How many “Do you want to grab coffee sometime” emails do you get each week? To clarify, these are not the fun, catch-up sessions over a hot cappuccino. These are the “do you want to meet for coffee so you can give me free advice about my business” types of coffee invitations. One or two of these requests can be flattering and easy to accommodate, but the issues arise when you get handfuls of these every week.
What do you do? How do you decide who is “worth” meeting and how do you politely say no to the others?
You may want to look at each invitation on a case-by-case basis. You may only accept coffee invitations if the person was referred to you by a mutual connection. Or, you may only want to meet for coffee in more of a mentorship context (like meeting recent college graduates who really need job advice).
In many cases, it may come down to the simple fact of how much available time you have. You may just not have enough hours in the day to meet someone new for coffee.
And the person who invited you will understand. The absolute worst thing you can do is ignore an invitation. Don’t feel bad for declining to meet — as long as you respond in a nice way, there will be no hard feelings.
If you decide to decline a coffee meeting, here’s what to say:
“Hi [first name],
Thank you for reaching out. Unfortunately, my work schedule is really full at the moment, so I’m not able to met for coffee. Are you interested in becoming a client or do you just have a quick question?”
This approach works because you are not closing off all communication. You are saying no to meeting for coffee, but you are asking a question to continue the conversation if the person is truly interested. You have the opportunity to build a relationship by answering a quick question and you get to find out if this person could be a potential client.
If you don’t want to go to a cafe, but are still interested in meeting the person, here are some other options:
- Invite the person to meet you at your office, so you don’t spend time commuting.
- Make the person do some work. Say something like, “I’d love to meet with you, but I don’t want to waste your time. Could you send me X first so I can look at your work and understand your skills before we meet?” Asking the person to do something will weed out the posers from the go-getters.
- Schedule a group meeting and invite everyone who asks you for coffee to attend all together. This reduces the amount of meetings you have and reduces the awkward conversations.
Whatever you decide, remember that your time is valuable, but so are your relationships. You never know when a coffee meeting could turn into a future customer, investor, manager, or coworker.
And, if you decide to decline a coffee invitation, make sure you respond. Word gets around quickly, and if you start ignoring dozens of emails, your reputation will get tarnished.
What say you? How have you handled requests like this?