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Are coffee meetings less valuable than boardroom engagements?

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Earlier this week, an article popped up on my news feed in which the author explained why she has been consciously turning down requests for coffee meetings with people.

Wendy McClelland, a past nominee for Canadian Entrepreneur of the Year and coach, wrote: “I actually tracked all these coffee meetings for a year and not one led to anything that improved my bottom line.

“So, how do I deal with people who email or call and want to meet for coffee? I ask them to be specific about what they’d like to discuss and give me a link to a website where I can find more information. I can then do some research and decide if there is a real reason to meet.”

Unsurprisingly, McClelland’s article drew strong comments from both sides of the fence.

Some were quick to support her stand, agreeing that time is a “limited commodity” and that she would be reimbursed – or at least see an ROI – for the time she spends helping someone else.

“If you only give and give, and don’t get something back you are a charity, not a business,” one commenter wrote. True.

Others chastised her view, saying she was not taking into consideration the intangible benefits of helping others, or thinking about how these favours could pay off in the long run. Also true.

I understand both points of views, and struggle with it everyday, as I’m sure many of you do.

On one hand, there is no doubt time is a limited commodity. If I could do every interview in person because it yielded a more personal and candid feature, I would. But the truth of the matter is I just don’t have the time or resources.

It is tough to be selective when it comes to deciding who to meet in person, or which meetings would be just as valuable (some times more so) over the phone or via email.

But I also very strongly believe in building personal relationships. I have lost count of the number of times a coffee meeting I have taken with someone who just wanted to chat with no agenda or expectations have resulted in in-depth features, event sponsorships and even cover interviews.

Technological advancements in communication have made it possible for me to do my job reasonably well with just my phone and computer. But that would mean I’m just another email in an inbox or voice on the phone.

I really think taking time off to meet with people, be it for something that will give you immediate ROI or something that will pay off in a few months or years, in a good investment of time.

Of course, don’t go rushing off to meet with every single person who wants to just catch up or “pick your brain”. If you believe someone will really bring no value to your work (maybe he’s in a very contrasting industry or is someone you’re highly likely to never interact with again), politely decline or offer to have that conversation over email or the phone.

But where possible, I would highly encourage you take that coffee meeting. You never know when one cup of joe could lead.

Image: Shutterstock

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