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How To Navigate The Tricky Terrain of A Business Lunch

The business lunch exists so that two people may converse about business matters (which is a meeting), while doing something they had to do anyway (which is eating). It is formal, yet it is human. It is committal, yet it is non-committal. It is awkward, yet it is tasty. The business lunch is a paradox.

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Lunch? Lunch.

We’ll assume you’re meeting your counterpart one-on-one and that the other person is, pretty much, a stranger. And we’ll assume you’re the one who is in need: of money, a partnership or a contract. You’re the one pitching, and you’ve made the invitation.

The business lunch is more lunch than business. The invitee can request a downgrade, like a meeting in their office or for coffee.

“My philosophy is that lunch is not the most productive place to do business,” says Eric Manlunas, a managing partner at US-based venture capital firm Siemer Ventures.

“I like to invite people in for a meeting in the office. If the idea is something we like and we believe we can consider investing in, then we may have lunch. Lunch means they’ve made it through the first filter.”

The point is, whether at the first or second meeting, if you get someone to agree to lunch, you’re in.

Before Your Guest Arrives

The choice of restaurant is crucial. The place should be convenient for the other person. It should be in a place the other person need not travel far to get to. The message should be clear: For the purposes of this meal, the other person is to be catered to.

It helps if you’ve been there before. Because if you’ve been there, you know how you’ll be treated. You want a place that understands service. And good service as it relates to the business lunch is a place where you’re seated and tended to immediately.

“If a guest needs a lot of peace and quiet and no attention, then seat them in an area that’s away from everyone else, and make sure my service person does not provide a lot of attention to the table,” says Richard Coraine, senior managing partner at Union Square Hospitality Group.

“The more we know about what you need, the better we are going to be at exceeding your expectations.” Is the restaurant you’re going to looking to exceed your expectations. That’s the kind of place you want.

You want to walk in seven minutes before the meeting. (Ten, and your table might not be ready; five, and your counterpart might beat you. So, seven.)

You want to sit down at the quiet table your assistant requested, one where business may be conducted. Not a booth. A table. Four-top. (Note: Those who do not have an assistant must, for the sake of reservation-making, deputise someone to be their assistant. It changes everything. Assistants get good tables. If you call, you get a two-top for two people. If your ‘assistant’ calls, you get a four-top in the corner for two people. That’s the best table.)

Service-oriented places welcome specific requests. Says Coraine: “The more the assistant can tell us ahead of time, the less intrusive we will be. We don’t have to try and figure out what your agenda is.”

You want a four-top. You want to sit next to each other, around one corner. The worst way to have a business lunch is to sit directly in front of the other person – all that eye contact is a little awkward, and you might have to talk loud enough that other people can hear you.

The corner is a little intimate, sure, but lunch is an intimate thing. The key with corner seating is that it allows you to avoid the awkwardness, and it facilitates discretion.

Before your counterpart arrives, you want to order some sort of beverage and scan the menu. You want to look around, you want to get comfortable and you want to be ready to receive your guest.

The other person has the upper hand (since you’re the one who needs something, and this may be a place the other person suggested), but by getting there early, being seated early, getting a good table and deciding what you’ll have – by being relaxed – you’ve made this place your place.

When your counterpart arrives, subtly direct him or her to the chair next to you.

Related: Rookie Networking Mistakes You Need to Avoid

The Meeting

The lunch part is easy. You eat, you talk. The business part is a little trickier. Because lunch is mostly about socialising and not business, it might help to wrangle your pitch into something that can be delivered quickly and then dispensed with. Says Jared Goralnick, founder and CEO of AwayFind, an email productivity app:

“Lunches are more about furthering the relationship than the deal. If I’m calling a lunch, I have a goal, but that goal is small, and it might be a five-minute thing. The rest of it is making them comfortable with that five-minute thing or making them comfortable being around me.”

You go to the place, you order the food, you do the pitch and then you have an actual conversation with an actual human being – about business or not. What the other person wants to see is someone who is comfortable being around a potential new business partner and to confirm that you and your business are as interesting as they initially thought.

You can relax. You can have an interesting conversation. You can have an interesting meal. If, after you’ve done your five minutes, they want to bring up the business again, let them.

The best part about the business lunch is that it forces us to do something we don’t do enough in our professional lives: be ourselves. And eat at a table for more than 15 minutes. But mostly, be ourselves.

Key Technical Matters

  •  No sandwiches.
  • No red sauce.
  • No sandwiches involving red sauce.
  • Always pay – But never pay with a coupon or gift card. Or change from the petty-cash drawer.
  • Say “appetisers,” not “apps.” At a business lunch, it might not be immediately apparent which kind of “app” you’re referring to.
  • If your plate is at least one-third fuller than the other person’s you’re talking too much.
  • If your plate is at least one-third emptier than the other person’s, he or she is talking too much.
  • If your plate is at least one-third larger than the other person’s, you have ordered the Admiral’s Feast.
  • If the other person checks their watch, immediately ask for the check.
  • If the other person checks their drink, immediately order them another.
  • If the other person checks their pulse, immediately ask for an ambulance. And maybe refine your pitch a little.

