My fellow Entrepreneur contributor Gene Marks recently published Why I Don’t Want to Have Coffee With You. The title of his article caught my eye because those words perfectly sum up how I felt for years, and still feel from time to time. While reading the article I found myself nodding my head in empathy for every point he made. It’s the exact piece I would have written two years ago.
But then I tried an experiment, and as a result I’m now willing to have coffee with just about anyone. Well, some juice anyway, since I’m Mormon and don’t drink coffee.
What changed? It started when I read an interview of Guy Kawasaki by Cheryl Conner. Kawasaki advised entrepreneurs to always default to “yes” for any request. I had been defaulting to “no” for a few years, but I was in the middle of moving to Hong Kong, and I thought it would be a good experiment to make a fresh start defaulting to “yes” and see how it would go.
I decided I would respond positively to all but the most outlandish or unreasonable requests. Within months of landing in Hong Kong, I was hooked, and I’m not going back. Here’s what I’ve gotten from always accepting invitations for a cup of coffee.
1. New writing and speaking opportunities
I love writing about interesting entrepreneurs and businesses, and I welcome any opportunity to share what I’ve learned during my years starting and managing businesses.
During the past year by defaulting to “yes” I’ve been able to interview fascinating entrepreneurs and business leaders such as Sunita Kaur, managing director for Spotify Asia; William Nobrega, founder of CQS International; and David Zhu, co-founder of Divide, a Hong Kong startup that was acquired by Google last year for a reported $120 million.
I’ve been able to present at events and venues like ClickZ Live, General Assembly and the Arab Women Leadership Forum in Dubai.
2. New partners
I get a lot of spam from offshore companies that want to partner with my firm to provide SEO services for $99 a month – I ignore those emails. But other, legitimate companies have contacted me and we’ve formed successful partnerships for recruiting talent, bundling software with our services or teaming up to work on a contract together. A recent example is a partnership we struck with a PR firm to provide digital marketing services for a major pharmaceutical company.
3. New clients
Sometimes simple meetings lead directly to client engagements. I have sent out more than 10 proposals in the past six months that started with small, noncommittal chats. Some of these have turned into contracts, and others are in the works.
4. New members for my team
The managing director of our Hong Kong office, a key hire two years in the making, started out with a discussion over a cup of coffee. Other members of my agency’s team over the years have been hired from similarly inauspicious beginnings.
The key point with all the examples I gave above is that I didn’t have a clue these simple meetings were going to produce the results they did. If I had asked those individuals who became clients, “Are you interested in becoming a client of our firm?” They would have likely said “I just wanted to chat a bit.”
In the case of our new managing director, there was no intent on his part to secure a position with our agency, nor on my part to hire him. It was a surprise to both of us that it worked out as it has. The interesting part is that it occurred to me to try and deflect that meeting, but thank goodness I stuck to my commitment to default to “yes.”
As Kawasaki says, doing this “will bear fruit in ways you never anticipated.”
Why I won’t have coffee with you
I’m not looking to be taken advantage of or over-commit myself, but I’ve found that these circumstances people worry about don’t materialize often. If they do, I can deal with them without too much fuss.
There are times I’m truly too busy or I’m traveling for an extended period, so I’ll suggest a phone call or an email. Other times I can guess what the person asking me out to coffee wants, and with a few questions via email we can get to the heart of the matter and find out there isn’t a good fit for either of us.
Like Marks, I’m also a small-business owner with a lot of demands on my time. Were I in Marks’ shoes I might find that defaulting to “yes” simply wouldn’t be feasible. But in my situation, I’ve found the benefits outweigh the costs. Maybe they can in your circumstances as well.
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