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Opinion Editorials

Saying “let’s do coffee” is insulting (but I’ve softened my stance)

It is standard in business to say “let’s do coffee” to everyone you come across, but you may actually be shooting yourself in the foot; here’s why.

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“Let’s do coffee!” you say

A few years ago, I penned an editorial on the topic of inviting people to do coffee. The premise is that despite gurus telling you to politely invite people to coffee (and offer to pay if they’re super important), it thrusts the invitee in an awkward position of having to measure their time against your one-sided request (“do coffee with me, for me!”). I suggested that you use the internets to find out where they already gather and ask if they’re willing to connect there (preferably a networking event or conference).

Some people praised me for saying what they’ve always thought but felt rude for saying, noting that if they accepted every offer, “doing coffee” would be their full time job. Others acted as if I was a heartless monster instructing people to drown newborn kittens by hand for no reason.

The reactions gave me inspiration to reevaluate my position

It gave me an opportunity to consider my position, having gone public with such a controversial statement.

One friend shared the story and said that they never decline any invitations and encouraged others to always accept coffee invites. I picked up the phone. It wasn’t confrontational (that’s not my nature), it was inquisitive. I asked how many invitations he gets each week to do coffee. “I get them all the time, at least two or three a week, Lani. Every week!”

My eyes couldn’t roll back in my head further. Okay, I see the disconnect – my original editorial failed to assert the volume of requests in my inbox that I always feel like an asshole declining. I’m not even internet famous, and I average 10 a day, which triples during conference season. I can’t possibly even fit in every request. That’s not self-important, that’s just real. And there are people with much bigger networks than me that are forced to decline the invitations.

So here is how my position has softened

Now, my position has shifted, but only slightly. I have a new filtering system. Here’s how I handle coffee requests today (instead of getting overwhelmed):

First, I try to determine their motive. Types of requests that are immediately disqualified: Anyone trying to sell me something, anyone trying to go over someone’s head in our company, or people hoping to be my best friend forever and braid my hair (I’ve become kind of shy and somewhat anti-social and work 18 hour days, I just don’t have time, mean or not).

Second, I determine whether or not I’m even of value to them. If their time is going to be best spent with someone else in my network, I make the intro and take them off of my to do list. If someone wants to connect to learn more about javascript, that’s not my bag even if I’m entrenched in the tech industry, so I’ll at least help direct traffic.

Third, I do my best to mentor. One type of “let’s do coffee” request I never turn down is someone who is in college looking for guidance, or someone of any age who is hoping to break into the industry. If there is a need that is bigger that myself, I do my best to be of service. It’s a karma thing.

Lastly, I determine whether or not someone’s a brain picker. My time is worth more than a coffee, and if you just want to know how to internet, let me introduce you to Google (or a good consultant). That said, I regularly take brain picking phone calls, but I don’t have to devote half a day of lost productivity to it. I’m considering doing office hours regularly because even this can be overwhelming sometimes.

I also open my phones

If someone is in Austin, I try to funnel people to BASHH (Big Ass Social Happy Hour), a monthly networking event put on by The American Genius. But that doesn’t always work, because I get super busy doing the work of actually putting on the event.

So, during the filtering process, I also try to see if someone’s willing to meet on the phone or Skype so we don’t lose time in the office. If someone makes it through the filter and absolutely cannot do phone or a networking event, I’ll do coffee in person. It’s extremely rare because I really do work 12-18 hours a day, no joke.

The takeaway

If you’re inviting people to coffee willy-nilly, I hope this gives you some context. If you’re hoping to get something out of a meeting with an “influencer,” but aren’t offering anything aside from a free coffee, that’s one-sided and I doubt you’re intending to devalue someone’s time like that.

My hope in writing this is to offer my shifted view. Thank you to everyone who helped by offering up their own stories, you’ve allowed me to refine my process. And I hope this provides you with insight into how you can add your own filters now, or in the future when you’re averaging 100 coffee requests a day!

#LetsDoCoffee

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Hank Miller

    March 3, 2016 at 6:40 am

    I might be more anti-social than you, which is fascinating given that I sell real estate. I get these requests – coffee and lunch – and around Atlanta it’s a 30-45 minute drive no matter where you are to wherever you’re going; time I don’t have and will not waste.

    I’ll briefly chat them up on the phone and tell them to shoot me an email overview of what’s on their mind. This tells me whether or not I can help them, if I’m interested, if they’re motivated and clear about what this “coffee” thing is to accomplish and if they are attentive and prompt with requests.

    There’s not much that can’t be handled on line, “doing coffee” or even worse “lunch” isn’t anywhere near my list of things to do. A quick look at my laptop bears witness…Dunkin Donuts stains and bits of bread scattered about.

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Opinion Editorials

5 insights into building a culture with your remote teams

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) The end of pandemic lockdown is a possible reality, but creating a strong culture while dealing with a remote team is more critical than ever.

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Remote teams having a meeting with some of the team in the room around a table, others on a large screen.

