An entrepreneur’s guide to coffee etiquette
A business relationship is much like a romantic relationship. There’s the awkward first date, where you quickly realise if you hit it off or if this relationship will take some work. There’s the second date, where you start to feel a bit more comfortable. As you progress through the relationship, both sides start to feel more comfortable with each other, and eventually deals are made (hopefully).
In business, that first date is usually made over coffee. It’s not too expensive. It’s not too formal, as a meeting in your office’s conference room would be. If you don’t have an office, it’s also a great way to maintain your professional appearance. Unfortunately, bootstrapping entrepreneurs often ignore some of the most basic rules of coffee etiquette.
1. Arrange the meeting politely
- Most times you’ll be arranging the meeting through email. If you’re suggesting, offer a few different places and times. For example, “could you do some time between 9-11 AM at Starbucks, or 1-4 PM at MoJo?”
- If you need their business more than they need you, try to be flexible with your time, but don’t come off too needy.
- It is usually a good idea to exchange numbers in case you are going to be a few minutes late.
- Last of all, always send an iCal or Google Invite. Sending a Google Calendar invite is probably your safest bet, as it will sync with Android or Apple Calendars. The invite should include your name, the place you’re meeting, and a few words in the notes part of the invite that outlines what the meeting is about.
2. Arrive on time
- Always arrive on time. “Fashionably late” in business simply doesn’t exist.
- If you’re the first one there, find a table, but don’t set everything up yet.
- If they’re more than 10 minutes late, it’s generally OK to get yourself a coffee, since the staff don’t want people sitting down who haven’t paid for something
- When they do arrive, always get up to shake hands and introduce yourself.
- If they’re there before you, walk over to them and introduce yourself if you’ve never met before.
3. Warm your shaking hand
This sounds silly, but if it’s cold outside, try to have a warm shaking hand. If your hand feels like it just came out of the freezer, the other party will notice. If it’s warm, they won’t – it’s important to keep the focus on what’s important you.
Also, in today’s modern business world, women are expected to shake hands.
4. Offer to pay
Usually the host pays, but don’t make any assumptions. If you are clearly more well-off than the other party, don’t let them pay. The best way to do this is to ask them what they would like before you order, and then pay it all upfront.
If it gets into a power struggle for who will pay, just let them do it. It’s not worth spending time over.
5. Don’t get food unless they do
This is really common sense, but a mistake I personally see very often. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than eating in front of someone who isn’t eating, especially when it’s a business meeting. You shouldn’t really be eating at coffee anyway, but if they want to, that’s your invitation to get something too.
6. Don’t start talking business right away
Don’t waste time with small talk, but don’t jump into it right away. Allow about 2-3 minutes of small talk before moving in with a smooth transition.
7. Know what to bring
You’re going to have to exercise your judgement here, but don’t bring a filing cabinet to a coffee meeting. If a lot of documents need to be looked at, bring a laptop or iPad, and bring it out when needed. You should also organise everything that you think the other party may want to see in a folder for quick access. This also goes for websites – try to bookmark all the ones you think you’ll need before hand. Nothing is more embarrassing than trying to find files while the other party waits.
8. Take notes
It’s always a good idea to have some record of conversation. Most people will be uncomfortable with you recording a meeting, but taking notes is usually fine. It’s good to be able to reflect on any important details.
9. Know your goals
It’s a good idea to know what you want to get out of the meeting, but prepare yourself for unexpected offerings. You can always say, “I need to talk to the team.” if you’re unsure of if you can agree or disagree on a proposal.
10. Know your time limits
Most business people allot 30 minutes to 1 hour per meeting. Make sure you know beforehand how much time you have, and use it wisely. As the end of your meeting comes up, try to wrap up the conversation by recapping, and saying what you will do in the short term.
Example: “So just to recap, you’d be interested in NZE servicing x amount of clients for x amount of money every year. I will write up a proposal to send to you before our meeting next week, and we should have a good idea of what we can help with by then.”
11. Last impressions
First and the last impressions count! Make sure you’re friendly and cordial as you or your meeting date leaves. Get up, thank them for their time, and shake hands. Never remain seated.
12. Send a thank you email
After a few hours, it’s customary to send a thank you email. In it, you should thank them for their time, and restate what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. Here’s an example:
Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. I’m very excited about potentially working with your team on this.
I’ll get the proposal to you by 5 PM on Wednesday, ahead of our meeting at 3 PM on Friday. If you have any questions in the mean time, please feel free to email me.
Kindest Regards, Jose
As always, there will be situations where you’ll have to use your own judgement and adapt to the circumstances. In most circumstances, you can use these guidelines to create a foundation for a positive business relationship.
Got any tips? Leave them in the comments below.