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Networking

Tips For Start-up Owners When Approaching A Networking Event

Here are a few ways in which you can approach networking.

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It’s “easy” to start a business and generate an idea you think will make a difference in the world, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple in reality. Entering the start-up world requires more than just the knowledge you’ve gained through your studies or what you’ve read up about online. Success is about putting your business, and yourself, out there and connecting with influential people at events.

If you don’t have a budget to market your business, you need to speak to the right people in order to help grow your business. For introverts, this might sound the worst idea, but if you want to attract influential people in the industry and increase your client base, you need to be your business’ own marketer.

Here are a few ways in which you can approach networking:

Build your own network of people

When you start networking, think of it as an opportunity to build your own network of influential individuals in the industry who can assist you when you need it most. Networking shouldn’t be as daunting as you make it out to be. If you believe in your idea and your employees, and you genuinely want to find the right tools to propel your business into the right direction, you need to connect and engage with people who can help you.

In the beginning stages of your startup experience, you should try to attend events to meet with other African start-ups. African tech innovation is advancing, and it’s worth your time to explore the technical space to see how you can leverage technology to succeed. If you have an interest in meeting people who could introduce you to others and vice versa, your business will flourish.

Related: The Top 10 Behaviours To Avoid When Networking

You are your own superhero

For years, it has been said that people buy from people and not adverts which is 100 percent correct. You are your biggest strength in that, if you believe in yourself and your product or service, you will be able to boost sales drastically. People are convinced by people, which is a huge part of your networking abilities and how people remember your products or services in an impressive way.

If people can see that you believe in your own business, are confident in your abilities and are trying to convince people otherwise, people will take a chance on you and put more effort into supporting you.

Always be strategic about your approach

The more you network, the more you will realise that you need to have a plan in place before you approach anyone or attend any event. A plan is crucial if you want to achieve a particular goal out of a face-to-face interaction. Before you attend an event, meet up with someone outside of the event or even speak with someone over the phone, make a list of the topics you what you want to talk about.

Events are usually jam-packed with people, and if you don’t have a purpose for your interaction, it will turn into a lost opportunity. You cannot leave without speaking to people you were interested in or without the information you need. If people are leaving in a rush, ask them for their contact details and make another plan.

Network both online and offline

If you’re putting yourself out there and attending a marketing or tech conference, also consider the online elements, for instance, LinkedIn, which you could explore. Many people believe in one or the other, but a combined approach is extremely powerful. Once you have met someone, make an effort to look them up online and follow up with a meeting request if you are interested in creating a further relationship. Your networking circle will not be complete if you aren’t making use of both offline and online networking in your community and the industry at large.

Related: Great Places To Take Your Clients When Networking

Provide more than you take

Don’t be a taker. People try and stay away from these types of people once they know who you are and feel sceptical about the interest you’re showing in them. While you might genuinely be interested in seeking advice on an innocent level, it can quickly give you a bad name if people spread their feelings about your motives. So, in order to avoid this, be willing to give. Of course, you need to limit your “free” offerings once you’ve met with someone new, but keep that opportunity open in the beginning. Show people that you’re willing to offer them information or free trials for their time. When people see that you’re not just taking what you can get your hands on, they will start to give you their attention.

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Networking

The 12 x 12 x 12 Rule For Successful Networking

If you follow the three parts of this rule carefully, you can learn to network successfully.

Brian Hilliard

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The following excerpt is from Ivan Misner, Ph.D. and Brian Hilliard’s book Networking Like a Pro. Buy it now from Amazon.

Perception is reality. How many times have you heard that saying? Probably enough to know that the way you’re perceived really does affect the business you conduct (or don’t conduct) with other people. This is especially true when it comes to networking and meeting someone for the first time, and this is where the 12 x 12 x 12 rule becomes so important.

Basically, this rule involves three questions:

  1. How do you look from 12 feet away? Do you look the part?
  2. How do you come across from 12 inches away? Does your attitude and body language reflect what they first saw?
  3. What are the first 12 words out of your mouth?

What we’re talking about is how important it is to create the right perception of yourself and your business.

Let’s face it: As a businessperson, you’ve got a lot going on. But, most prospects don’t care how much you’ve got going on or how many balls you have in the air. They just want to know if you’re a potential solution to a problem they have, and their initial perception of you goes a long way in making that determination.

The same is true for potential referral partners.

They want to know if they can trust you with their referrals – people (and sometimes clients) with whom they have a good relationship. Do you have your act together so you won’t jeopardise their good name when they refer business to you? Right or wrong, their initial perception of you is going to play a large part in answering that question.

This is precisely what the 12 x 12 x 12 rule is all about. It looks at you from the perspective of other people (prospects or referral partners) and shows you how to optimise their perception. This doesn’t mean manipulating or deceiving them; experienced people can see through that. Nor is it about checking your personality at the door. What it does mean is fine-tuning your networking practices to avoid shooting yourself in the foot.

