Friday, February 5, 2010

Meet, Greet, & Play Nice

Your mom was right. There is no substitute for manners and civilized behavior.

I shared a cup of coffee with someone the day before yesterday, and I mentioned that there is really no replacement for face-to-face meetings with someone, especially if you're looking to establish a business relationship with that person. While we live in one of the most technically advanced nations in the world and in an era that would have amazed people twenty years ago (let alone a century or two prior), becoming this tech-savvy has drawbacks along with its advantages. We don't talk to people face-to-face. We Tweet, we Facebook, we e-mail. We text, and text, and text until we have to visit the doctor for our aching thumbs. One look at the news shows us that we have fast forgotten how to be civil to each other, regardless of what our opinions are.

Let's take a step back for a minute. A conversation, actually connecting with someone,  means that I am sharing information with you. I'm giving a person some idea of who I am. I'm asking that person to consider my needs. I want something. I'm asking that person to take time out of their day to either help me with something or to give me something in return, especially in business. I have to communicate and be clear in those communications, and no matter how uncomfortable it may be, actually talk to that person. (And who knows? You may just surprise yourself and actually find that talking face-to-face isn't uncomfortable at all.)

So, in light of these things, what are the rules of meeting new business associates (which is, in actuality, meeting new people), and how does this all tie together? Here's how I see it:

1.) Do your research. They tell you the same thing for a job interview, and it's the same thing for meeting a potential new vendor or client you want to use your services. Go to their website. When you have your lunch meeting or coffee with that person, have a conversation with them. Find out who they are and what they're looking for. Ask them about their business mission. Ask them what they like or dislike. And the magic about conversation is that it's a two way street. Try to give the other person as much information about yourself and your business so that they can make a decision whether or not there's a fit. Do it within the bounds of reason and tact, however; a business meeting isn't the time to bring up the dubious distinction that you were the dorm's beer funneling champion for two consecutive semesters. Enough people already know that and will be more than happy to bring it up at the next reunion, so keep your mouth shut about it.

2.) Dress for the occasion.Take a shower. Put on deoderant. As someone who is in a creative field, I have a small bit of leeway, but just because I'm a photographer I wouldn't and shouldn't show up to meet someone in muddy boots and waders and expect the explanation, "I just got in from a shoot" to suffice. Your mom is right; it's rude and places still do have dress codes. And while what I might wear to meet a potential corporate client is completely different from what I would wear to meet a client interested in a portrait, in either case I need to look professional, competent, and neat.

3.) Be there when the person you're meeting arrives. This may mean that you have to get to your meeting place early - maybe an hour early, maybe a day early, maybe both - but make sure you are there and ready to go when your guest arrives, because you have no real idea how much time that person has to spend. And if the unthinkable happens and you're going to be late, call and let that person know so they can either wait or reschedule. When you get to your meeting, apologize for your tardiness once and move on with the meeting.

4.) Speaking of guests:  if you've asked this person to lunch or coffee, pick up the tab. You wouldn't invite someone to your home for dinner, and ask them to pay for it. They are your guest. Find out where they would like to go; some people have food allergies and/or dietary restrictions you need to consider (and visits to the ER are not fun). And don't forget to get a receipt and make your accountant happy.

5.) Send a thank you note for your meeting as soon as possible. Here's one instance where technology works to your advantage. You can send an e-mail a soon as you get back to the car, but doan txt how gr8 it wuz to see U. PLEASE! Proper spelling! And proof your letter before you hit "send".

See? It just takes a little effort to be civilized. It makes people feel valued and important, which at the end of the day is something we all want, and in the end, you just might make a friend. How can that be bad?


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