In January 2018, I had a cup of coffee with a local guy named Jason Elkins. He spoke about his mission to build business through building relationships. 

He had come up with the idea when he was suddenly laid off from a job after moving to a new state and had absolutely no network to speak of. He decided to have 100 Cups of Coffee over the course of 100 days. The goal was to build his network and gain enough clientele to justify starting his own marketing business. And if he couldn’t do that, then at least he’d have the network to source a new job. 

Why coffee? Simply because it’s non-threatening, universally liked, and fairly inexpensive. At the time, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but the idea resonated with me, to my core.

Admittedly, when I began my own “100 Cups of Coffee Project,” it was for a self-serving purpose. I was working as a bank manager and was tasked with the job of bringing in new commercial business. I needed a way to drum up business without the dreadful task of cold-calling. What I found over the following 18 months is that this project would become bigger than anything I could have ever expected.

Did it help with business? Absolutely. Ours steadily became one of the top business lending branches in the state within my organization. When other banks or branches within our region experienced a slow-down, our branch consistently hit our goals. The project even gained traction within my own company, with our divisional president rolling out “Cups of Coffee” requirements for every single one of our business bankers.

But I was also making real connections within my community. I’d find out months after having a cup of coffee that really cool things were resulting from introductions I’d made between movers and shakers in our community.

Over the course of the last two years, I’ve laughed with people, sometimes cried with people, and I’ve heard people’s own perspective on why they do what they do. We put our phones down and I listen intently to their stories. And I have built very real relationships with people. I even remember texting Jason one day after a meeting and saying to him, “I think I just had coffee with my new best friend!”

As with any project that involves a human variable, all sorts of weird and funny things have happened over the course of meeting with 100 different people. During one meeting, the person’s banker walked in and “caught us in the act,” knowing exactly who I was and what we were doing. It was like an episode right out of that old television show, “Cheaters.” Another time, I ended up having most of the meeting in the person’s car, as she drove me to her house to let her son in, who had locked himself out. 

Now, I’m more excited than ever to bring some of these experiences to you in print. These interactions aren’t necessarily with people you don’t already know—quite the opposite. Many of the people I meet with are very well-known pillars of our community. But, if you’ve never sat down with them one on one, I’m willing to bet you learn something new about them by reading this column. I welcome your feedback and look forward to connecting with you. Let’s have coffee!

Jennifer Perry is a branch manager of a local bank, a mom, wife, and an active member of the community that enjoys networking and giving back whenever possible. Reach her at jennifers100cups@gmail.com.

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