How do you build strong relationships with your clients? For many, networking with clients outside the office is as important as the work done during business hours. This often takes the form of extensive dinners or late nights of eating and drinking. However, as we head into the New Year after a season of hefty holiday meals and endless Christmas cookies, dining lavishly with clients may seem unappealing. But just before the holidays I read an article in the New York Times that provided an intriguing alternative: taking a client to the gym for networking and working out. It’s an unconventional option, but also one that could seriously strengthen your client relationships and your health.

The business developers, traders, and account directors interviewed for the article all had begun to feel the same exhaustion with countless late nights and indulgent networking parties and dinners. Trying out healthy activities with clients as a substitute – from spin classes to early morning runs – proved to have benefits beyond incorporating a workout into the work day. One business developer pointed out that workouts reveal “a different side of you” in front of a client: showing that you are willing to take on new, different, and intense challenges. A trader who switched from dining to cycling with clients appreciated the regularity of a weekly workout, noting that he was able to meet more often with clients at the gym than over dinner once per month. And, of course, no one will check their email or take calls during a workout – allowing the focus to remain on you and your client.

This kind of alternative networking activity gives you the opportunity to impress your client. It allows you a chance to stand out and show your creative side, as dining and drinking is a standard and predictable means to network. Also, you can adjust your workout to fit your client’s tastes. For example, if your client likes to dance, sign up for a Zumba class. If the client is not a serious athlete, try something with lower intensity such as a yoga class. Customizing your workout will add a personal touch, and your client could recognize your extra effort and considerate gesture as a positive indication of your business methods.

Of course, casual attire is necessary and expected at the gym. But donning sweats and a t-shirt around clients seems counter-intuitive. So how do you dress up a notch when working out becomes a business affair? The article briefly addresses this concern, but it is worth further discussion. First of all, wear your highest-quality workout gear. This means a well-fitting yet modest athletic shirt and appropriate bike shorts, leggings, or stretch pants of a solid colour – and no old sweats or oversized baggy t-shirts. For both men and women, stores like Lululemon or Helly Hansen offer great choices for athletic gear that looks sharp and fits well. You can also find pre- and post-exercise pieces like a matching zip-up or pullover.

Plan for appropriate accessories and appearance as well. Don’t apply perfume or cologne before exercising, and for women, minimal makeup is best – opt for any waterproof makeup that won’t run when you sweat. Pack your essentials (water bottle, headband, towel, makeup bag, change of clothes and shoes) in a sleek gym bag or tote. Keeping your gear neat and organized will make for a smooth transition from gym to office.

Though this form of networking may sound unusual, it certainly is gaining in popularity. Would you try signing up your clients for a spin class or taking them out on a morning run? What other ways do you network with clients? Exercise activities could help you to strengthen your bonds and build relationships with your clients – not to mention, allow you to stick to your New Year’s resolutions!

Author's Bio: 

Diane Craig, President of Corporate Class Inc., is a leading image and etiquette consultant. For over 20 years she has provided corporate consultations, helping hundreds of men and women realize their professional and personal goals. She is a sought after speaker at national business meetings, regularly gives comprehensive workshops to corporate groups, and offers private consultations on business etiquette, dress and dining.