As more companies ponder the future of remote work, it’s going to be important to keep remote teams engaged with your business and brand. For the past 6 years, I’ve been a part of BKA Content, a award-winning company based in Utah, that has maintained a good reputation among its writers for creating an excellent remote working environment and known for its high standards.

According to Matt Secrist, co-founder and COO, BKA has over 600 independent contractors and 20 employees, all of whom work remotely. Over 200 of those writers have been with the company for two or more years. About 30 writers have been with the company for more than 6 years. It’s not easy to keep freelancers on board that long without some strong ties to the company.

Communication
Secrist states, “I think frequent communication…(makes) a huge difference.” I concur with this statement. BKA sends out a weekly newsletter to all its writers. After six years, I still enjoy reading it because it always gives relevant information. Their culture comes through in the newsletter. It’s not preachy. Sometimes, they have fun games and contests that create camaraderie and give us fun things beyond writing. The newsletter also keeps us up to date with AP grammar and other industry items. But it’s never a newspaper, so it’s quick to read. We also have a Facebook group in which we can interact. The leaders are committed to keeping the remote teams engaged.

Organized processes
Starting with the training modules, BKA creates a strong culture through organization and clear goals. Their strong onboarding process set standards right away. Their writers were not left to their own device. I worked closely with one person for the first few pieces I turned in, which is core to their success in keeping excellent writers. Their business has grown so much that they have created teams for certain accounts. Secrist estimates that they have more than 150 individual teams. I deal with one account manager for each team, which strengthens the bonds between people. We aren’t just email accounts, but real people working together.

Clear goals and standards
I believe one of the keys to BKA’s success is that it is transparent with its goals and standards. Writers are required to turn in a certain amount every week, which means it needs to be part of our routine. Every account has a style guide with detailed instructions for writing for that brand. We are encouraged to contact the account manager with questions. The account managers always respond in a timely manner with professionalism. The culture of BKA is positivity. Even though missed deadlines can have consequences, there is grace and flexibility. In six years, I can say that they have always dealt with me fairly, which is a core value of the company.

Transparency
The leadership is always transparent with the writers. When we’ve had a hiccup with payroll, the CFO has always addressed it head-on and not prevaricated. It’s always been fixed as quick as possible. I had lost over $200 over a period of four months because one payment amount had gotten changed to $0 in the system. When I discovered it, the account manager had it corrected that day and added the amount to my next deposit. Dealing with issues, especially financial issues, quickly is key to keeping remote workers engaged.

Remote work is here to stay
Secrist supports my own insights by saying, (BKA has) “worked to build an online community where people feel valued and heard. Being kind to, invested in and interested in the people we rub shoulders with in a virtual setting has created an atmosphere of mutual respect.”

We may be seeing an end to the pandemic, but workers want remote work. Regardless of how that looks in your company, you have to address how to keep your remote teams engaged while giving them flexibility. Looking at other companies and how they do it can help you create a solid team who are on the same page.

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Opinion Editorials

Starting a new remote job? Here’s how to impress your team

(EDITORIAL) New world. New normal. New remote job? Here are three steps to help you navigate your new job and make a lasting first impression.

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new home office

My past gig selling ergonomic furniture seems so much more meaningful these days. That’s a real aluminum foil lining on a horrible, deadly, terrifying situation, but I’ll take it.

For those of us who can keep up the grind for that daily bread (sourdough apparently) from home, we’re in da house like it’s a late 90s video. Or a much much much lamer early 2000s video aping late 90s videos.

It’s been weird. Intellectually, I know taking breaks to roast Brussels sprouts, hang my delicates, or weep uncontrollably into the living room carpet is NOT what I’m being paid for but…I’m doing it. And I can because I know my coworkers, superiors included, are doing the exact same.

We’ve already built up the kind of rapport that says ‘So long as XYZ gets done, organizing your spice rack between calls is fine, because we are all going NUCKING FUTS, and whatever keeps us from starting fires without driving up company costs is all gravy. Also here’s a picture of my dog’.

Maddie

BUT, for those of us cranking the money mill in a whole NEW work situation… it’s gonna be… well. Not necessarily like that.

If my first off-color joke to my manager was over G-Chat instead of face-to-face, I can’t even IMAGINE what horror shows would go through my head if she say… went to go check her mail right as I hit send and just kinda left whatever it was I said about bras hanging there.

So what can you do to improve your new-person status when you can’t meet your team and cozy up face-to-face?

Make introductions

Imagine you’re taking a pre-covid19 bus. Some stranger taps you on the shoulder and says, “Hey, you wanna approve this invoice right quick?”

Not the worst thing you could hear on public transport by a long shot, but it’s still a little presumptuous, no?

That’s why you need to introduce yourself.

Not just in the general group chats or Zoom meetings. No one’s going to remember those (and there’s a 75% chance you don’t have your video on anyway).

Introduce yourself every time you ask someone new for something. Like this: “Hi colleague! I’m April, the new girl in 2nd shift goth ops, how are you? I had a quick question about our joy division, do you have a moment?”

