Networking for professionals

A recent coaching call with marketing genius Fraser Hay persuaded me I should have a little something of value to send to new contacts after I meet them for the first time.

After a couple of milliseconds I concluded that the most valuable item I could supply would be an extract from my mentoring programme for ambitious professionals. And as the giveaway will follow on from meeting people, generally, in a networking environment, why not provide ten top networking tips for ambitious professionals.

1 – Get in the right state, not in a right state. Keep in mind that you want to gain some value and benefit from the time you are committing to attending the networking event. You’ll need to look friendly and relaxed if you want people to be comfortable talking to you.

2 – You will be more interesting if you are more interested. We have two ears and one mouth so we should aim to listen for twice as long as we speak. The people you meet will be more comfortable talking about themselves than listening to you.

3 – Networking is about building relationships not about ‘getting work’. People buy professional services from people they know, like and trust. You’re unlikely to meet someone who just happens to need your services that day. You will need to keep in touch and to demonstrate that you can be trusted. For example by promising to follow up with an email or supplying some valuable information in the next day or so. Then ensure you keep your promise and create further opportunities to keep in touch thereafter.

4 – “What do you do?” Don’t pigeon hole yourself as yet another solicitor, accountant or barrister. Practice answering the question in such a way that ensures you are remembered specifically and distinctly from all of the rest of your profession.

5 – Focus on a niche not a list. Even those new acquaintances who are genuinely interested in you will quickly switch off if you try to identify all of the things you do or could do for clients. In the first instance you need to focus on a key area/topic no matter how broad your expertise and experience. I still remember one property lawyer I met many years ago who told me that he had advised on the acquisition of a number of petrol stations.

6 – Flirt as you network
F is for FUN
L is for LAUGHTER or at least having a smile on your face
I is being INTERESTED in what other people have to say
R is RESPONDING to what other people are saying through conversation
T is TALKING appropriately not extensively about yourself.

7 – You’re not alone if you feel alone. There will always be someone else standing alone who will be so pleased and relieved if you go over and start a conversation with them. The chances of rejection are tiny. Simply introduce yourself, ask them their name and what do they do.

8 – Listen to what people say; don’t try to sell. You can only solve people’s problems or help them make the most of opportunities if you know what these are. That means listening and absorbing, not talking. If you listen well they’ll trust you and if you ask the right questions, you’ll uncover all the clues you’ll need in order to decide if you have something to offer them.

9 – Get the other person’s name and business card. Don’t offer your card until you’ve got theirs; this avoids you seeming pushy. If you didn’t catch their name when first introduced, ask again. No one objects to repeating their name to someone who evidently wants to remember them.

10 – Follow up afterwards. Having given up your time to attend the event make sure it is worthwhile by keeping your promise to follow up with each of the people you met. Even if you think that they may not be the most valuable contact remember that you don’t know who they know who could be interested in what you do.

These are just ten of the many issues that are commonly misunderstood when professionals go to networking events. Most may well be common sense – but that doesn’t mean they are always common practice.

Edit 2013: You can get my 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to Network more effectively. Just click here for full details>>>

If you would like to book me to speak on the subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch. There’s an outline of my talk on ‘How to ensure your networking activity is successful’ here>>>  

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Networking in a new firm

It’s a fact of life that ambitious professionals are often competing with each other when it comes to seeking promotion to partnership.

There are invariably more managers and associates seeking progression to partnership than there are potential partnership roles in a firm. The better connected and respected one is the greater the prospect for advancement when the opportunity comes.

It took me many years to appreciate the truth in the old adage that It’s not what you know it’s who you know*. It’s now around twenty years since I first had to make an impression in a large firm of accountants that I had joined in the hope of ‘making partner’. At first I thought it was sufficient to work hard and to impress the senior partners who had been involved in my recruitment into the firm. After some time I realised that ofice politics would also have an influence. The more partners in the firm who knew of me and thought well of me the greater would be my chance of them voting in favour of my progression when the time came.

My own experience was by no means unique. My research, both formal and informal , has confirmed that prospective partners can improve their chances if they raise their profile in the firm. This will involve internal networking and getting to know and help those who could influence your career. That includes possible mentors, bosses, colleagues and staff, any of whom may have an influence somewhere down the line.

So I would encourage ambitious professionals to be sociable, to volunteer to attend and help at relevant business functions, be seen at ‘drink-ups’ (for new staff, departing staff, birthdays, retirements etc) and get to know (and be known by) more people than just those with whom you came into contact each day. NB: You also want to avoid being perceived as a free-loader, drunk or alcoholic!

