“What would you like to drink?” the stewardess asked me.
“Coffee please,” I said.
“Americano, latte, cappuccino, espresso?”
We were over 35,000 feet above ground when I was served my hot drink. I wouldn’t say it was the best coffee I’ve had but who was I to complain. The circumstances and setting more than made up for the quality of the beverage, which actually wasn’t all that bad. Don’t you find food or drink a little tastier when it is served with a smile and impeccable service?
The private jet was headed to Frankfurt. It belonged to my client, a twenty something year old male heir to a vast fortune. I was accompanying him on business.
As I looked at the young scion sitting across from me I remembered the first time the two of us had a proper chat. It was several years ago in a little cafe in West London.
The relationship started over a cup of coffee.
Praise be to hot drinks
The price of a coffee is roughly the same at a cafe, restaurant or hotel. If you have one at a 5-Star hotel or some posh establishment it will be pricer. That’s for sure. But in general coffee is an affordable luxury for many of us. And that’s something to rejoice at because the cost of one may be all you’ll incur when you meet that one individual who’ll potentially change the way you think, the opportunities that will come your way and the path you take in life.
A time of accessibility
We are very fortunate to live in this day and age. Really. We should all light incense daily and be thankful for it.
Almost everyone on earth is accessible now.
There was a time, not so very long ago when it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get the attention of someone you didn’t know, especially if they happened to be a high profile individual.
Now, with a few clicks and some trial and error, you can figure out most people’s contact details. Then you send an e-mail and when the recipient looks in his or her inbox your message is present. Hello. Contact made.
Whether it’s a Hong Kong-based hedge fund manager, British film producer, member of the real estate team at a GCC Sovereign Wealth Fund or Silicon Valley entrepreneur, you can touch base with any of them. Your message will be seen. And if you think about it that’s bloody damn powerful. Metaphorically speaking all the roads have been paved for you to send your package to a desired destination.
Yet because it’s become so much easier to gain access to people it also means that a lot of people are going about it the wrong way. They shoot off e-mails without pausing to think about the right way to make contact. Consequently, their message lacks tact and grace. I’d say 90% of people will approach the exercise in a sloppy manner and nothing will come of their half-ass efforts. Yes, the package will reach the intended destination but nobody will accept the delivery. Permission not granted.
You want to be one of the select few who makes contact and then proceeds to the next stage with the recipient (your target).
How do I do that, you ask. My advice is simple…
Invite them to coffee or tea
That’s it? Yes and no.
Yes, inviting someone to coffee could work.
No, it’s doesn’t mean shooting off an e-mail that reads, “Can we meet? I’ll treat you to Starbucks.”
And more importantly don’t expect to get a meeting with Richard Branson, Angela Merkel, Cyrus Mistry, Melinda Gates, Peter Thiel, George Soros, Warren Buffett, Sheryl Sandberg or Li Ka-shing just like that. You need to get real and accept that these people are very likely not going to meet with you. On the off chance one of them does it will very likely be a one-off.
First things first
Your quest to meet important and influential individuals should be predicated on a desire to build a meaningful relationship.
Meeting for the sake of just meeting is a waste of time. Yours and, much more importantly, theirs.
Your aim should be to build a long-lasting relationship. One based on respect and not what-can-I-get-from-you-today.
A healthy relationship takes time to build. Yes, information flows at the speed of light nowadays but it still takes time to earn trust. Relationships need to evolve. It’s important to always keep this mind as it will shape your strategy and approach. If you’re goal is to meet someone and to profit from them right away you’ll not only fail to build any sort of positive association with that person but it will be very obvious what your intentions are. It’s easy to smell a sycophant.
Ever notice how some very successful individuals repeatedly collaborate with the same set of people. Why do you think? They have history together. That matters. I’m not saying you have to become tight like DiCaprio and Scorsese. Just be genuine and think about the long-term.
That brings us to another important point. Think about who you are targeting.
If you’re 25-years old, you are better trying to meet someone at Virgin Group who is less senior than Richard Branson. How much can you really have in common with Richard? Little. How likely are you to build a meaningful relationship with Richard? Unlikely. You need to calibrate your approach intelligently. There are of course exceptions and I advise you to aim high. I only urge you to think strategically.
