Eighteen years ago I started my first small business providing corporate gift services from my kitchen table. I was 24 and operating out of a small two-bedroom apartment in Melbourne, so it’s no surprise the local café became my office. Meeting prospective clients face-to-face was transformational. My story soon changed from rags to riches, when a coffee meeting led to a warm connection with a law firm, which quickly turned into a $30k hamper order in my first 6 months of business.
Starting Hampering Around, was an enormous risk. I had quit my job and began with $2000 and the yellow pages. The internet was in its infancy back then and I could not afford paid advertising or marketing. Without LinkedIN I relied on building relationships the old fashioned way, face-to-face. I went to breakfast talks and networking events and quickly built a portfolio of clients. More often than not, I’d take these warm leads and we’d meet in a café to discuss their business requirements. I refined my approach to these meetings and within three years I was turning over $1.5m.
These days I hear a lot of people saying that meeting people for coffee is a ‘time waster’. Technology has also changed and I see people avoiding face-to-face meetings and even phone calls. Instead they rely on email or social media to communicate. The thing is, they are missing out on an excellent opportunity to build rapport, connect and understand their potential or existing clients in a meaningful way. There’s a good chance they are also missing out on valuable information, leads and sales.
I started my second coaching business in 2015. Today I mentor passionate and creative business owners in the gift industry and find these interactions thoroughly rewarding. Drawing on almost 20 years experience, I help my clients avoid making the mistakes I made and accelerate the growth of their businesses. I often meet them in their office or a cafe, so in many ways my focus on relationships is unchanged from the early days. For solo entrepreneurs, this contact with others in a more social café environment can also help to counter the isolation they can feel in running their own business.
Over time I have found the best way to optimise in person meetings is doing your preparation and connecting via LinkedIn. Using LinkedIn you can see your lead’s backgrounds and history, any mutual connections and possibly others you would like an introduction to. Preparing for these meetings and being generous with your time is important. I’ve noticed that clients tend to stick around and reorder because they like to work with you.
I’m often asked how I feel about sharing my knowledge and ideas with others. The reality is that I enjoy the reciprocity of connection and operate with an abundance mentality, I’m not afraid to share. I found that taking time to have the humble coffee catch up and meet people face to face, has paid back many times over in business, referrals and positive word of mouth.
So next time someone suggest a coffee catch up, make the time to do it. I promise. Mine’s a soy latte thanks!
How has local networking benefited your small business?
The humble coffee catch-up is undervalued and underappreciated, says successful Melbourne entrepreneur Sarah Cross. According to Sarah it’s time that people recognised the value of making time to connect and build relationships with others in their community. Sarah’s experience has taught her that it’s these personal interactions that lead to new customers, referrals and positive word of mouth.