Last week, a client was listing ten targets for her marketing efforts. She was stuck at nine. Finally, she said, "I suppose I could ask Rachel for work. She's the GC at Streamside Properties...but I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that; she's my best friend."
She wasn't the first client to express this concern. Clients often say things like this:
- My best friend from college just went in-house at a biotech firm. I'm reluctant to ask for business because she will think I'm taking advantage of our friendship.
- A good friend is a senior executive at a major consumer products company. I'd like to get an introduction to the legal department there, but I just don't feel comfortable asking for business.
In one form or other, the underlying question is "How can I convert my personal relationships into business?"
Reluctance to ask a friend for business typically boils down to a concern that by mixing business with friendship, it will spoil the friendship. You might worry that your friend will think you're "exploiting" the relationship and will take offense. Or, you could be concerned that a poor result will destroy the relationship. Or that you'll feel resentful if the person doesn't hire you.
The remedy for this dilemma is two-fold and found half in mindset and half in tactics.
Before deleting friends from your prospect list, consider the truth of the following mindsets:
- Your friend has a real problem (people hire lawyers when they have problems; nobody hires them just for fun). Who better to help solve that problem than you? After all, you have a vested interest in your friend's welfare.
- If your friend is in a position to hire legal counsel, they are a sophisticated businessperson. Sophisticated businesspeople know that others need to sell their services (they probably "sell" more than you do). They won't be offended by your approach. In fact, they may wonder why you waited this long to talk about it.
- You are a very competent lawyer. What's the likelihood that something will go so wrong as to destroy the friendship? Have you considered that this might deepen your friendship? Your friend will get to see another dimension of you--in an area where you shine. Besides, working with friends can be fun.
- If the friend doesn't hire you, it's because they don't have a need for your services at this time or is unable to hire you. It doesn't mean that they won't hire you in the future or that they don't respect you as a professional.
Once you get the right mindset, you're ready to plan your strategy for suggesting that you might work together. Instead of trying to interject business into your weekend jog together, here's an approach I suggest:
Elizabeth, I would like to talk about the possibility of our doing business together, but I don't want it to impinge on our friendship. Could I come to your office on Tuesday and discuss your legal needs and see if there is an area in which my firm or I might be able to help you?
This approach has several advantages:
- It clearly acknowledges that you value the friendship and do not want to jeopardize it.
- It lets the friend know you recognize the boundaries between friendship and business and makes it clear that you do not intend to convert your "friend time" into an endless barrage of sales pitches.
- It puts you on a businessperson-to-businessperson footing when talking business.
So ask yourself which friend you have overlooked as a great prospect for your services. Get over your reluctance to ask. With the right mindset and approach, doing business with friends can be fun and profitable.