We often discuss the importance of trust and friendliness in creating long-term client relationships. A dynamic relationship exists between financial services professionals and the people they serve. In building trust, listening to your clients and talking to them in a familiar, warm manner, you will often get to know them personally and develop a friendly rapport. But can you be a friend to your clients as well? Finding a balance between professionalism and personal connection can be difficult, and there is plenty of debate about whether our jobs are helped or hindered by befriending our clients.

Some people are better than others at compartmentalizing their lives, and as a result may be more adept at approaching business concerns with a clear mind that is not influenced by personal events and emotions.

If you develop a close friendship with a client, take some time to assess if and how that relationship affects your ability to deliver your services. Is he or she more likely to take your advice? Does it become awkward when you bill for your services? Do you feel as though the lines between your time together as friends and that as a client and advisor have blurred? When you sense the relationship is hurting your ability to get down to details when meeting for business or to fully relax – to feel that you are not always “on” – when you have removed your advisor hat, it may be time to have a conversation with the client-friend in question.

In many situations, a person who is a friend can become a client. It is normal to seek out your natural market when starting in a sales role. It is important to enter this territory with caution, as establishing a business relationship may end up tainting or complicating some friendships. But this is a matter of knowing yourself and your own preferences. Make a friend a client if you can handle rejection and feel that you can successfully erect the mental walls discussed above. There will certainly be times when your friends will not want to or feel ready to buy from you and you need to be able to respect their decision. You may also have friends that do not fit into your target market who request your services. You will need to be able to know how you want to deal with those situations.

Laying some ground rules may help in both scenarios. Having a discussion about when you are in advisor or friend “mode” can prevent any abuse of the relationship from either party. Even if a client is a friend, be sure that you are delivering the same high-quality, timely service that you would to any other person on your client list. This will certainly help when you seek introductions, recommendations and referrals.