Hate networking? Grab a coffee instead. There's no naff name tags, just women secretly making career moves over oat milk lattes.
My thumbs hover above my phone keyboard for a second before they type out the words 'Wanna get coffee sometime?' into a direct message on Twitter.
I’ve just asked a fellow freelance writer for a hot drink, but really it’s my way of saying, 'let’s get together and talk about life, work, words, books and life goals because I like you'.
An invitation to coffee is my well-worn code for 'let’s swap insights and see if we could collaborate'. But, naturally, without the pressure of a boardroom meeting or a formal networking event.
For an introvert like me, who doesn’t particularly warm to bragging, the strategic coffee is a godsend. It can also be extremely useful and productive… the writer in question (she said yes) gave me something invaluable: camaraderie and a reinvigorated sense of confidence.
Freelancing is a lonely business and being your own boss can be isolating, so it has been astronomically helpful for me to meet with writers like this one, and others, to feel supported, to swap editorial contacts, to gossip about which editors are good and bad to work with, and to remind myself to leave the house and interact with other human beings. It’s my single most cherished business strategy, and indeed the entirety of my networking output.
But I’m not the only one asking women I admire out for coffee.
Caitlin Smith had just gone freelance in PR when Jo O’Connell texted to ask her out for coffee. They met the very next morning at Judo Lounge in Southborne, Dorset. It was the start of 2017 and they each had that fiery new-year ambition. Jo ordered an Americano, Caitlin got a vanilla latte. They had no time for snacks.
'We were too busy talking and putting the world to rights!' says Caitlin.
Pastries sacrificed, they spoke about the PR business, running a start-up and what it was like trying to raise kids with a career. 'As far as coffee first dates go, it couldn’t have gone better,' says Jo, who offered to mentor Caitlin in exchange for her skills as a publicist.
By the time Caitlin got back to her desk, post-coffee, Jo had already set her up with a branded email address and put their first joint business meeting in the diary. They work together now at Jo’s company and also 'love a good giggle over a glass of wine'. They both consider their working relationship a rollicking success.
Rosie Cook and Sophie Thorne met for a tactical coffee at the end of 2016, at Flatplanet on Great Marlborough Street.
Rosie was thinking about launching a swimwear business called Deakin and Blue, and Sophie had just started Twisted Lingerie, so they had matching business desires and were both getting used to the idea of putting the letters CEO next to their names.
They spent an hour together, but they crammed in a lot: what it meant to start a fashion business, the sacrifices and pressures of a start-up, the impact on their personal lives.
After their meeting, they started getting together monthly for a 7.30am breakfast date with plenty of WhatsApp chat in between; now they meet every week to swap stories, strategies, heartache and plans of attack. It’s a really important source of confidence, advice and support for both of them.
Such is the unique power of the coffee date. Women who respect and admire one another are meeting for oat milk lattes and long blacks across the country, chatting amicably about their fiercest career goals and collaborating on projects.
It’s casual networking for people who hate networking; a strategic visit to the local café instead of rolling out the small talk at industry events or meeting in a boardroom. There are no naff name tags, no stiff business cards and no icebreaker activities, just women getting together over hot beverages and ambition.
Tips For Perfecting The Art of The Professional Coffee Date
Ask A Mentor
The work coffee can be a way to consolidate a mentor relationship, so you could ask someone senior to you, someone, whose skills you admire and wish you could emulate.
Though there's a real pleasure in the spontaneous and relaxed café chat, it goes without saying that mentor-level professionals can sometimes be extremely busy, so it follows to have a couple of key things in the back of your mind that you'd like to talk over, which you can pull out if they seem to be in a hurry. It's also usually worth having something - even if it's a very small thing - that you might offer to them in return. This could simply be a great shared contact, or time offered for a task they hadn't had the mental space for; it shows great courtesy to observe that the relationship works both ways.
Ask A Peer
Coffee dates are also good for an exchange of advice between equals, so you could ask someone at roughly the same career stage as you. And they’re a wonderful offer to look out for someone starting out their career, so you might consider asking someone junior to you for a bit of support and inspiration.
Whatever your standing, choose someone whose skills impress you; someone you’d like to have in your life.
The secret to these sorts of business coffees is not to put too much pressure on it. Its beauty is its informality, so don’t over-prepare. Just be on time, pick somewhere cute, order your favourite drink and do what we women do best: chat.
This, like a friendship, is based on vulnerability as much as power. This is not a power lunch and it is not a job interview. It’s a deliberately low-key get-together where sometimes the objective is completely unclear.
It’s just two women getting together for coffee and a talk about what they want out of life. It’s chance to swap skills and stories, to ask each other insightful questions and to get to know someone you respect. It’s the sisterhood in action; a beautiful gesture of solidarity and professional back-up that we could all do with having in our lives.
And once you’ve had coffee a few times? Graduate to the business wine. That’s the next level in strategic work companionship.
This article originally appeared on elle.com