Of course being well known of itself is not sufficient. What matters is your reputation, the level of trust and confidence that your colleagues have and the extent to which you are liked/disliked. This is the same both inside and outside of a professional firm. And effective networking skills can help contribute to that reputation. Equally, in due course when there is an opportunity for career advancement the better known and more highly regarded candidate is likely to have a head start.

* Actually I prefer to think that what really counts is not what you know but what you do with what you know. 

Edit 2013: You can get my 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to Network more effectively. Just click here for full details>>>

If you would like to book me to speak on the subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch. There’s an outline of my talk on ‘How to ensure your networking activity is successful’ here>>>  

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Mentoring – who should pay? Employer or employee? Partnership or partner?

A new ethic: ‘pay as you learn’

The training day is widely treated as a joke. Depending on your point of view, it is either a day out of the office or an unbearable chore of corporate life.

Workers should pay for on-the-job training

These are all quotes from an item in the Times yesterday credited to

The article intrigued me as I would agree with a number of the points James makes. Equally I believe that there are different ways to achieve the same end and accept that there was no room to address these in the available space.

In my white paper on Personal development for ambitious professionals I have explored the advantages and disadvantages of sending people on personal development or management development courses. I have also suggested what may be more effective ways to achieve the desired changes in behaviour that such training is intended to secure.

It had not occurred to me to consider whether such courses would be more effective if the attendees had to bear the cost (or share the cost) themselves. If this were to happen I agree that the attendees might be more inclined to take the course seriously. Equally they might be more inclined to insist upon choosing the supplier of the course such that the employer has less control or influence over what it is that the attendees are ‘taught’. Sadly the UK tax system also does not facilitate such arrangements. Attendees would almost certainly have to pay for such training out of their net earnings as no tax relief would be available for the training costs incurred personally in such cases.

Coming back to the title of this item – I promote my mentoring programme for ambitious professionals to the managing partners and team leaders in professional firms. It is the firm that engages me rather than the individual person whom I will be mentoring. Quite simply the firm is more likely to be able to afford to pay my fees than will the individual. If the firm is unwilling to invest in the ambitions of its prospective or new partners what does that say to the individual concerned? My instinct is to continue as before and not to seek payments from the employees or partners. What do you think?

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How to quickly lose your newest clients

Some years ago I read an article that highlights six things that happen all too often when anyone focuses their energy on trying to win new clients at the expense of managing the relationship with newly won clients.

The author explained how easy it is to fall into each of these six traps:

  1. Once you sign the deal, disappear.
  2. Show a consistent lack of respect for your client inside your own firm.
  3. Hide the other ways you can help – hey, it’s ‘my’ client.
  4. Keep to the tried and true approaches.
  5. Don’t ever, ever check to see how you are doing.
  6. Make your invoices as confusing and indecipherable as possible.

To this list I’d be inclined to add: Bill whatever is on the WIP ledger without checking back to see how this compares with the fee quotes you gave when you won the client.

I invite further contributions and suggestions in comments you can add to this blog.

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How do you REALLY know if your clients are happy?

How many of us really know what our clients think about us? We might assume that clients like us although often when we say that we’re probably focussing more on our favourite clients and assuming that an absence of complaints evidences that clients like us and value the work we are doing. But is that enough? Indeed is it even a reasonable assumption?

In most professional firms success is based to one degree or another on the level of fees that you can generate. This is one of the reasons why a key part of my mentoring programme focuses on the skills required to be an effective ‘finder’ of work. But finding new clients is not the only way to generate more profits. It is also important to look after the relationship with existing clients – to be an effective ‘minder’. In the context of this article I would just highlight two of the four key elements of ‘minding’ clients:

  • Becoming a trusted adviser – understanding how to manage clients so as to encourage the right sort of referrals; and
  • Developing clients – identifying opportunities to encourage clients to instruct the firm re additional profitable services.

Here are some of the tell-tale signs you might be looking for.   What proportion of your clients:

  • Know that they benefit from regular tax saving advice from you?
  • Receive any form of newsletter or emails from you or your firm that evidences your desire to help them pay less tax or to otherwise simplify their tax affairs?
  • Pay their fees promptly and without complaint about the quality of the service?
  • Accept that the level of your fees is fair – or even great value given the advice and service you provide?
  • Ask you for timely advice on related matters (beyond the recurring compliance work)?
  • Willingly pay a fair fee for that additional advice?
  • Praise you in their emails and letters?
  • Genuinely thank you when you speak to them?
  • Say positive things about you, your service and your fees when talking to their friends and associates?
  • Regularly refer you to their friends and associates?

