While many of us have clients that also travel in the same social circles, things can get complicated when we become too close to people who are not actually our good "friends," or we unintentionally begin to take advantage of existing contacts. Ignoring the boundaries of a professional relationship can damage the dynamic of a successful business link, whereas nurturing valuable client connections offers many benefits.
Here are a few ways to successfully mix business and pleasure.
Maintain a professional persona. When we work closely with people, we naturally forge a bond. We may even be invited to their wedding or other significant celebration. While it's important to be cordial, it's also essential to note that in many cases a client liaison is distinctly different than a close friendship. You can still have a wonderful time and remember why you are there.
Honor your obligations. Always work as hard to keep the business of a "friend" as you would your best client. Don't allow your personal relationship to be an excuse to slack on performance, put off a deadline, or move their project aside for something that comes up at the last minute. Think of how much more their compliment on a job well done will mean when you know you did the right thing.
Steer clear of oversharing. The closer we get to others, the easier it becomes to discuss topics that can harm a business relationship. Complaining about your "lazy boss," or discussing the mixed signals of your office dress code can influence a client's opinion of the company. Instead, focus on the many reasons you love what you do and the people you get to work with.
Remember the bottom line. We are all in business to earn a living. If you are particularly close, a friend might feel uncomfortable charging you for their services, but never assume a service will be free or discounted. Good friends understand the value of supporting each other's business and are thrilled to be able to do so.
Respect personal time. When you become close with a client, it can be tempting to blur the lines between a friendly chat and shop talk. Don't expect to call your friend to ask for professional advice at home or during their down time. Talk business only during regular office hours. If you need to discuss work, make an appointment.
Personalize their experience. If your company provides you with a small budget for business lunches or promotional items, keep your client's likes in mind before extending an invitation or putting together a thank you. For example, if you know Margaret has a weakness for full-bodied organic coffee, invite her to a café you know serves a few fair trade varieties instead of meeting at your usual place.
Show restraint when calling in favors. Avoid asking for special treatment unless you are truly in a pinch, and understand that they may not be able to help you. Just because you are friendly with a baker doesn't mean you can expect them to drop everything to bake six dozen cookies for your child's fundraiser in two hours.
For more of Diane's business etiquette tips, visit her blog, connect with her here on The Huffington Post, follow her on Pinterest and Instagram and "like" The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook.