Personal contacts can turn into business connections, if you approach them correctly!
My clients often tell me that they socialize with friends and acquaintances who would make wonderful clients and/or referral sources. When you’re spending time with your personal contacts at dinner parties, the sidelines of a soccer game, or even at church, you’re building relationships and developing those all-important “know, like, and trust” factors. Business is almost certainly not your top priority in those settings, but what do you do when you uncover a potential business connection?
No one wants to be that awful person who’s always shilling for business from social contacts, missing the “leave me alone” vibes. Respect the context of the conversation, of course; but when you know you can help someone, consider it your duty to speak up.
Failing to let a personal contact know that you might be able to help with some challenge she’s facing is failing to be of service. It’s passing an opportunity to use your God-given skills to minister to someone. And service and ministry are what you’re all about, so clearly that’s a mistake.
But the truth is that it’s easier to stay silent and avoid any chance of giving offense. What if you could briefly share what you do (making the business connection) 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 in a non-business setting without risk?
1. Discover the opportunity. When you hear something that makes you think you might be able to help, listen for whatever your contact is sharing. If you support women going through divorce and you hear someone mention her separation, keep listening to get insight into whether she’s facing the particular kind of situation you address. If not (if you focus on supporting newly single moms deal as they help their children adjust to the separation, for example, and you discover that the woman you’re talking with doesn’t have children), then you may choose to let the moment pass.
2. 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 business.
Your comment can be as quick as, “You know, I work with those kinds of situations with 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).”
3. 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.” Read the signals and respond accordingly.
4. 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 separating business from social conversation, you’ll avoid having someone overhear a private conversation and eliminate the risk of offering free, off-the-cuff advice that won’t serve the person with whom you’re speaking or your own business. Even if you agree to step outside the party or to move to your host’s home office, 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.” Gauge your next steps (exchanging cards, setting an appointment to talk again, or moving to another location) based on your contact’s response.
5. 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 up to you to set the appropriate professional boundaries.
Holiday socializing will begin before you know it, so look for opportunities to practice springing from pure social contacts into business, doing so with a light touch.
When done deftly, you’ll find that all of your relationships benefit as a result.
How do you handle the personal/business crossover? I’d love to hear your ideas and any challenges you may be facing in this area.
ABOUT JULIE FLEMING
Julie A. Fleming, principal of Lex Innova Consulting, teaches lawyers to use innovative and effective measures to build a strong book of business and a lucrative practice. A former patent litigator, she is the author of The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling, Seven Foundations of Time Mastery for Attorneys, and the forthcoming Legal Rainmaking Myths: What You Think You Know About Business Development Can Kill Your Practice,as well as numerous articles focusing on topics such as business development, practice management, work/life balance, and leadership development. Before launching her consulting business, Julie practiced law for over a decade in firms of 3 to more than 2100 attorneys, specializing in patent litigation. A graduate of the Emory University School of Law, Vanderbilt University (B.A.) and Georgia State University (B.S.), Julie is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and currently serves as Vice Chair of the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law.
Jory has invited me to write on how to grow a solid business, and I’d love to hear your questions! What frustrates you? What challenges would you like to transform into opportunity? What are you curious about? Comment on this post and/or send your questions directly to Julie@LexInnovaConsulting.com. Please let me know you’re a friend of Jory’s. Can’t wait to hear from you!