I created this list quickly for an article I have just written. Can you think of anything else that should be there? Please add a comment to this blog or email me your thoughts: Mark*BookMarkLee.co.uk [replace * with @ – it’s my attempt to prevent automated spam]

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How can you stand out from the rest of the pack?

I have just watched an old video clip of the professional services firm guru, David Maister, in which he highlights the six most scarce resources in most professional service firms:

  • Energy
  • Excitement
  • Enthusiasm
  • Determination
  • Passion
  • Ambition

David also points out that his research has proved that the top achieving firms are those that energise, excite and enthuse their people to perform at a higher level than their competitors.

Those who’ve worked with me will know that the listed resources are all qualities that I possess in abundance. I have no doubt that they helped me reach the top of my career more so than any technical skills or knowledge that I developed over the years.

Would your colleagues and clients use all or indeed any of these words to describe you or your firm? If there’s a mismatch as between how others see you and how you want to be seen you will need to do something to close the perception gap. If you do nothing then nothing will change.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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What makes an effective business card for ambitious accountants?

Over the years I have collected thousands of business cards. Most of them are almost indistinguishable from each other, even though the people handing them to me operate in a variety of professions. Some people underestimate the value of an effective business card. It should be an effective marketing tool, a way to be remembered, to be contacted and to help you stand out from all of the other accountants that your contacts and clients meet.

Other than those accountants who run their own practice/business most accountants don’t get to choose the look or style of their business card. Equally many accontants who do make decisions about such things may lack the resources to find out what approach is most effective.

Take a random batch of. say, 64 business cards you have collected from other accountants and arrange them in an 8×8 square on your desk. Which ones stand out? I’ll bet it’s none of the plain black print on white card ones; Do you want yours to stand out? If not, why not? If yes, ‘how much’? It can be counter-productive to have a card that makes people want to avoid you. But would you like them to show your card to others – because it’s different/better?

If you are in a position to influence such things here are seven top tips for the design of business cards. Some you may think are obvious. Others less so but all are a reflection of business cards I have seen;

1 – Think about what they are for and where/when they will be used. In many cases they will be received by other professionals, bankers and hundreds of people who will have only the card as a means to remember you. Will it be sufficient to enable them to recall who you were out of the hundreds of other people they have met? My card has a photo (head shot) of me on it – as I appreciate that people might not otherwise remember who Mark Lee is;

2 – Ensure the typeface/font size of the print is readable. There is no point squeezing loads of infomation onto your business card if no one is going to be able to read it;

3 – Ensure your card is of a professional weight. That’s a minimum of 335 gms. Many are 400 gms. You know how awful it is to get a ‘wet fish’ handshake? It’s the same with flimsy business cards. Your credibility is immediately lessened;

4 – Distinguish your personal contact details from the main business details of your practice. Don’t mix them up as this only serves to confuse. Your personal contact details will include your direct dial and mobile numbers as well as your email address. Some people deliberately exclude their direct dial or mobile numbers from the face of the card and add them on manually when giving the card to ‘special’ contacts. What you say in such situations will be crucial;

5 – If you are going to use both sides of the card do ensure that you leave room for the recipient of your card to make some notes on it somewhere. And ensure that any lamination doesn’t preclude such a sensible follow up activity. I know I’m not the only person to always note the date that I met the person and where we were. If there’s room I’ll also often add a note of what we talked about or any follow up actions I have promised.

6 – Your card should reflect your image. Few accountants will be comfortable with the same style of card as would an artist or graphic designer. Some larger firms have introduced ‘modern’ cards that the older members are evidently apologetic about or embarrassed to pass out when they meet people. If ‘modern’ isn’t your style then don’t try to pretend it is. Not everyone wants a ‘modern’ accountant. But they all want someone they can trust and who isn’t trying to be someone or something they are not;

7 – If you want to stand out from the crowd ensure that your business card contains sufficient information about what you or your firm does. Are you ‘just’ “Chartered Accountants’? Do you want people to remember what you do or what qualification you have?

Do you have any other valuable ideas or suggestions? Please add them by of comments to this blog.

