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Relationship Building Without Golf: Fifteen Fun Options
by Kay Keenan
January 2004

Eds. Note: This article was contributed by Women Rainmakers, part of the Marketing Core Group.

I am often asked how to build business relationships when you don’t play golf. Generally, the question is posed as a statement “Everyone else in my firm plays golf to entertain prospects or clients, but I’m not a golfer.”

The first response is “Why don’t you play golf?” One of my clients went to a week-long golf camp with her spouse. She came back feeling good enough about her golf game to be comfortable playing with other people. Her next step was to join a businesswomen’s golf organization for experience as well as fun. She now plays “customer golf” and is enjoying the sun, fun, relaxation, and her business is booming! Don’t give up without trying it.

I know golf isn’t for everyone. A lawyer, who is a close friend, regularly tells everyone in earshot that he hates golf. Yet, he will always volunteer at a client’s or favorite non-profit’s golf tournament. A number of years ago he was flipping hamburgers at just such an event when a partner of another law firm approached. In casual conversation, the golfer mentioned that my friend had been the topic of conversation as the golfer’s law firm was trying to fill a position. While flipping hamburgers, my friend mentioned he might be interested in talking further. He is now a partner at that firm.

If you know for sure that playing golf isn’t for you, here are fifteen alternatives to consider:

  1. Visiting a museum, followed by lunch in the museum café. This is most effective when there is a special exhibit and you can get a docent dedicated to your party. (It may take a little negotiation, but consider this even if the party is only a party of two.)
  2. Charter a boat and sail while you eat "picnic-style".
  3. Offer a pair of tickets to the Ballet or to a theatre company to a prospect. You may not get to know the individual any better, but your kind generosity will be remembered.
  4. If you happen to be a pretty good photographer, use your camera constantly as a visual diary. At client events--social gatherings, business meetings (when appropriate), and trade shows--take photos. One of my friends has copies made of the photos, puts the best ones in handsome paper matte folios, and gives them to her clients. When she visits her client's offices, she notices that the photos are prominently displayed on their desks, credenzas, and bookshelves. They're much appreciated. In addition, your clients will mention your name when their visitors ask, “Who took that great picture of you?”
  5. Play tennis! Many corporate outings have a "tennis track" that runs parallel to the golf track. If you ask a prospect or client to play tennis, consider playing doubles. This is an easy option for multiple people from the same firm or business to entertain two people at the same time.
  6. Attend afternoon tea. For the "right" person, afternoon tea is a terrific form of entertainment. A bit different, soothing, and conducive to discussion during the late afternoon.
  7. Take people fly-fishing. For roughly $300 for a day, plus state licenses, you can hire a guide who will also provide you with the necessary equipment for a guaranteed different experience.
  8. Take clients duck hunting with a guide. The cost is in the $600 price range for an outing of four in New Jersey. Be prepared to either clean them for your prospect or pay for it. Not all people are eager to kill an animal, so make sure you know your prospect or client well enough before asking them to join you on this adventure.
  9. Attend a "Triple A" baseball game. Box seats and including children, especially if you have some of your own at about the same age to bring along, can make it a very special time.
  10. Go to a football game! Start planning now if your local team is popular.
  11. Treat a client to dinner and the theatre/concert/ballet. This works well for an evening event and provides ample time for schmoozing over dinner. If your intended guest is of the opposite sex, consider inviting spouses to avoid having others assume you are on a date.
  12. Invite your client or prospect to go to a cooking class with you. Fun and informal classes are offered at many restaurants and gourmet grocery stores.
  13. Host a wine tasting of Italy with five different stations of wine and appetizers. This can be done with an upscale wine store. They’ve done many, so ask for help and limit your group to non-competitive people that you think should know each other. This can pay big dividends to you if you take the time to plan effectively.
  14. Offer box seats at a hockey game. Although I'm not a huge sports fan, they are enjoyable enough and give me the opportunity to bring more than one person along (much like organizing the right "foursome" in golf). I usually buy the tickets at a charity event, so it even pays other dividends.
  15. Organize a lunch meeting. I rely very heavily on marketing to potential new clients, where I can include an existing client, on lunch meetings--where the venue is upscale, and the service is slow. The extra time gives people an opportunity to relax.

And when all else fails, I take them to breakfast at a diner.


I want to offer special thanks to the members of the Delaware Forum of Executive Women for contributing their proven options to this article.

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Kay Keenan is President of Growth Consulting Inc. where she advises businesses on profitable growth. Her clients have included business-to-business companies as well as consumer markets ranging from accountants and architects to technology and manufacturing companies. She is a dynamic leader with twenty years of consumer and business-to-business marketing experience at both a Fortune 200 company and a Fortune 500 Investor Owned Public Utility. She is experienced in start-up ventures as well as growing through acquisition. While at an Investor Owned Public Utility, Kay was a key member of the management team that led 24 acquisitions to build a $140 million dollar business in four years.

Kay enjoys helping others learn, and is recognized for her talent in marketing and as a business advisor. She is a Past President of the Delaware Forum of Executive Women and of Wilmington Women in Business.

To learn more about Kay and her business Growth Consulting Inc. visit www.GrowthConsultingInc.com