I am often asked, “Where are the best places to meet with networking prospects?” In fact, I have blogged about this before (last November 5, 2011 in “Where to Meet”) and even included a similar section in my book. That said, I’m asked so frequently that some of the ideas I have shared in the past bear repeating, plus, I thought I’d add a new tidbit or two.
I will get you started by sharing with you my go-to venues and the characteristics to think about when choosing location. Consider geographic vicinity, of course, but also atmosphere, adequate privacy, Wi-Fi availability, how much of a wait there might be, and the like. Of course, where you will choose to go will vary according to where you live, but it still helps to have some general guidelines. Obviously you won’t want to go anywhere that’s too quiet (tomb-like) or too noisy, or, frankly, where you’ll know too many people who might come over for a “quick” hello and inadvertently interrupt the flow of your networking discussion.
Here are some of my favorite meeting spots, in no particular order:
- Panera Bread. Panera is a great spot with high efficiency, and given the geographic diversity of my readers, it’s easy to suggest as there are more than 7,500 Paneras covering about 40 states. This is a great place to start with Coffee in the morning, then, if you have time and work to do, you can stick around to use the free Wi-Fi until 11:30 am, when they shut it down for lunch.
- McDonald’s. McDonald’s stores really are a convenient place to meet—they are everywhere, they are appropriately quiet during mid-morning and mid-afternoon times, and there are plenty of booths for comfort and relative privacy. Many locations offer free Wi-Fi so you can get some computer work done before or after your meeting.
- Starbucks and other locally owned coffee shops. It’s no surprise that coffee shops in general make for good, convenient, reasonably priced meeting spots so long as they have tables and chairs, power outlets, and are spacious enough to give you a little elbow room and privacy for your discussions.
Speaking of locally owned coffee shops, today, I had the great fortune to combine a location that I enjoy for 1:1 networking meetings with a large networking event. In honor of Global Entrepreneurship Week, my colleagues and I at Kauffman FastTrac planned and promoted a networking meet up, “cash mob” (i.e. everyone buys his/her own beverage and snacks in order to support a small business) style at Coffee Girl’s Café in Kansas City’s Waldo neighborhood. It was awesome! A perfect venue. We had at least 50-60 people show up – FastTrac alumni, course instructors and coaches, company partners, Kauffman Foundation associates and several other FastTrac fans. The joint was large enough to accommodate our “crowd,” yet small enough to allow for the sort of intimate, person-to-person conversations that allow for relationship building. Lindsey Patterson, owner of Coffee Girl’s (and a FastTrac GrowthVenture graduate), generously welcomed the participants, offered an “Entrepreneur Special” ($1 drip coffee!) and engaged with the participants in a way that will ensure they return to the store again and again. As the holiday season approaches, you might consider working with your favorite local coffee shop or café to coordinate a similar event. Everyone had a great time and I believe that some real connections were formed.
My final tip for great venue may sound unusual… frankly, it is one of the great venue surprises that I am thrilled to have stumbled upon. Need a place to meet up with a contact? Need a place for a multi-person meeting? Not sure where to go for either occasion? Consider asking your bank for space! Banks often have spare conference rooms that they will happily lend to their loyal clientele for meetings, as needed. In fact, I recently opened an account with Freedom Bank. It is a unique place and looks nothing like any bank I’ve ever seen. When you walk in the door at Freedom, you are greeted by a concierge; there are no tellers – instead, there are private booths in which you can have conversations via live video feed with a teller, if you wish. As you look to the left, spread out before you is a gorgeous lounge area with a variety of tables. There is a full wet bar. Starbucks coffee is served all day, along with snacks, various cold and hot drinks, etc. There is even an extensive magazine rack, a Wii console complete with Guitar Hero and other games. I could go on. Suffice it to say that I cannot wait to start having my morning Coffee meetings at Freedom Bank! Oh, and this bank’s entire marketing budget is spent enabling its customers to “host” events in this gorgeous lounge… I’m planning a book signing there next month! Anybody want to come? Can you believe this is a bank?
So, where are your favorite places to gather for networking purposes? Are you willing to share your secret hot spots? Do tell…