Related: Great Places To Take Your Clients When Networking

Let’s go over the specifics of the 12 x 12 x 12 rule and how you can manage the perception others have of you.

Look the part before going to the event (How do you look from 12 feet away?)

professional-appearanceYou’d be surprised how many people fall short in the fundamental area of appearance. If it’s a chamber of commerce networking breakfast, don’t go casual. Instead, consider wearing a good suit or nice outfit. You need to be well rested and clearheaded when attending a morning networking session; make a conscious effort to get plenty of sleep the night before. If you’re not a morning person, hit the sack earlier than usual so you don’t look like the walking dead. Regardless of how many cups of coffee you’ve had, people can tell if you’re not all there.

Make sure your body language sends the right message (How do you come across from 12 inches away?)

When it comes to forming networking relationships, most of the important information – trustworthiness, friendliness, sincerity, openness — is communicated through nonverbal cues such as posture, facial expression and hand gestures. When engaging in conversation, look the other person directly in the eye and stay focused on what he’s saying. Lean a bit into the conversation rather than away from it; don’t stand rigid with your arms crossed.

When meeting someone for the first time, a lot can be said about how much your attitude can impact her first impression. Make sure that when you’re talking to others, you have a positive, upbeat attitude.

Another part of the “12 inches” away rule is making sure you know which pocket your business cards are in and having plenty on hand. Nothing screams, “One of these days I’ve got to get organised!” louder than handing a potential referral partner someone else’s card. So make sure you have some type of system for keeping your cards separate from the cards you receive at the event.

One more thing: Remember to smile when meeting someone for the first time. Studies have shown that if you smile when you talk, you seem more open and forthright. Obviously, you don’t want to go overboard with this and start grinning and shaking hands like a hyperactive clown; just show that you’re having a good time, and that will send the right message.

Related: The Top 10 Behaviours To Avoid When Networking

Make sure you’re ready to speak (What are the first 12 words out of your mouth?)

When someone asks you what you do, make sure you’re ready with a response, or unique selling proposition (USP), that’s succinct but memorable. A good USP is the offline equivalent of a good post on social media… something that promotes curiosity and engagement. The attention span of the average adult is 20 seconds; a long, drawn-out answer to the question isn’t going to work. Whatever words you choose, make sure your answer is quick and informative without sounding over-rehearsed or contrived.

Perception is reality when it comes to meeting people for the first time. If people perceive you as not being right for them, they simply won’t be inclined to refer business to you, regardless of the work you can actually do. However, by keeping the 12 x 12 x 12 rule in mind, you’ll go a long way toward creating the right impression in the blink of an eye.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Networking

Why I Never Meet Someone For Coffee

The conventional offer of “getting coffee” is, in my opinion, one of the most frustrating offers that can be made.

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First off, I need to make clear that I am not against meeting people for coffee or even drinking coffee. My issue is that I’ve learned that the offer to go get coffee usually means that somebody wants something from me. Whether it is time, money or to help them make a connection, an offer to grab a drink almost always has some ulterior motive behind it.

You might think that I flat out don’t want to help others, but the real issue is the other opportunities that I have in front of me. I have a lot on my plate, so dedicating the time to a “quick” coffee meeting does not make much sense.

Related: Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

Say no to getting coffee

Hours spent in the office doing business are not the time to sit back, relax or socialise. I try to be as efficient, effective and statistically successful as possible during work hours (and beyond). The conventional offer of “getting coffee” is, in my opinion, one of the most frustrating offers that can be made.

I rarely take anyone up on the offer to “do lunch” during work hours. Just consider the amount of time that it takes to get to and from a coffee or lunch meeting, and how much business could be done in that same time.

Then, think about the inefficiencies of utilising that time for things such as small talk, even before you get to the critical business issue.

Have an objective in mind

I have the objective to try and keep every phone call to a maximum of five minutes. When it comes to in-person meetings, I prefer them to take place at my office or overlapping other meetings I have outside the office, which I call “holding court.”

Even then, I try to keep those meetings to 20 minutes long. This allows me to fit in as many meetings or calls as possible. So many people make the excuse that they are “doing business” and then leave the office to do unimportant things, or overlap their meetings around errands.

Make no mistake, I’m not advising against meeting people in person. I’m saying take control of the business opportunity and have them come to you, or meet them somewhere convenient when you are outside of the office.

Related: 5 Ways That Coffee Affects Productivity

No coffee, just grind

The majority of lunch and coffee meetings that take place are nothing but an inefficient use of time. I would suggest not only rejecting such meetings during work hours, but to also stop asking for coffee meetings unless they’re absolutely necessary.

How do you determine whether or not a meeting is necessary? Take a look at the reasons and impacts the meeting can have. If these outweigh the potential drawbacks of an in-person meeting, then it is acceptable to ask. Make sure that you focus on making efficiency a key principle when chasing your objectives.

Stay focused in on critical business issues and you will find that focus will provide you with everything you desire in business and life.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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