The Business of Golf

Tips on improving your business golf game.

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Cesar Sosa often invites a client or prospect along when he plays his twice-weekly rounds of golf. Afterward, the entrepreneur asks his playing partners to join him at the clubhouse or a restaurant—and that's where the game of business golf really begins.

"Golf is primarily a tool to get people in a nonworking environment so you can speak a little more freely," says Sosa, 36, co-founder of PFITech, an IT staffing firm in Commerce, California. On and off the course, his goal is to get to know his clients and hopefully give them a reason to do business with his $5 million company.

When entertaining prospective clients, after-golf activities are critical to making the most of your time and money, says Tom Gimbel, founder of staffing company LaSalle Network and author of an upcoming book about business and golf. "Your goal is to develop a stronger relationship with your client [or prospect], which will then put you in a place to get more business," Gimbel says. Sitting down for a meal and drinks after a day outdoors can be fundamental to that pursuit.

Maximizing after-golf opportunities requires some technique. To start, you have to pick the proper venue. The most expensive restaurant in town isn't always the best choice. Many companies prohibit executives from receiving gifts from vendors, Sosa notes. Others dislike the feeling of pressure-selling that can accompany a $200 steakhouse dinner. Snacking on peanuts and having a cocktail or two at the clubhouse is often preferable. "Put yourself in their shoes," Gimbel advises. "It doesn't hurt to ask."

While Sosa is very deliberate when deciding where to take clients, he's more relaxed when it comes to steering the conversation. He never brings up business unless the client introduces the topic, preferring to keep the tone casual. But he's rarely disappointed. "People's businesses are a big part of their lives, and they're going to talk about their lives," he says. If a golfing partner expresses work frustrations, Sosa might gain insights into how to pitch his services to their company.

At the end of the round and the end of the evening, Sosa isn't concerned if he doesn't have a deal in hand, or even the prospect of a deal. He trusts that the game will produce results even if it takes time and comes from a referral or another source he can't see at that moment. "The best avenue is just to get to know people," he says. "Business will come when it comes."

—By Mark Henricks

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