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Joanna Goddard, commercial growth strategist, is a highly respected business consultant based in the UK

Avoiding the ‘must catch up’ trap: 7 ways to ditch latte chat for coffee meetings that get results

These days, little black books are worth their weight in data rather than gold. My valuable network is one of the reasons people collaborate with me. It’s extensive and it’s global – all in all it amounts up to a hell of a lot of people to keep in contact with. Coupled with having a large family and oh yes, the need to actually deliver work for clients on top, people are always amazed by how I manage to ‘stay in touch’ with everyone. Not only that, but I also ensure I carve out some time simply to think.

I have to admit it does require planning, resource and efficiency.In other words effective time management.

But being fiercely protective of my time ensures that the flexibility, availability and quality of work for my clients remains high.

In the same way, I help my clients to learn how best to navigate, nurture and develop their own quality relationships in an agile yet efficient way.

I am regularly asked for advice on “how do I avoid the ‘must catch up’ / ‘let’s have a coffee’ trap?” by stressed executives who are floundering in a mass of meetings, both formal and informal and need a pathway through them all. And, crucially, a way of prioritising in a way that won’t alienate a potentially valuable contact.

Here are some effective tips to avoid getting trapped in endless unproductive hour long coffee meetings and reclaim more time to get work delivered or simply get that all important space to think.

  1. Wait and see – do you respond too quickly when people suggest ‘must catch up’? Are you the organiser? Many people use this phrase as a social nicety. You might be surprised to find that if you reply with ‘that would be good’ rather ‘good idea’ the onus remains with the ‘suggestor’ to actually do something about it.


  1. Qualify the request – Become more professional and assertive, even with your well-known contacts. As your schedule gets busier you need to justify time based on relevance. You may often find other people have work load lulls and feel that they benefit from a catch up with you because you have good contacts, ideas and/or market intelligence. But what will this meeting do for you right now? Don’t hesitate to explain that you are at capacity at the moment but will look for potential commitments that could be rescheduled dependant on priority – thereafter ASK “what would you like to catch up about most immediately?”


  1. Call it – It can be very telling to offer a phone call alternative in the short term rather than wait a number of weeks for a meeting opportunity – this is far more responsive if the matter is urgent, and often cuts out time wasters and tells you who really does have a relevant topic to discuss with you. For valuable contacts it’s often a preferred solution for a specific matter too. Win Win.


  1. Engage the diary police – Engaging PA support can make a real difference to your efficiencies and productivity,; ultimately improving your profitability. If you have someone else managing your diary, your meetings will be more coordinated and therefore maximise your availability. Having a PA enables you to have someone else coordinate, while being mindful of your workload. This person can explain that a short tele appointment is all that’s available in the near future, supplying a little distance between you and an eager new contact who may or may not be useful to your business. PA support can be full time, part time or virtual, and can really pay for itself given the right briefing and level of responsibility.


  1. Schedule ‘coffee days’ – As a big fan of true relationship development I treasure quality time with quality contacts. It works effectively to regularly schedule (monthly is usually relevant) a day that is kept specifically for meetings with key contacts where you have non urgent but relevant agenda points to discuss. Keep a note of your ‘must-meet-up-with list and add notes (the ‘remember to run that past x’ type of thing) and then you are in control of remaining in active interpersonal contact with your most valuable contacts. For your ‘coffee day’ you could even set up off site for the day (a hotel, even your favourite café) and schedule back to back appointments, so the day to day business demands don’t interrupt you. If you do … don’t forget to schedule follow up time within a few days after! Full blog on that below.


  1. Get tech savvy – we are in a digi era. Relationships can effectively grow across borders and time zones through resources such as Facetime or Skype so don’t be afraid to use such methods at local level too.


  1. Just say no. Easy to write, I know, but find a way that you are comfortable with to effectively decline a meeting request. For example “I’m at capacity the next few weeks with client projects, why don’t you get back in touch after that when I hope to be in a better position”. If they truly are keen they will!

If you would like support with your Business Development, your efficiencies or measured results get in touch.

Some popular related posts you may find of interest:

The F word; How to Follow Up

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