How to short-cut the Networking process

Networking is not for everyone. Whilst some accountants enjoy attending regular networking events, I regularly hear tales of woe from those who find it a frustrating waste of time.  There are also plenty of accountants who do not like the idea of chatting with strangers very appealing.

You will rarely meet someone at a networking event who is there to find a new accountant. So the process of moving from attending such events to winning new clients can be both time consuming and involved. How can you short-cut the process?

In this blog post I share an idea that could be a far more productive use of your time and less daunting too. It’s quite different to the tips and advice I have shared previously as to how you can get more value from the time you spend networking.

Objectives

The primary reason most accountants attend networking events is typically to win new clients. A secondary objective might be to build relationships with influencers who then refer you on to their clients and contacts. This latter rationale is more likely to be successful in the short-term. Few new clients will choose to appoint a new accountant until they have built a degree of trust – certainly more than comes from a casual chat at a networking event.

The best client introductions

If you’ve been in practice a while you should know how you came to service your best clients. I’ll bet that most didn’t come through adverts, they didn’t come from people searching on the web and they didn’t come from social networking.  Sure, all of these activities might generate some work but your ‘best’ clients?  There will always be exceptions but most accountants typically say that their best clients were introduced or recommended by existing or previous clients.

The second best source tends to be other advisers who know, like and trust the accountant.  Often, but not always, these relationships were built up as a result of random meetings at networking events. But that’s not the only way to instigate them.

An alternative approach 

If you don’t like Networking with strangers you are not alone. Instead why not ask your favourite clients to introduce you to their other advisers?

Which lawyers and financial advisers do they trust? These are then the people whom you can contact and meet for a coffee. You want to get to know them better so that you can recommend other clients to them as and when this seems appropriate. After all if one good client has recommended them, then others may value their advice too.

During your conversations with these advisers you will also get the chance to talk about your practice. And you will also reference the clients you have helped besides the one you have in common with the adviser you are with.

In effect this approach enables you to short-cut the networking process. You don’t have to chat with random strangers at networking events; you aren’t reliant on stumbling across people who might know someone who might need a new accountant; and you don’t have to arrange a series of follow up meetings with strangers who may or may not be valuable additions to  your business circle.

Try it, you might like it.

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Accountants CAN overcome a lack of inner confidence…..

All too often I encounter another accountant who is lacking in confidence. And this invariably holds them back from achieving the success they seek.

Just last week an accountant emailed me back after receiving a message I’d sent out on a totally different topic. Included in her reply was the following:

I know I lack a degree of confidence. I’m on my own, no mentor, no senior. This is daunting.

I’m not very good at small talk and sales patter.

I’m lacking confidence.

I have bags of ambition and drive.

I have a fantastic team of 3 ladies who I have personally trained and I have a huge office with potential for 10 desks.

I struggle to get new clients. I want to get things as right as I can from the outset and have not wished to take on loads more low value clients.

After thanking her for getting in touch I replied:

Stop putting yourself down and reinforcing the negative voices in your head.  You are NOT lacking in confidence.

You’ve started your own practice. You have taken office space sufficient for 10 desks. All of that takes a HUGE amount of belief (which is simply another word for confidence).  Well done!

And, as you say, you also have a huge amount of ambition and drive. I think perhaps you’re embarrassed by your confidence and you may be concerned it might come across as arrogance if you really let it out. I get that. And it’s good to avoid over doing the confidence.

I also wanted to direct her to some related advice I have shared previously. I was pretty certain I had addressed the issue of accountants and confidence before on this blog. But when I checked back most such posts related more to the problems of being over confident! So here is my further advice that should be of wider application and value.

It’s quite common

In conversation with accountants I am mentoring and with those who belong to The Inner Circle it is often obvious to me that a lack of confidence is causing them issues. Sometimes it prevents them making decisions that are then continually deferred, it makes them nervous about contacting certain clients and scared of quoting fully commercial fees.

One of the great pleasures of my work is that with a degree of understanding and encouragement from me, these same accountants grow in confidence. They tell me about how they are now able to quote fees they only dreamt about some months earlier and that clients are happy to pay them. They are proud to have refused to take on new clients who don’t want any advice; and they are excited by the future as they now know they can attract the sort of referrals and recommendations they always wanted.

There’s no magic involved(!) Building your confidence starts by accepting that you are better than you think when someone who knows you and knows enough other accountants (like me) tells you honestly that you’re at least as good as average – possibly better.

But you can also boost your confidence alone.

How to become more confident

Here’s a few tips I have encouraged accountants to adopt – and which I have been told have worked for them:

One popular technique is to get a character, toy or figurine to keep on your desk. Imagine them as your Positive Reinforcer (PR).  When that negative voice in your head saps your confidence, imagine your PR guy/gal encouraging you onwards.

Keep a note of every success. Each day, note down these Positive Reinforcements (PR) to remind you of when you make things go well,  so that you can focus on these – and NOT on the times when things don’t go so well.  Review your PR notes – especially before your next interaction with a client where your lack of confidence has previously weakened you.

Celebrate your achievements so that you spend less time dwelling on the other occasions which didn’t go so well, but which contained valuable lessons. Note them down as Positive Reinforcement (PR) of lessons learned.

Accept praise and compliments. You do deserve them. Do not dismiss them. The ‘imposter syndrome’ is very common in all walks of life. You do deserve the success you enjoy.

If all else fails, fake it. Even if you don’t feel particularly confident, act as if you do. You may be pleasantly surprised at how positively this can affect people’s reactions to you.  There’s also another good reason to practice faking confidence. I have also heard it said that the more you practice acting in a confident manner, the more it will increase your inner confidence.  Just ensure you don’t come across as arrogant. And also be careful you don’t give definitive advice when you are not really confident it is 100% correct.