Yes – I have taken my own advice although I’m not in practice as an accountant. My business card reinforces my online branding. It’s a bookmark (!) and contains my photo and has the same colouring as the banner at the top of this blog. There is also room for notes. If you’d like to see one just send me an email and provide your postal address. Mark(@)BookMarkLee.(co.uk) – remove the brackets which are just there to stop spam.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

 

 

 

 

 

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The Easter Bunny shows us how NOT to network

This short video shows why the Easter Bunny’s efforts at networking are doomed to failure.

Effective networking requires more effort that hopping(!) along to a gathering of people and shoving your business card into their hands. As I have written about on this blog many times: No one refers work to a business card.

Edit 2013: You can get my 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to Network more effectively. Just click here for full details>>>

If you would like to book me to speak on the subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch. There’s an outline of my talk on ‘How to ensure your networking activity is successful’ here>>>  

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Do you suffer from premature evaluation?

I’ve mentioned my friend Richard White before. I’ve just read a piece on his blog that reinforces the advice I give in my talk on How to make more profits from your smaller clients. It also relates very closely to this previous posting of mine along similar lines last August. Below I’ve taken Richard’s analogy and adapted it slightly for ambitious professionals.

Imagine being in pain and going to your doctor for some help. Within moments of your arrival the doctor starts telling you, very enthusiastically, how similar your pain is to the previous patient, what is wrong with you and what medicine you need to take.

How would you feel if that happened? Would you trust the doctor? The doctor could be right but you will be more likely to trust their advice if they spent a little time finding out more about your specific pain rather than just making assumptions and talking, talking, talking!

The same is true for ambitious professionals. You need to give your prospects some credit for intelligence. You need to assume that they can tell if you are listening to them or are just interested in flogging them your services.

People do not like being sold to, but they do like to buy. Successful ambitious professionals look to build trust and a long-term relationship by working with human nature rather than against it.

If a prospect feels that you are more interested in selling your services than solving their problems then you are unlikely to gain their confidence or to encourage them to engage you to do more than the bare minimum (if that). Your relationship with the new client will always be vulnerable no matter how likeable you are.

When you meet with a prospective new client they need to feel that your focus is 100% on them and that you are going to give them the right advice for their issues. They like the fact that you have experience but they want you to apply that experience to their specific issues rather than just making assumptions.

In my posting last August I took this idea a stage further and recommended that ambitious professionals could get more favourable feedback from their clients by taking a two-step approach rather than getting straight to the answer right away. This is very similar in concept to the idea of avoiding instant diagnosis. We wouldn’t trust a doctor who operated like that so why should we expect clients to appreciate such an approach?

There is a term for the condition where professionals (or indeed anyone trying to sell their services or products) get very excited and enthusiastically sell all over the place without bothering to take an interest in their prospect’s problems – It’s called ‘Premature Evaluation’ and there is a lot of it about!!!

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Is 'networking' the new 'socialising'?

When I entered a speech contest* at my local speakers’ club recently I was asked about my hobbies and interests. What would you say yours were? It’s common I believe to list upto half a dozen activities. Many of us might include ‘family’, keeping fit, socialising and reading alongside more active sporting interests and the occasional unusual hobby.

It’s been some years since I’ve had to think about this. My immediate thoughts, after those I’ve included above were to say Bridge (kitchen’, Golf (novice) and Magic. I then realised that since becoming self employed I have two other hobbies and interests: networking and blogging.

In fact it occurred to me that as I approach 50 [this was 2007] I spend more time networking than socialising. And what is networking? Well to me it’s nothing more than socialising with a purpose. That purpose is to get to know the people I meet so that, if I like them, I can become their advocate; also that, hopefully, they will become an advocate for me. But that doesn’t happen overnight or after a quick chat at a cocktail party. We have to follow up and get to know people so that there is a realistic chance of mutual referrals following on in due course.

As far as I am concerned, networking of itself is not about trying to find work or finding people who will engage me. I’ve become far more attuned to distinguishing effective networkers from those who don’t seem to have a clue and who make the most fundamental mistakes when they try to network. That’s one of the reasons why I provide mentoring and training on Easy and effective networking techniques for ambitious professionals.

* (Thanks for asking. Yes I won the local contest – and the next stage of the competition too!)

Edit 2013: You can get my 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to Network more effectively. Just click here for full details>>>

If you would like to book me to speak on the subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch. There’s an outline of my talk on ‘How to ensure your networking activity is successful’ here>>>  

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