“[N]etworking for me like so many of us was, it was not second nature…it really took me needing to look for a new career path to determine that networking was an important component of my life.”

Alana Muller’s dive into networking started with her lifelong desire to become a business owner. A successful executive at Sprint, after 10 years Alana knew she had to change something. “I had a wonderful, remarkable career at Sprint. … But the truth is, my entire life I said I wanted to be in a business owner. I didn’t know the word entrepreneur at that time, but since I was a little girl, when people said, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ‘I want to own my own business,’ was the answer. I didn’t have a business idea. I didn’t have anything, but I had sort of this feeling inside that I wanted to be in charge of a business.”

Coffee, Lunch, Coffee

Once she decided to quit her job, she decided “my idea for what that next step would entail was networking.” She reached out to five people she knew. “[T]o my surprise and delight, each one said they would be willing to meet with me.” During her conversations with them, they each asked her what she considers the fundamental networking question. “[E]ach one of them ended with one question that really changed my life. And it seems like such a basic question, but really it is sort of the foundation of Coffee, Lunch, Coffee, and it is ‘What can I do to help you?’ ‘So you’ve made this decision, what can I do to help you?’ And that is such a basic question, but you know, I never said ‘here’s what I need help with.’ And frankly, I’m not sure I was doing a very good job of looking at other people and saying, ‘what can I do to help you?’ And so that these five people all ended with the same question, was remarkable. And I’m no fool. I asked, what I asked them for was who else should I go talk to? …They each gave me the name of three to five more people. I contacted those three to five more people and the list began to grow.”

As her list grew, Alana wanted to make her days more manageable. “[S]o my idea was to structure my days around the kinds of days at the type of people I wanted to meet. And the idea was a morning meeting, time slot, a midday meeting time slot, and an afternoon meeting time slot. So as a joke, I called that Coffee Lunch Coffee and it stuck. That was my process.”

The Four Lists

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To find the people to network with as well as define her values, Alana developed four lists:

  • People she already knew: ”People I already know, people in my relationship base that I want to reconnect with. We can recall people from all facets of our lives. It doesn’t even have to be that daunting. Come up with five, start with five; five people that you want to reconnect with and make sure that you go about the business of reconnecting with them and once you get through your list of five add another one to the bottom and another one after that.
  • People or she’d like to know: “The second list is a list of people that we don’t know, but we’d like to. Sometimes it’s somebody that maybe we saw them at a conference. Maybe we got their business card, but we don’t really know them. Maybe it’s somebody that we’ve read about or we’ve heard about my reputation, so the list of people that we don’t know but would like to. That can be sometimes a more difficult list to put together, but what I love is that often the people on this number one can help us to get to the people on this[list]” .
  • Companies or organizations she’d like to know:”[T]he third list that I like to talk about is the list of companies or organizations, firms that I want to get to know, so sometimes we don’t know the first and last names of the people we’d like to meet, but we know firms, we know types of organizations that we want to meet and so we can document that and then go figure out who to meet with at those organizations.
  • Her “non-negotiables” or personal values: “The fourth list is a little different. It’s a more introspective list, I call it: Your Non-negotiables. And really what that is, it’s your personal value set. What’s important to you, what will you not give up through this networking process, through this career search process, through the sales process, whatever it is that you’re going through, but what is it that you’re going to hold dear? What are you not willing to part with?”

Helping Her Community

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With all the work that Alana has done, both domestically and internationally, since Coffee, Lunch, Coffee has taken off, she’s found a way to give back to the Kansas City community by partnering with American Public Square. “[W]hat this organization does is it brings together non-likeminded people to have civil, fact-based dialogue about controversial topics. I have the privilege of working on a very special project with them related to addressing violence in Kansas City. A philanthropist approached us about a year ago and said we have an existential problem in our community. We have too much violence and too many people are dying. And when he talked about violence, he was referring to homicide, suicide, and domestic violence. And he thought that American public square was uniquely qualified to address this issue as a convener, as a sort of a marketplace of civil fact-based discussion.”

“It turns out through my research and discussions through the community that there are hundreds of people in organizations working to address violence in our, in our city. They’re all doing really good work and they don’t need me to weigh in with a new idea, but if I can do one thing, if I can bring people together, if I can help to make the work that they’re doing more efficient, if I can help to coordinate these various efforts then I think it’s, it’s worth my time. So that’s a project that is very near and dear to my heart and I think it’s important in this day and age.”

To learn more about Alana and Coffe, Lunch, Coffee, visit the webpage at https://coffeelunchcoffee.com

Question & Answer Session