Recently I have been pondering the question of whether or not it’s really necessary to get together in-person just to chat (no urgent agenda) with known business contacts/partners? My networking-expert-friends who just read that first sentence are probably cringing right at this very moment. Let me explain my question a little better and then maybe some of you will have answers for me:
I understand that in order to build relationships with people you usually need to meet them face-to-face at least once if possible. Since we live in a world in which technology allows us to meet and communicate with people all over the world via the internet I think it is possible to build relationships with people you never see face-to-face. In fact I have business contacts in far-flung places whom I will probably never meet in person yet we collaborate closely and have built great relationships.
When possible I always try to meet new business contacts in person because I understand that most people like to connect names and faces and that in-person meetings often have a more lasting impact on the participants. Most of the time, once I meet a new contact once or twice in person and get to know him/her a bit, I don’t necessarily feel the need to leave my office to meet them for breakfast or lunch just to catch up unless I am not particularly busy. Does that make me a curmudgeon? Is my perspective out of line with the expectations of society at large?
Most people I know get up early in the morning, shower, get dressed, get the kids to school, and rush to a day in an office filled with meetings, business lunches, bosses, co-workers, and presentations. I, on the other hand, work out of a home-based office and get paid by individual clients only for the coaching and written materials I deliver for them. My day begins with walking the dogs, running to the gym, taking a quick shower and hurrying upstairs to my office to write resumes, bios, marketing documents (for corporate clients), and to spend time on the phone with clients all around the U.S. and sometimes internationally.
If I were working in an office I would spend some time early in the morning doing my hair, putting on makeup, and making myself look professionally presentable. In fact, when I used to work in an office environment I had lunch with friends, co-workers, or partners/clients nearly every day. Of course, in those days, someone else was paying my salary so lunch was just another hour for which I was being paid.
Since I work at home, I wear shorts and flip flops every day which means that if I need to meet someone for a business lunch I need to spend at least an hour “professionalizing” my look. Then I need to spend about an hour round trip in traffic to drive to the meeting itself.
Recently, a relatively new business contact of mine with whom I have had breakfast a couple of times, gave me a hard time about not having time to meet her for breakfast. She even went so far as to ask if the reason I couldn’t go to breakfast was that I was angry with her. That is the event that precipitated this post.
I explained to her, in great detail, the amount of work I have right now (staggering) and the amount of time that getting ready for, driving to/from, and the meeting itself takes away from the time I have to spend on work. I offered to catch up via phone which, in my mind, would take less time and serve the same purpose as an in-person meeting.
In response she said that she wanted to see me in person (there was no hot topic on our agenda, by the way, I think she just prefers to meet people in person rather than talk on the phone) so she would be willing to drop by my house and bring coffee so we could catch up. She told me that she isn’t as busy as I am and that her job necessitates that she is “out and about” all day long. In other words, her job is all about in-person meetings.
I have been starting work at 6 or 7 am and sometimes not stopping until 9 or 10 pm almost every day recently so I have not taken this particular contact up on her offer to bring coffee to my home. It is very important to me to deliver high quality work to my clients within our agreed timeframe and with the economy the way it is, well, I guess the clients take precedence over meetings with people I already know.
I don’t know if my unwillingness to meet in-person right now has upset this particular person to the point that she won’t have anything else to do with me. I really hope not. It just makes me wonder if my perspective is out of whack so I thought I would ask what you think?