Please... I don't want to have coffee with you.
I don't mean to sound rude. And I really, really appreciate that you'd like to get together. But I'm a small business owner. My days are really busy. And I don't have the time to just "have coffee." I know you are a nice person and that a face to face meeting may very well help us in our relationship. There are some people I know who thrive on meeting others for coffee, lunch and dinner. But unfortunately I'm not one of those people. This is not something I really want to do. If I'm not dealing with problems in my office, I have so much other work to do and problems to handle that if I do have any available time I'd prefer to spend it with my family. So having coffee with you is really low on my priority list.
But I'll tell you what: there are some circumstances where I will have coffee with you. And here's what they are.
We have coffee over the phone. That means that you have a cup of coffee, and I have a cup of coffee... except we're both drinking our coffees from our own offices and just talking on the phone. I don't mind setting up phone appointments. It's a good way to get to know each other and you can accomplish a lot from just a 20 minute conversation. A phone conversation may cover all that we need to cover. And who knows? I may actually be enticed to get off my butt leave my office and meet with you if we both agree that there's a reason to actually meet face to face. The best thing about a phone conversation is that's a much smaller investment of time than leaving the office and driving somewhere.
You're a client. Clients have my first priority. If a client says they want to meet me for coffee, or any other reason, I meet them for coffee. Of course, there are limits... I'm not going to leave my office for a very, very small client because even though all clients are important to me I admit that some are more important than others to my business. But for the most part getting out and meeting a client is always something important for me to do. And I'd rather drink coffee with them at their offices so I can walk around, see how they're using our products and provide some type of help.
You have a client for me. I'll meet you for coffee if you've got a specific client, project or opportunity that needs my specific help for specific services. Sometimes a tech friend of mine will call me and say "we're working on this client project and they're really interested in the products you sell, can we meet for coffee about this." When I get a call like that I meet for coffee. I'm not a touchy feely person and I'm not into getting to know you over coffee unless there's some actual dollars involved.
If I owe you. If you've done something for me in the past, referred me work, helped me out and you want to get together for coffee than I'm more inclined. There's a history there. We've got a track record together. We're now familiar with each other and what we do because we've done something together in the past. And you've previously helped me. I want to make sure I'm helping you. And keeping you happy. Because you've proved you're for real. You now want to meet for coffee so we can discuss other ways we can work together based on what we've done before? I'm OK with that.
You're a genuine, bona-fide prospect. You want to get together for coffee because are specifically looking for products for your company that we sell. You are in the research (or testing phase). You have done your due diligence. You are not a tiny project but a decent-sized one (and that definition at least for me changes based on the economic circumstance of the times, I'm sorry to admit). You have budget, a timeline, a need and ownership support. You are a serious buyer and you're looking to have a serious conversation. OK...I'll have coffee with you then.
My time is limited. My resources are scarce. My patience is thin. I'm a small business owner. And unless you fit into one of these five categories, I'm sorry -- but I don't want to meet and have coffee with you right now.
A version of this column previously appeared on Entrepreneur.com.