I get that I’m an 87 year old biddy when it comes to matters of courtesy, but when you can’t actually see someone or offer to grab something from the communal fridge for someone, this stuff goes a LONG way. Bonus, you might get some extra positivity back! And we ALL need that.

Scroll back

Put that mouse wheel in reverse, what we’re gon’ do right here is go back. The cool thing about work chat-ware is that most versions will have a history you can scroll through! Your mission now is to creep through public, multi-person channels and see how your new peeps cheep.

You’ll get a great sense of who’s who, the general vibe, and even see frequent pain points and questions that come up before you have to ask about them (which you WILL).

Is this the kind of workplace where you can leave an ‘It’s Twerkin Tuesday!’ GIF, and get a whole bootylicious thread going to lift everyone’s spirits? Or do you work with more of an “Here’s an interesting article about twerking for spine health” kind of crowd?

This is how you find out.

Keep your own records.

Art Markman over at the Harvard Business Review mentioned a super fun and also true fact: “ Your memory for what happens each day is strongest around things that are compatible with your general script about how work is supposed to go. That means that you are least likely to remember the novel aspects of your new workplace” .

Ergo, it makes sense to keep a diary of everything that happens at work so you can get help with what you need most… because those ‘novel aspects’ are EVERYTHING, experience or no.

I personally suck at making my hands write as quickly as I think, so I suggest a diary in the form of Google docs, or even a private Tumblr/Twitter, etc, where you can hashtag what you need to look back at, and search your logs at your leisure later.

Make sense?

It’s not always easy to navigate a new position, even if you’re the naturally charming, adaptable type. Adapting to several major things at once is a lot for anyone! But hey, you’re doing the right thing by reading this as it is. Gold star!

Congrats on the new gig. Keep your head up, or whatever direction medical doctors recommend – you got the job. You’ve got this!

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Opinion Editorials

5 ways to grow your business without shaming the competition

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) We all need support as business owners. Let’s talk ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur that do not include shaming your competition.

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Entrepreneur women all talking around a meeting table.

The year 2020 has forced everyone to re-assess their priorities and given us the most uncertain set of circumstances we have lived through. For businesses and entrepreneurs, they were faced with having to confront new business scenarios quickly.

Perhaps you were forced to add virtual components or find new revenue streams – immediately. Regardless, this has been tough for everyone.

Every single person is having a hard time with the adjustments and at very different stages from others. We’re currently at the 6-month mark, and each of our timelines are going to look different. Our emotions have greeted us differently too, whether we have felt relief, grief, excitement, fear, hope, determination, or just plain exhaustion.

Now that we are participating in life a bit more virtually than in 2019, this is a good time to re-visit the pros and cons of the influence of technology and online marketing outreach. It’s also a great time to throw old entrepreneur rules out the window and create a better sense of community where you can.

Here’s an alluring article, “Now Is Not the Time for ‘Mom Shaming’”, that offers an example from about a decade ago of how the popularity of mommy bloggers grew by women sharing their parenting “hacks”, tips, or even recipes, and crafting ideas via online posts and blogs. As the blog entries grew, so did other moms comparing themselves and/or feeling inadequate.

Some of the responses were natural and some may have been coming from a place of defensiveness. Moms are not alone in looking for resources, articles, materials, and friends to tell us we’re doing OK. We just need to be told “You are doing fine.”

Luckily, some moms in Connecticut decided to declare an end to “Mom Wars” and created a photo shoot that shared examples of how each mom had a right to their choices in parenting. It seemed to reinforce the message of, “You are doing fine.”

I don’t know about you, but my recent google searches of “Is it ok to have my 3-year old go to bed with the iPad” are pretty much destined to get me in trouble with her pediatrician. I’m hoping that during a global pandemic, “I am doing fine.”

Now, comparing this scenario to the entrepreneur world, often times your business is your baby. You have worn many hats to keep it alive. You have built the concept and ideas, nurtured the products and services with sweat, tears, and maybe some laughs. You have spent countless hours researching, experimenting, and trying processes and marketing tactics that work for you. You have been asked to “pivot” this year like so many others (Sick of that word? Me too).

Here are some ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur (or at least, ideas worth considering if you haven’t already):

  1. It’s about the questions you ask yourself. How does your product or service help or serve others (vs. solely asking how do I get more customers?) This may lead to new ideas or income streams.
  2. Consider a collaboration or a partnership – even if they seem like the competition. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb
  3. Stop inadvertently shaming the competition by critiquing what they do. It’s really obvious on your Instagram. Try changing the narrative to how you help others.
  4. Revisit the poem All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and re-visit it often. “And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
  5. Join a community, celebrate others’ success, and try to share some positivity without being asked to do so. Ideas include: Likes/endorsements, recommendations on LinkedIn for your vendor contacts, positive Google or Yelp reviews for fellow small business owners.

It seems like we really could use more kindness and empathy right now. So what if we look for the help and support of others in our entrepreneurial universe versus comparing and defending our different ways of doing things?

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