand in hand, but are you getting lost in the mechanics of self improvement?

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Think back to your New Year’s resolutions. Now that it’s summer, how many of them are you still keeping? Think about which ones stuck and what went by the wayside.

If you’re like most of us, you had big plans to make yourself better but didn’t stay the course. I’ve only managed to keep one of my resolutions, but it isn’t always easy.

I want to take a look at why we can’t keep our goals. I think we’re always on a journey of self-improvement. It’s easy to get obsessed with reading self-help books or trying to learn new things. We want to be better. This spring, I went through a Lent study with a group of people. Lent is a time of growth and self-reflection, just six weeks. And yet many of us are struggling to keep up with the daily reading or maintaining a fast of something we willingly chose to give up.

Why do we fail?

I think we fail because of three things.

You might think I’m going to say something like we fail because we don’t have willpower, but I think that is the farthest thing from the truth. I’m no therapist, but I’ve read the literature on alcohol and drug rehab. It’s not willpower that keeps a person sober. It’s community. One reason I think we fail at our goals is that we don’t have a cheerleading team. I believe that we need people on our side when we’re trying to improve.

Secondly, I think we fail because we want immediate results. We have this mentality that things should happen quickly. I’ve written about this before. It’s like you workout once and want that swimsuit body. We get frustrated when we don’t see results right away. So, we move on to the next pursuit.

Do your goals lead to happiness?

Failure can also be because self-improvement goals don’t always lead to being better person. We do a lot of things because “we should.” Your doctor might think you need to lose weight. Maybe your boss wants you to be a better speaker. Meditation should make you a better person. Maybe you ran a marathon, and now you think you need to run an ultramarathon because that’s what your best friend did.

What makes you happy isn’t always what you should be doing.

Your doctor might be right, but if you’re choosing to lose weight because you want to make your doctor happy, you’re probably not going to stick with a program. If you’re trying to learn Spanish to make your boss happy, again, you’re probably not going to enjoy it enough to really learn. If you’re chasing after goals just to say you’ve done it, what value do your achievements bring to your life?

If you’re obsessed because you “should” do something, you’re going to get burned out and fail. Whether it’s New Year’s resolutions, a self-improvement project or giving up meat for Lent, you need solid reasons for change. And if you give something a try that isn’t for you, don’t soldier on. You don’t need to spend years taking yoga classes if you don’t enjoy it.

When something becomes a burden rather than bringing benefits, maybe it’s time to take a look at why you’re doing it.

When you don’t know why you’re knocking yourself out to be better, maybe you need to figure out a reason. And if you feel as if what you’re doing isn’t enough, stop and figure out what will satisfy you.

I’ve been doing a lot of meal prepping on the weekends. Sometimes, I want to quit. But it pays off because I have less to do throughout the week. It might seem like a burden, but the benefits outweigh the burdens. I’ve been able to eat much healthier and use more vegetables in my meals, which is the one goal I’ve been able to keep. I have some good friends that help me stay on track, too. I choose to eat more vegetables for my health. I think it’s a combination of all these things that is helping me meet my goal this year.

Don’t give up on making yourself a better person. Just don’t become obsessed over the program. Look at the outcome. Are you pursing happiness on a treadmill or are you really working to find happiness?

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Opinion Editorials

What I wish I knew about finances in my 20s

(EDITORIAL) They say money makes the world go round. So, let’s discuss how to be smart with finances before it’s too late.

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finances

Being in my early twenties, something I’m still getting used to is the fact that I’m making my own money. This is not to be confused with the babysitting money I was making 10 years ago.

Twice a month is the same routine: I get my paycheck and think, “Wooo! We goin’ out tonight!” but then I snap back to reality and think about what that money needs to be put towards. The smallest part of it going towards fun.

It’s been tricky to really start learning the ins and outs of finances. So, I do what I usually do in any type of learning process? I ask for advice.

I used to be fixated on asking those more advanced in age than I what they wish they knew when they were my age. Now that I’m determined to learn about finances, that question has been altered.

I reached out to a few professionals I know and trust and they gave me solid feedback to keep in mind about building my finances, about what they wish they had known in their 20s. However, I don’t think this only applies to those just starting out, and may be helpful for all of us.

“It’s important to simply know the value of money,” says human resource expert, Nicole Clark. “I think once you start earning your own money and are responsible for your housing, food, etc. you realize how valuable money is and how important it is to budget appropriately and make sure you’re watching your spending.”

Law firm executive director, Michael John, agrees with Clark’s sentiments. “I wish I had kept the value of saving in mind when I was younger,” explains John. “But, still remembering to balance savings while rewarding yourself and enjoying what your efforts produce.”

There are so many aspects of finance to keep in mind – saving, investing, budgeting, retirement plans, and so on and so forth.

In addition to suggesting to spend less than you make and to pay off your credit card in full each month, Kentucky-based attorney, Christopher Groeschen, explained the importance of a 401k.

“Every employee in America should be contributing everything they can into a 401k every year, up to the current $18,000 maximum per person,” suggests Groeschen.

“401ks present an opportunity for young investors to 1) learn about investing and 2) enter the market through a relatively low-risk vehicle (depending on your allocations),” he observes.

“An additional benefit is that 401ks also allow employees to earn FREE MONEY through employer matches,” he continues. “At the very least, every employee should contribute the amount necessary to earn the employer match (usually up to 4%) otherwise, you are giving up the opportunity to earn FREE MONEY. Earning FREE MONEY from your employer that is TAX FREE is much more important than having an extra Starbucks latte every day.”

Whether we like it or not, money is a core aspect of our daily lives. It should never be the most important thing, but we cannot deny that it is, in fact, an important thing. It’s tricky to learn, but investing in my future has become a priority.

This editorial was first published in May 2018.

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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strong leaders

Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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