Networking is a great skill to have, but for many people, it doesn't come naturally. Fear not.
We've compiled a list of practical networking tips to help you get the most from putting yourself out there. It will help you to…
- Get on the radars of the right people and have the right conversations
- Prep properly for maximum impact and efficiency
- Make the very best of your precious time and efforts for maximum ROI.
Here's our this list of expert insights on how to participate and maximise the benefits from networking with accountants.
1. Join a Referral Group That Encourages Quality Leads
Cold calling and telemarketing are typically ineffective ways of generating business for most people. Referral groups typically have a much higher rate of sales success because the leads are based on trust and professionalism. The secret is to join a group that doesn’t require a set number of referral leads but, rather, encourages quality leads (quality over quantity) and to bring value to the group if you don’t have a lead. If you don't have any referrals to give, bring a nugget of information each week and share that with the group instead of making a sales presentation.
2. Join the Organisation of Your Target Client
Many times we join industry professional organisations to stay abreast of industry trends and continuing education credits. Rightfully so. It can become difficult to find your USP among other CPA professionals. The true benefit comes by joining the organisation of your ideal client. For example, if you are a CPA that specialises in real estate, it is best to join National Association of Realtors. Now you become unique among other real estate professionals. By placing yourself among your target audience, you will be able to network with your ideal client.
3. Attend Local Trade Group Meetings
CPAs can grow their business – especially their niche business – by joining and attending local industry trade group meetings. You can also sponsor trade meetings and attend in that capacity. The important thing to remember is that you shouldn't just attend. You need to actively participate. (Anyone can throw money at an organisation to get their name listed in the membership directory.) Because of your accounting expertise, you're likely to be asked to provide educational seminars or break-out sessions for the participants. When you do this, take the approach to simply provide good, actionable information and steer clear of a sales pitch. Use it as an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise.
4. Remember to SCIP (Smile, Confidence, Inquiry, Positivity)
Whether you’re at a conference, mixer, or chatting casually with contacts in the business world, one networking tip to remember is SCIP (Smile, Confidence, Inquiry, Positivity). People want to do business with CPAs who are genuine, positive, and creative. Don't throw negativity into a conversation or make people feel like their doing things wrong.
If you start with a smile and handshake, project confidence in your expertise, spend more time inquiring about other people’s business than telling them about your own, and being positive in your outlook, you will find people become very receptive. Keeping eye-contact is also key to letting the other person know you are engaged. The object is not to get immediate business, but plant a seed so down the road you become a trustworthy resource.
5. Research Attendees Before Networking Events
Preparation is key to any successful networking gathering. If you can, obtain the list of attendees and review prior to the event. Learn the participants business focus, this will provide you with the opportunity to demonstrate that you are aware of their platform and firm’s mission statement. A little research ahead of time will go along way. Time is limited and managing your time is imperative. Break out of your comfort zone and connect with those whom you have pre-targeted. Position yourself as a connector, and provide introductions to others. Be open and approachable and engage others in conversation. Use corporate “social” events as a low-key business venues to advance connections. Attend company sponsored outings, charity events and volunteer outings. Come out of the shadows to show how you conduct yourself with confidence. Your actions will be positively noticed.
6. Join Local Accounting Firm Networks and Actively Participate
To expand your network geographically, don’t overlook the opportunities that exist with your firm’s network association. The majority of small- and medium-sized firms are members of an accounting firm network. If your firm is a member, look for opportunities to become actively involved in the various committees, author posts in their member newsletters or blogs, and facilitate or speak at a seminar. Being seen as an expert among peers is often overlooked but it is important to establish relationships with this group as well. When a peer needs to refer a client to another CPA because of an independence issue, they will refer to someone they know and trust.
7. Focus on Quality of Connections Rather than Quantity
Consider making one to three meaningful connections at a networking event, rather than handing out a box of business cards. Establishing the expectation of making just a few good connections regardless of room size can ease any anxiety being felt about entering a crowded room. Admittedly, this will mean your network will expand a little slower, but the connections will be stronger and more engaging.
8. Don’t Forget to Follow Up
We meet someone, we trade business cards, then input them into our CRM system but forget to think about the “follow up.” What should you do if the person you met could be a great fit in your professional network? Get to know them by sending a follow up email saying it was nice to meet them and suggest having a conversation over a cup of coffee. To have a business relationship, you must build trust first so it will grow. Face-to-face interactions are the best and quickest way to build that trust. Your professional network should consist of, at least, 20 percent of these people who you have met in person as a follow-up strategy. If so, they will provide 80 percent of the value in your network.
9. “Network,” but Don’t Network
Focus your intention on building relationships instead of actively trying to “network”. Part of the reason why most professionals in any industry view networking events in poor light is because of how the participants set their goals coming into the venue. A business will benefit more from professional relationships that is founded on more than exchange of leads. This is why accountants are encouraged to join at least one network that doesn’t have as many accountants. Be equally interested with participants who you can provide leads to. Chances are, these professionals will be a member of other groups that can potentially use your services. Build a good relationship with them as it may reward you with referrals as well.
10. The Bottom Line
Building professional connections will take time and effort that will require a lot of patience. But having the right network in place opens up avenues of potential for your business that makes up for all the effort you put in. These accounting networking tips should be able to give your firm the referrals it needs in order to establish your place within your industry.