You and your client have almost come to an agreement for a business deal and you're close to closing it. You've mapped out how you expect the meeting to go and you feel fairly confident about it. Then, throwing you for a loop, your client suggests discussing the remainder of the agreement over drinks.

This happens often in my industry. I've found that even if you're a seasoned pro at working with all kinds of clients, everyone negotiates better terms when they're comfortable and therefore confident. Although you might be veering out of your comfort zone and may have to exercise some self-discipline, you can still negotiate the terms you want.

Here's the seven-step process I use to lead the meeting where I want it to go when I'm meeting over drinks:

1. Get to know the area.

Once you know where you're going to meet your client, visit the location. Walk around and scan the area so you know what to expect, where to sit, what drinks they have, and how to dress. If you can't visit the physical location, look it up online so you don't go in completely clueless.

Knowing what they offer and the tone of the place helps me feel confident when I'm trying to build a business relationship. If the client changes the venue at the last minute, I still feel confident because I've gotten an idea of what the client enjoys.

2. Be prepared.

Just because you're meeting in a bar doesn't mean you should show up with the bare minimum. You need to arrive armed with just as much information as you would if the meeting was in a conference room. More often than not, your client wants to build a business relationship with you.

Doing research on the client helps with building rapport and gives you something to talk about. I used to find it unprofessional when a client asked to meet to discuss the business plan over drinks. However, I learned that it's normal (and even a compliment) in some work environments.

3. Follow their lead.

Once you've had time to greet each other, let them order first. You don't have to order the exact drink they are, but if they're ordering beer, do the same. If they order wine, order it too. The point is to not make your client feel awkward because you ordered a vintage red wine and they ordered a cheap beer.

Regardless of what you choose to drink, never leave a drink unattended.

4. Talk about business right away.

Don't wait until your client's had a few drinks to discuss business. Start going over the business agreement once you've settled in a bit. Limit your drink intake. You risk getting a poor deal if you're not thinking straight.

5. Focus on your body language.

Body language can be especially difficult to master in a bar setting, especially if it's loud. Maintain your personal space and be aware of your posture. Bar chairs make it easy to slouch.

If you ever feel uncomfortable, don't be afraid to move away or stand up. I've found that standing while the client sits reasserts your power. If it starts becoming an issue, excuse yourself and tell the client you will follow-up.

6. End the meeting early.

If either you or your client seems to be talking more aggressively or not making much sense, then the meeting's already over. You might think it's tempting to get what you want while your client is agreeing to everything you say, but end the meeting before everything is finalized. Trust me, you'll have a longer, healthier business relationship if you promise to pick up where you left off another day.

If you are presented a contract, do not sign until you can read everything carefully. Keeping it simple and telling the client I have another engagement, such as a phone call to my wife, usually does the trick if I'm feeling uncomfortable.  

7. Get it in writing within 24 hours.

If both you and your client managed your drinks responsibly, get the agreed to terms in writing within a day if possible. The longer you wait, the more likely your client will try to renegotiate with you or may forget what you discussed.

Negotiations over drinks don't have to be stressful. They can actually be fun and a great way to build business relationships. Remember, never leave your drink unattended. Remain professional. Don't be afraid to say no and leave if you feel uncomfortable. 

As long as you conduct more business than you socialize, you should be able to leave with an offer you're proud of.

Published on: Aug 24, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.