When you are an independent home-based business owner, you always want to make a great impression on those you come into contact with. You’re the face of your business and how you present yourself will tell people a lot about how you will do business with them. To build a solid reputation, you should always maintain proper etiquette in any setting; business or informal. You should consider everyone you meet to be at least a potential client or reference and you don’t want anyone to walk away with the feeling that you’re not a professional.

Networking is essential for home-based business owners, and that often means socializing outside of an office environment. When you’re with clients or colleagues away from work, it can be a little tricky to know how informal you should be. You may not want to be the stiff, wooden buzzkill that makes others cringe, but you also don’t want to find photos of you with a lampshade on your head circulating through everyone’s Facebook.

Finding the right amount of informality while still using proper etiquette is not as difficult as it may seem. Here are a few guidelines you can follow.

Do remember why you are there

Whether it’s talking to a prospective client, making new friends, or connecting with people from another company, remember why you are at the event. It’s not to take advantage of the open bar or get some free food. Always be aware that this is still a professional gathering and a chance to put your best foot forward.

Do make an effort to talk to lots of people

You may have agreed to go to a party or get together to maintain contact with your client, but don’t stick solely to one person. Branch out and meet new people. By connecting with multiple colleagues, you are able to create possible mentors, references, and contacts that can help your career down the road.

Do take a break from your phone

If you are glued to your phone all night, you will miss out on key face-to-face interactions with your colleagues. Despite the growth in social media and texting, people still place a higher premium on face- to-face contact. The Snapchats and texts will be there when you are done. Also keep in mind that social media captures everything. Be aware of this when ordering another drink and possibly hitting the dancefloor.

Don’t loosen up too much

Although you want to have fun and be comfortable at times like this, don’t allow yourself to be overly comfortable. These events are an ideal avenue for colleagues to get to know more than the work-oriented facet of you. However, keep in mind that there is a thin line between sharing happy stories about your personal life and divulging inappropriate information. There is a difference between people laughing with you and laughing at you. You don’t want to be the person who is great at parties, but not to be trusted with serious matters. Remember, your clients and colleagues are surrounding you.

Don’t feel pressured to drink

Feeling lost due to the fact that you don’t drink? Not to worry. Always feel free to order a club soda with lime, soda or drink of your choice. Alcohol consumption should not dictate your success, but having a drink in hand and engaging in conversation with others is key. What’s in your drink is irrelevant.

Don’t talk about work the whole time

You all have one thing in common: work. However, a work-related event is not the time to keep working or discuss office gossip. Keep conversation between a professional and personal balance; classy, informative, and interesting. Asking questions about sports, movies, books, vacation, travel and pets are good topics that focus the conversation on others. Benjamin Franklin said that polite conversation avoids the topics of religion, money, and politics. In an informal setting you may be tempted to bring up things as conversation starters, but there are a lot of opportunities to find that not everyone has the same views and it can lead to an awkward situation, or worse yet, raised tempers.

For the most part, the best approach to take when you are meeting clients or colleagues in an informal setting is a middle of the road, pleasant light touch. Be somewhat cautious and use common sense when you talk to people. Don’t be rude or salacious. Don’t make inappropriate jokes. If you remember that the setting may have changed, but these are still business associates, then you can have a great time while still being professional.

The post The Do’s and Don’ts of Professional Social Gatherings appeared first on Home Business Magazine.

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