Does our natural reluctance to mix our social and business lives in the UK mean we are missing obvious opportunities to develop better client relationships?
I was running a business development session with a client the other day, and we were discussing how reluctant many of us are in the UK to mix our social and business lives, and whether we are missing opportunities to develop better client relationships as a result.
I think there is definately a cultural influence at play. During my time in Asia and the Middle East, social and business conversations were almost intertwined. In the UK – we tend to try and separate work and play time – guarding our personal space if you like. Perhaps this is why networking feels so awkward to many professional people.
Networking is the absolute lifeblood of many professional service firms, and often at the very core of their BD strategy – and yet, it is so often under-resourced or lacking in real focus. So we came up with five personal networking opportunities which she was not really taking, and which she promised to have a look at over the summer.
- Sports and fitness Clubs – whether it’s BMF or the gym near the office, why not start an informal chat with people you see every week?
- Your School/University Classmates – seeking out people you had fun with 10+ years ago and reacquainting yourself with them is a reasonably simple process if you use online tools such as LinkedIn.
- Charity or Community Work – volunteering is rewarding, and you will meet lots of interesting people. What’s more, you immediately have something in common with others that volunteer – it’s an easy conversation to start.
- Start Your Own Network – look at your supplier or client list. How many of these suppliers or clients are in similar sectors, and would appreciate meeting their counterparts? The common denominator is you – why not arrange a lunch or drink where you can make introductions and influence the topics of conversation?
- Ask for Referrals – if you have a good client who you get on well with, why not ask them if they know anyone who could use your services? This one might appear very un British, but with the right approach and carefully chosen words, you may find it a simple and effective way of generating a warm lead. You could always offer to reciprocate?
A word of caution. When speaking to someone for the first time, don’t jump in and pitch yourself, just look for a natural opportunity to open a conversation – try and find common ground in a social context. Take it slowly. Once you have built some rapport and trust, if you are presented with an opportunity to strike up a business conversation, why not suggest a meeting during work hours? This way you can keep the social and business separate and not compromise the social setting.
Remember that people generally like talking about themselves, so try to ask questions more than you talk. Take a genuine interest in others, and that way you will find people will probably open up much more.
Next month’s article will take this a step further and focus on having business conversations, and how to develop opportunities in a business meeting.
Read about our Five Golden Rules for Networking.