I’ve addressed the subject of Networking many times on this blog. I make no apology for returning to the topic as it’s a key business skill for accountants who want more clients. And also for those seeking their first clients too.
Networking is not something covered by our professional training. But it has become a crucial part of professional life – other than for those lucky people who have reached the stage whereby they get a constant stream of high value business leads through their marketing activities and/or online searches.
Indeed, I know many accountants who hope they can rely on such sources of work as they are so uncomfortable with the idea of networking.
Some of their concerns may be the result of bad experiences. Often though such concerns do not reflect the more common realities of modern life.
Today let me simply debunk and correct some of the most common misconceptions accountants have about networking:
1: Networking is about net-selling, net-eating, or net-drinking
For accountants, networking involves getting to know and being known by other business people, introducers, and influencers, fostering relationships that can lead to relevant referrals and recommendations.
2: Great networkers are born, not made
No one is born a great networker. Some accountants (but not many) have always found it easy. Most have learned how to be an effective networker over time. It’s a skill that can be developed through practice and learning.
3: Networking events are for picking up new clients
No one goes to networking events to find a new accountant so don’t expect to meet new clients. Instead you need to play the long game, building relationships and trust which can lead to relevant referrals and recommendations.
4: You have to be a good talker
We have two ears and one mouth and should use our faculties in the same proportion when networking. The more we can learn about the people we meet the more likely we will be able to identify whether or not they have need of our services.
5: You have to be an extrovert to be good at networking
Introverts often make much better networkers than extroverts who tend to be too self-centred. They have to learn to tone it down and to listen more to the person they are with, rather than try to dominate the conversation. This all comes much more naturally to introverts.
6: Networking is all about the people in the room
It is unrealistic to expect your perfect clients to be at the same networking events you attend. Instead your aim is to build your reputation with the people you speak with. Your intent should be to establish a positive reputation so that it is easy for them to remember, refer and recommend you to the people they know for whom you might be a good fit.
7: You need to give out your business cards to everyone in the room
No one refers work to a business card. Until and unless you are asked for your card, only give it out when it adds clarity, such as helping pronounce an unusual name. Focus on meaningful interactions over distributing cards indiscriminately.
8: It’s enough to be an accountant
Turning up and telling everyone you’re an accountant, just like all the others they know, isn’t going to help you achieve your objectives. Differentiate yourself by highlighting unique aspects of your service, experience, advice, and approach when introducing yourself at networking events.
9: Attend lots of networking groups once
You need to build your reputation with the people you meet. So you need to return to the same group a number of times. Don’t waste time and money running from one group to another in a desperate attempt to find clients or to secure referrals.
10: Networking can only happen at designated events
You can network with colleagues in other parts of your firm and at all manner of business events where there are people present you don’t know.
11: Everyone you meet will remember you well
Effective networking is not just about what happens when you meet people. It includes how effectively you follow up afterwards to maintain and nurture connections, turning initial encounters into ongoing relationships.
12: It’s only worth attending events where there are no other accountants
Don’t worry if there are other accountants at a networking event. You are different to them. Embrace your differences; while the services, accounts and tax returns you produce may be similar, your service, experience, advice and approach will be distinct and special compared to everyone else.
13: Maximising the number of people you speak with
It’s not about how many people are there or how many business cards you can give out. It’s about how many valuable conversations you can have. Focus on the quality of the conversations you have rather than the number of people you meet, aiming for meaningful interactions that can lead to valuable connections.
14: You can leave it to the other person to follow up afterwards
Much better to take the initiative and to evidence that you can be trusted. Make a promise to do something by way of follow up and then ensure you fulfil that promise promptly – this helps evidence your reliability and professionalism too.
15: Networking starts only when you arrive at an event
Good preparation will enable you to have a more worthwhile time at the event. One simple way to do this is to send a personal note through Linkedin asking to connect with someone you know will be at the event. You’ll STAND OUT from everyone else and are more likely to be able to have a conversation during the event.
And on a related point. Linkedin is best considered less a social media site and more of an online business networking platform. It’s not a jobs website or a depository for online CVs. And it’s not a social media site like facebook, twitter or instagram. As indicated in point 15 above, you can use Linkedin to short-cut the face to face networking process.
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