We all find ourselves in that tricky position from time to time: We learn that a longtime friend or relative is also a prospective client, but we don’t broach the subject of engagement for fear of damaging the relationship. "They know what I do for a living," we tell ourselves, "and they certainly know where to find me." But our assumptions prove to be painfully inaccurate when we learn that they've engaged a competitor for reasons that are difficult to fathom and awkward to explore.
Here are a few approaches that leverage the business potential of your personal contacts without compromising your ethics or the relationship:
- Ask about their work life. It may seem obvious, but we tend to gloss over this topic with friends and relatives, thereby missing an opportunity to understand their business needs. Express the same level of concern for their professional health as you would their physical or emotional well-being. One way to do this is simply to ask, "how are things at work?" and, if appropriate, let them know that you are happy to help them or their company if a relevant issue should arise.
- Ask for their help. Set aside your pride for a moment and let them know that business development is a priority for you. Given that they care about you, they will be invested in your success and eager to offer up helpful introductions or scenarios.
- Ask for their advice. If you are unsure of how they will react to #1 or #2, tell them you are considering broaching a business development topic with a mutual acquaintance but unsure of how to proceed. Their response will give you a sense of their attitude about business development and may open the door to a more involved discussion about their needs. At the very least, you'll get some useful advice about how to proceed with the third party.
- Be transparent. There is nothing wrong with coming clean. Tell them that you've been wanting to ask them if you could be of assistance in a professional context but put it off for fear of seeming inappropriate. If they agree with your initial impulse, assure them that you will respect their boundaries. If they tell you to stop overthinking, go ahead and have the conversation you've been denying each other.
It's ironic that the people who make us feel the most comfortable in life are often the clumsiest to engage in a conversation about business development. And certainly, we all have relationships that are best left as they are. But with a little forethought and creativity, you can initiate an easy dialogue with many of your closest relationships that explore the full potential of your desire to help one another.
Authored by David Ackert