The do's and don'ts of tapping your personal network for business

Susan Ricker,

Friends and family are usually happy to help out with a child's fundraiser or sponsor your 5K charity run, but when business proposals come up, you may be left with a smaller group of open minds. If you have a job that can benefit from generating new leads or adding business, what are some simple do's and don'ts to keep in mind when approaching your personal network?
Elene Cafasso is founder and president of Enerpace Inc. Executive and Personal Coaching. Here, she suggests a few rules of thumb to those who are interested in expanding business to their personal network and how to do so professionally and with tact.
DO ask for referrals
You can strategically use your network when expanding your business, simply by asking who could benefit from your services. "Ask for referrals gently," Cafasso says. "'Who do you know who needs what I do?' For instance, a financial advisor could ask, 'Who do you know who has changed jobs or left an employer recently?' Then ask for an introduction so you can help them rollover their 401K instead of leaving it someplace they've left behind."
DON'T assume they know about your experience
You may be an old family friend or an ex-classmate, but that may not necessarily validate you as a professional. Prove your skills by providing an overview of your services. "A benefit of asking for referrals is that your connection may realize they could use you themselves," Cafasso says. "And/or, you could offer a complimentary trial or sample of your services, so they'll feel more comfortable and be more knowledgeable when referring you."
DO be accessible
You're likely to appear much more legitimate, as well as organized, if you have supporting materials and resources available. "Make it easy for folks to help you, refer you, do business with you -- provide cards, flyers, literature, etc. that they can share with others," Cafasso says. Not only will they have a summary of your services and information, but if your personal network doesn't immediately commit to your pitch, you can still leave them with your information to review.
DON'T push too hard
Not only is it essential to understand your relationships before you talk business with those in your personal network, but it's also important to monitor these relationships as you introduce business. "Keep your antennae up -- if you feel your connection is uncomfortable, change the subject immediately or address it by backing off and stating that you don't want them to feel pressured or obligated in any way," Cafasso says. You may simply not be the right provider for them, or perhaps they'd like some time to consider the partnership.
DO share why you're the best business decision
Your friends and family will likely want to help you, but it's important to convey why you're a smart business decision as well. "Be sure to also share why you are in this business and what makes you unique from all the other folks out there doing the same thing," Cafasso says. Share your qualifications, your perspective on your services and what sets you apart from the competition.
DON'T come across as desperate
"Most importantly, make sure you have a thorough business plan and ample savings to support you and your family for at least six months or until you anticipate the business being able to support you," Cafasso says. "If you are financially desperate, you will put the sale over the relationship, which you'll most likely regret long term. Folks can tell when people are desperate and needy -- that's not the kind of person they feel comfortable referring or doing business with themselves."
Pitching business to your personal connections can be a smart step if you remain professional, offer exceptional service and keep your relationship in mind. However, just as you won't make every sale you attempt, not every personal connection will be interested in expanding the relationship to include business. The key to being a savvy professional instead of a sketchy friend is to be courteous and prepared.

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