Confidence is self-perpetuating. Once you have it, you can use it to push yourself to succeed, which will build your confidence even further.

Want some help?

My confidence in my own ability to help sole practitioners to become more successful has fluctuated over the years.

Back in 2006 I had a wider focus and initially listened to those of my friends and colleagues who told me that I was bound to be successful as a mentor and speaker. They boosted my ego by referencing my reputation, credibility and high profile in the profession. I was prepared to listen. But then it soon became clear that few people were beating a path to my door. My confidence plummeted.

Over the last few years I have had plenty of successes and I am now confident of the value I deliver to sole practitioner accountants. This is one of the reasons why I offer a very low cost entry level facility to experience my style and advice. But equally I offer premium level 1-2-1 mentoring support and advice. Part of the value accountants get from me, where appropriate, is help, support and encouragement to become more self confident in their interactions with prospects and clients.

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What are you doing about your clients’ uncertainty about the future?

When I talk with accountants, which I do a lot, I often sense an unspoken concern about increased ‘uncertainty’ in their world.

It is clear to me that many business clients are uncertain, many private clients are uncertain and also many accountants themselves are uncertain.

Business clients

They are uncertain about future sales and expansion, funding options, the impact of Brexit and long term investment plans.

Private clients

They are uncertain about investment returns, future income sources, planning for retirement and funding long-term care costs.

Accountants

They are uncertain about all of the above! And the impact these uncertainties will have on their client base. Accountants are also uncertain about the impact of MTD, the continued increase in software solutions (not just cloud accounting options), the real value of their social media efforts, the ROI of marketing costs, the best processes to put in place to save time and the future of their practices.

What does this mean?

During periods of uncertainty most people seek greater stability and security. (NB: That’s not intended as a political observation!)

Typically their fear of failure increases and their appetite for risk reduces. This is human nature but you may be different. You may prefer to ‘zig’ when everyone else ‘zags’. Maybe this is your way (and your time) to STAND OUT from your competitors and peers. If that’s how you feel, well done. Just ensure that your chosen approach means you STAND OUT in a positive light among your target audience.

So what?

Regardless of your attitude to risk, the question I suggest you ask yourself is: What additional support and advice do my clients and prospects require during these uncertain times?

Can you tap into their current needs, struggles and challenges?

I have long encouraged the accountants with whom I work to find new ways they can offer to help their clients. Offering help (from a position of experience and expertise) is very different to trying to sell additional services. And yet, it still typically still leads to additional business.

The starting point here is to increase your visibility with those people (clients and prospects) who are most likely to want your help. To ensure that they know you are there and able to help them. Will they all respond positively? Some will; some won’t; so what? You will have reminded them that you are there and that they can approach you to help them with their current challenges.

It’s not hard. You could pick up the phone, as I often do; you could send an email or you could evidence your interest by asking relevant questions when you next meet clients.

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How was January for you this year?

This is a question I always ask accountants when I talk with them in February. “How was January for you this year?”

The answers are always pretty similar. They range from “Not as bad as previously” through to the absolute defeatist “Same as always. I just accept that’s the way it is.”  This tends to be a more common response from older accountants who have lived with the 31 January deadline for 20 years now, since the first one in 1998.

I recall one accountant who admitted to me: “January was hell – and it was my own fault.”

I was astonished by this admission as it evidenced both honesty and self awareness.

Most accountants blame their clients for ignoring requests to produce their papers in good time to avoid a last minute rush before the 31 January filing deadline for personal tax returns. My friend acknowledged that with him it’s as much a question of priorities. Even if clients do supply their papers in good time he focuses his attention on meeting earlier deadlines such as 31 December for 31 March company accounts and, before that, 30 September for 31 December company accounts.  I’ll bet his personal tax return clients wouldn’t want to hear this.

He told me that he incentivises clients to provide all their papers before the end of October each year. However doesn’t always have time to check that the papers are complete and sometimes has to ask for missing details when completing their returns in December and January.  So he was right. The pressure he was under in January was his own fault. He wasn’t planning and prioritising his work effectively.

A friend of mine has an accountant like this. She says this is the third year that he has taken months to produce her tax return and she’s not giving him any more chances. I’m amazed that she’s stayed with him this long – especially as, without the tax return he wasn’t able to give her advance warning of her forthcoming tax bills. To my mind this is a key part of the annual compliance service.

The other response I frequently hear is that “We’ve tried everything and nothing works. Clients just don’t respond to anything other than the filing deadline”. Again, this seems somewhat defeatist to me.  It would be true if no accountants were able to ‘train’ their clients to avoid last minute deadlines. But plenty of accountants do just that. And their client bases are typically very typical 😉

If you have an established practice and your client base hasn’t changed much for a while, then clearly it is going to be more difficult to motivate your clients to start doing things differently. But it is not impossible. And you need to be committed to following through too.

Recently an accountant told me that he had tried charging a £100 penalty when clients sent him their records received after 1 December. He said it had only a limited impact. I wonder though when he first communicated this to clients, whether he reminded them with as much effort in November as he does in January and when he required payment of the additional £100?  All of these could have an impact. As could the way in which the penalty fee was communicated.

One key tip here is to to keep everything focused on the value to your client. Thus it’s more important to encourage them to do things differently because of the impact on them – rather than because it will make your life easier!

My favourite response to the question though is: “Never again” when it comes from accountants who are prepared to put in the necessary time and effort to change things. They may do this alone, they may seek my input. But either way they know that it is down to them to make plans and to take action.

What’s your approach? Have you given up? Or have you succeeded to ‘training’ your clients to allow you to give them a better service?

 

 

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