Clients often tell me that they socialize with friends and acquaintances who would make wonderful clients and/or referral sources. And yet, no one wants to be that awful person who’s always shilling for business from social contacts, missing the “leave me alone” vibes.
But what a waste to nod along with a zipped lip when you might be able to benefit your contact and yourself by bringing business into the conversation. We’ve all had the experience of wishing we could turn up some help with a thorny issue, and if you can offer the help, shouldn’t you?
The truth is that it’s easier to stay silent and avoid any chance of giving offense. But what if you could briefly share what you do and suggest that you might be able to help, then turn back to pure socializing?
Mastering that art will benefit you, in getting a new opportunity, and benefit your contact, in finding a useful resource. So, how can you talk business at a social gathering without risk?
- Discover the opportunity. When you hear something that makes you think you might be able to help, listen for whatever your contact is sharing.
- Share your observation. Whether you’re talking to your best friend or a complete stranger, there’s a good chance that she doesn’t know or hasn’t realized that what she’s discussing has any overlap with your practice.
Your comment can be as quick as, “You know, I handle issues like that for my clients all the time.” Or in a referral-related setting, perhaps you’d say, “It sounds like there’s some overlap in the kinds of clients we serve (or issues we address).”
- Watch the reaction. You may get an unmistakeable “tell me more” signal that invites you to proceed with business conversation right then. Or you might get a polite, “Oh, is that so.”
- Offer to meet at another time to talk about your shared interests. Even if the person with whom you’re talking wants to go into a deeper business conversation on the spot, I suggest that you make an appointment to meet at a later time for that conversation.
By doing so, you’ll separate business from social conversation, avoid having someone overhear a private conversation, and eliminate the risk of offering free, off-the-cuff advice. Even if you agree to step outside the party or to move to your host’s home office, be sure to create a physical separation.
A simple invitation is sufficient, such as “This isn’t really the time or place, but I’d love to talk with you and see if I might be able to help with that.” You’ll gauge your next steps (exchanging cards, setting an appointment to talk again, or moving to another location) based on your contact’s response.
- Approach the business conversation as an extension of a social relationship. Even though you’ve moved to separate the business context from the social, your conversation will likely retain some familiarity. At the same time, your business relationship must exist apart from a social relationship, and it’s likely up to you to set the appropriate professional boundaries.
As you move into summer socializing (whether that’s now or in six months from now), look for opportunities to spring from pure social contacts into business, and look with a light touch. When done deftly, you’ll find that all of your relationships benefit as a result.