Create your coffee network

The coffee industry has an amazing community. There are lots of driven, curious, passionate people that propel it forward. It's certainly one of the reasons I love it so much.

But it's not just about good friends and having fun. Professional network is an incredible tool to develop your career. Don't underestimate it!

When you're considering getting a new job, your connections serve an instrumental role. One person could share a job advert. Another has worked at the company and can give you some insight. Your mentor could help you prepare for the interview. An ex-colleague has a similar role and can share their expertise. Previous boss might become your client etc.

There are many levels on which other people contribute to your success. You never know when you'll have to reach out for resources you don't have yourself.

Best practice

Creating and maintaining your network is a set of behaviours (or rules if you prefer). Everyone can learn and adjust them to their personal style. Let me point out 4 major ones:

1. It's not about hanging out - adding someone to your network doesn't mean going for a pint. Especially if you've connected on a coffee event, you don't need to go to the 'afterparty'. After exchanging contacts it's about catching up regularly and creating value from there. Getting drunk together is not professional.

But what if you haven't seen someone for ages, they're in town for a festival and you want to catch up with old friends? Go for it!

Your network supports 3 areas. Skills - when you ask a fellow roaster if they charge naturals at a lower temperature. Career - when you ask a more experienced person if going into management is the right move for you. Social - when you hang out with your old colleague and chat about coffee, life, and other common interests. All areas are valuable on their own and intertwine with each other.

2. Volume and diversity - do not discriminate. Don't ask yourself how that person would be useful in your network. We tend to connect with people in our proximity or that are similar to us, even within our own companies. If you never see the engineering team, change it. Make the point of knowing at least one person from every department, branch or location - even if it's just a virtual connection.

Don't limit yourself to an internal network only. Get to know your suppliers and not just your contact person. You're buying coffee from a roaster but only ever meet the sales team? Send an email directly to the roastery, maybe ask if you can visit the space, come over to their stand on an event (if possible).

Know your 'competitors'. At the end of the day, you have the same goals, even if you vary in the approach. It's ok to show up at their event, taste and discuss coffees together, maybe even offer help. But it's not ok to promote your company or product there. Invite them to your events too!

Research shows, most benefits come from weak ties - acquaintances and friends of friends, rather than close friends. That's the power of diversity.

3. Be a giver - There's a ton of research about how it pays off to have a reputation of a giver. People want to reciprocate to givers (unless they're selfish takers).

Offer help, share your knowledge, be generous. It could mean as little as lending your spare scales (you don't need that Brewers Cup setup daily, do you?), giving away a bag of coffee or mentoring someone. You don't need to be an expert to mentor, even as a trainee with 3 months of experience on the job, you have plenty to offer to someone hired last week.

Competition is another great way to meet new people. You will see people from different companies, regions, positions. Between competitors, judges, organisers, and volunteers you'll see baristas, roasters, salesmen, technicians, green buyers, manufacturers, senior managers and even people from the commercial sector - all in one place.
But think about how you can contribute. Do you have a day off and can help clean the tables or measure TDS? Have you considered judging? Or getting involved in your national SCA chapter?

Be a giver, add value and show support.

Obviously, don't burn bridges. Even if the other side did. Be kind and positive about people you used to work with. Don't broadcast your bruised ego within your network, it's not worth it even if you're right.

4. Keep in touch - take a contact detail and connect every 3 months or so. One of the reasons to go to coffee events - it's nice to do it in person. But email, Instagram or text message are perfectly fine too.

Offer value - share a good article, insight or your work. Be genuinely interested in them. Ask relevant questions. If they moved, got a promotion/ changed jobs, got married you should be aware of it. If you're super savvy you can add these details in the notes of the contact - it would look bad to forget them when you're catching up 3 months later.

How to start?

If you're not on LinkedIn yet - use your free time to set it up. Don't expect to be offered a job there (although that happens).
It's a great tool to see what people in your network are doing - for example, someone changed jobs or got promoted. You can look up people in the position you want and see how they got there - or even send them a message!

It's always a good idea to grow your network. But not many people are naturally extroverted. Meeting new people can be terrifying. Though usually, within the industry, there's plenty you already have in common. When you're on a public cupping ask the person next to you what they think about the coffees.

Most of the people in the industry are or have started as baristas. That's the best prep for networking. Being nice and helpful by default is the best approach you can take.

There was an interesting research done on networking. They've put a bunch of professionals from the same industry together in the bar. The objective was to let them mingle and analyse social interactions. Every person in the room was monitored, even the bar staff. It turned out the person with the best interactions was a bartender.

That's good news for all of us coming from hospitality.

Coffee community is fantastic and you're an active part of it. You can have a positive impact on others and benefits yourself as well.

Developing a strong network should be part of your career plan. It's very likely it will have a direct impact on your success on the job or getting a new one. Let alone the satisfaction you get from helping others.

Stay strong and keep in touch!

Sources and inspirations:
1. Grant A., (2013), Give And Take
2. Ingram P., Morris M.W., (2007), Do People Mix at Mixers? Structure, Homophily, and the "Life of the Party"
3. Burkus D., (2018), Go Ahead, Skip That Networking Event, Harvard Business Review
4. Manager Tools - Networking Podcasts (check these out!)

Title photo - Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Second photo - Kaffeine Throwdown, it wouldn't be so much fun without friends
Third photo - Brewers Cup 2016, SQM
Last photo - Brazilian cupping at Kamba Coffee


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