Exercise reason and be realistic when deciding whom to approach. Remember, your goal is to engage with someone in order to build a relationship.
That means choosing a person you stand a chance to meet. Barack Obama is aiming a bit high. But perhaps there is a member of his team who holds an important role yet happens to be accessible. See where I’m going?
Some of you dream of becoming a hedge fund manager and want to meet George Soros. Why not try to meet one of the senior people within his fund, instead? Wouldn’t it be infinitely easier?
I’m not saying you can’t meet Obama or Soros. It’s possible. But be practical. Even if you should meet with, say, Soros, it’ll be challenging to meet with him again and again regularly. Build relationships with people within his organisation who are senior and influential. Should you add value in those relationships it will only be a matter of time before it reaches Soros’ attention.
You’ve given it due consideration and have finally chosen the person you’d like to meet. You’re now ready to contact him or her. Perfect.
A few points to consider:
Keep it short: important people tend to be busy. If they’ve got an inbox with 100 unread messages for the day and a new one pops in that resembles a copy paste of War & Peace it’s bad. It shows you don’t have an appreciation of their time. That doesn’t mean you should send a tweet. Just make it easy for them read. A long e-mail is not inviting.
Respect the balance of power: remember they are the one who hold importance, power, influence and so on and so forth. You are asking for their time, so realise that they would be doing you a favour to meet with you. The fact that you’re offering to treat them to coffee doesn’t give you any authority. A half hour of their time could be worth 100s or more coffees, depending on the individual. Don’t tell them, “I look forward to hearing from you very soon.” Rather you can say, “I realise your time is precious so I understand if you cannot respond right away.”
Don’t expect a response: a prop trader, entrepreneur, congresswoman, hedge fund analyst, Hollywood scriptwriter and JP Morgan Managing Director probably have more things on their to-do list than you. So keep in mind they may be in the middle of a large deal, difficult transaction, new project or personal emergency (e.g. divorce) when your e-mail lands. They don’t have to respond to you right away, if at all. Besides, you may not be the only one asking for their time. If you don’t hear from them then give it a little time and follow up. Most people try once and disappear for good. By – gently – following up you’ll be ahead of the rest.
Don’t chase like crazy: do not start e-mailing or call them the following day with lots of questions and requests. When someone e-mails me out of the blue with lots of questions – as if I were working for them – I don’t bother to reply. I ignore it.
Don’t ask for favours: give it some time. You don’t want to directly ask someone you don’t know at all for something. Rest assured, the fact that you’ve reached out to them has already signalled that you want something. But be elegant in how you proceed. Focus on building the relationship. Identify what is important to them and how you can help. That will pay back 10 times.
Display confidence: we’ve all heard it from a very young age that confidence can make or break a person. I can’t tell you the number of high-flying dealmakers I know who didn’t study at top schools, didn’t have illustrious credentials or didn’t come from affluent backgrounds. They rose above many others, who looked much better on paper, because they possessed a great deal of confidence. It doesn’t matter if you’re able to do X or Y very well. If you don’t believe in yourself then you will look weak. And if you look weak then you must rely on a miracle to be picked or chosen. Is that what you want? I say this because while your message must show respect toward the person you’re trying to meet, you want them to sense that it has come from an assertive individual. You may be younger and less experienced than they are but don’t forget that one day you may become a leader in your field. This should come across in your e-mail and your attitude when you later meet your target in person.
Choose the venue strategically: that means offer to come to them and go to a nearby cafe. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes.
Do your homework before you meet. Read up on them and their organisation. The more you prepare ahead of time the more likely you’ll be to make a good impression, which is your objective.
You don’t want to step into a meeting and ask them a simple question that a 5-minute search online would have revealed. If you do you’ll look dumb. Next time they receive an e-mail from you they’ll think, “Oh, it’s the clueless guy/girl again,” and their finger will race toward the delete button.
Keep this in mind: most successful people look fondly on younger individuals who show professionalism, drive, confidence and ambition. They’re often reminded of themselves.
It shows respect. Don’t show up in jeans and a t-shirt unless you’re told to. Even still, I’d dress professionally. Err on the side of caution. How can you go wrong if you’re well dressed and look good? The price tag doesn’t matter. If you make an effort you’ll glow however inexpensive your suit/dress.
QUESTION: Do you have any good tips to share? If so add them in the comments section.