Once upon a time, I used to be anti-coffee. Then, in 2012, Mark Suster, entrepreneur and investor, inspired me to take 50 coffee meetings. I ended up taking 250 coffee meetings in 400 days. Now I can't imagine waking up or networking without coffee.
You shouldn't either, because coffee meetings are the best way to build a strong professional network. Regular meetings at someone's office are boring, not to mention the work-related stress and distractions. Coffee meetings provide you with 30 minutes of dedicated face-to-face time in a casual environment. With the extra kick that coffee gives you, you're almost guaranteed to have a great conversation.
Now, 30 minutes might not seem like a lot of time, but it is a dedicated 30 minutes with another individual outside the office. This is more important than you think.
Here are some tips on how you can make the most of these 30 minutes, and three types of people to have coffee meetings with.
1. Move your next one-on-one with your boss to a nearby café.
Unless you're working a miserable job, I'm assuming you and your boss often have one-on-one meetings. Furthermore, these one-on-ones likely take place behind closed doors. For your next one-on-one, I encourage you to propose going to a nearby café instead. I'm sure both of you will enjoy the change of scenery -- and the coffee.
Furthermore, I just learned there is a very good scientific reason for making big asks over a cup of warm coffee. Your boss will be more agreeable to approving your raise or another proposal. Even if you get rejected, the coffee experience will help the two of you bond in a more meaningful and human way.
2. Rebuild a connection to someone with whom you've lost touch.
When I was building my network from scratch in Chicago, I found LinkedIn to be a great resource for learning what some of my former colleagues and acquaintances were up to. Depending on how active your old friends and colleagues are on LinkedIn (and other social-media sites), you can easily find ways to start a conversation.
For example, if they've gotten a new job or started their own company, you can congratulate them and ask how it's going. And if you have no idea what they've been up to since your last interaction, you can simply ask something like, "Hi X, it's a been a long time since we <activity you did together> at <location>. What are you currently focusing on?"
3. Shoot for the stars: invite someone you've always wanted to meet.
Unlike the previous two groups, this group has no idea who you are and will likely not respond. Or, if they do respond, it might take a long time before the coffee meeting takes place. These people are busy. They don't have time to personally respond to your annoying messages, except for when you're annoying them with a purpose.
When I finally met James Altucher, my biggest idol, the first thing he told me was, "You're so annoying, Robbie." I replied, "I know."
The interesting part is that I wasn't just annoying, I was also adding lots of value in each of my interactions over the course of four years. We also never actually had coffee. He instead invited me to his house to do a podcast about how I take 250 coffee meetings per year, which I understand is a bit ironic.
The biggest takeaway from this is that your role models are also human beings. They are trying as hard as you, if not harder, to make it to the next level. If you're lucky enough to get a coffee meeting with them, make sure you make the most of it.
I hope you find these tips on having coffee with bosses, former co-workers, and role models helpful in building a strong professional network.