This is a post I put together last spring for an online magazine that never quite launched. But it was fun to write and I want to share it with a wider audience.
It used to be that when you wanted someone’s business, you would “wine and dine” them. Take them out to dinner and, god forbid, get to know your client a little bit. At least that’s how they did it in my day and truth be told, “my day” wasn’t that long ago. I have yet to hit 40.
Now everyone has packed their schedules so full that the only time given to clients is perfunctory coffee dates at perennially hip locales where your client, and mostly likely, you, are scanning the revolving door for who’s next – already looking to trade up or over instead of giving full attention to your actual date.
I’ve seen it happen and admit to being complicit as well, although I’m not looking so much to trade up as start feeling ADD. My thoughts range from: “Oooh, sweet silver cuff bracelet on that chick. No, wait, gorgeous gladiator sandals to my right. Hold the phone, that guy is HOT.” Time to beat that inner dialoque into behaving! I’ve got some frickin’ work to do.
I turn back to the subject at hand. Yes, building a solid, sustainable and profitable relationship in the next 45 minutes over 2 cups of coffee and a full bladder.
Stop. This is madness. Of course there’s a time and place for a coffee meeting and sometimes that’s all we have – a good hour for a strong cup. But I urge you to kick it a little old school and pick a few clients with whom you would like to develop deeper, lasting relationships.
I’ve got a couple recommendation for places and also some criteria for the person you invite (seeing as almost all of us have little to no budget for these things any more).
• Pick a client who takes you out of your comfort zone. You don’t need to hear how wonderful you are all night. Call your mom if you need unconditional love. Invite someone who will challenge you, demand more and ask questions. The lively discussion may prod you to improve your products, services or even yourself.
• Invite a client that is considerably older or younger than you. None of us know it all. And a fresh perspective out of your own demo may help you understand a new segment.
• Find a client who does something outside of work that you’d love to try. Adventure racing, soccer, knitting, banjo plucking, you name it. Create a bond beyond work and you’ll likely keep this client for years to come.
• Don’t just pick the “hot” clients either. This isn’t a dating article, so don’t even start justifying a spendy meal with construction-worker Steve who sports perfect-fitting 501s, no matter how ridiculously tempting it may be.