Ten ways accountants can network at conferences

Nov 16, 2012 | Accountants, Networking, Sole practitioners

With Accountex around the corner you might think this piece is aimed at accountants planning to attend what looks set to be the biggest and best exhibition and conference accountants have seen in the UK for many years.

It is. But the ten tips are equally applicable whenever you attend conferences for accountants and tax advisers.  I often wonder how many attendees make the most of the available networking opportunities?

Perhaps we should first clarify what we mean by ‘networking’ in this context. It is not simply chatting aimlessly with other delegates seated next to you or whom you bump into in the queue for tea or lunch. It also doesn’t mean cornering each of the speakers and embarrassing them into giving you free advice – whether or not this is related to the subject matter of their talks.

  1. Beforehand – Check out the programme or show guide and decide whether there is anyone speaking with whom you would like to grab 5 minutes. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve done it to others. If you approach someone the right way you may even get to have a coffee/lunch with them on the day.
  2. Practice your replies to the most likely questions that the speakers and other delegates will ask you. And plan to move the conversation on from talking about the trains, venue, weather and your practice. For example: Why are you interested in a specific session or speaker? What have you found the biggest problem with HMRC recently? Are you doing anything specific to attract new clients? Or to help clients resist the lure of new accountants? If there’s a question you might want to ask, make sure you can answer the obvious rejoiner: “And what are you doing about it in your practice?”
  3. Make sure you will have some business cards with you (and that they are easily accessible in your pocket or handbag) but don’t pass them out unless someone asks for yours – or if you have an unusual name that people often mishear.
  4. Plan your travel arrangements so that you can arrive early and do not need to leave promptly.
  5. To get the most out of the networking opportunities, aim to arrive in time for the start of the registration period.
  6. During the talks, think about questions you can ask fellow delegates once you move beyond mere pleasantries. You might for example, want to know whether topics mentioned by speakers which are new to you, are also new to others. Have they already tried any of those things mentioned by the last speaker? What happens when you do that in practice? Strike up conversations with the people you are sitting close to, standing next to in queues and whom you see standing alone. They may be shy but otherwise just as interesting to talk with as anyone else. And they will probably appreciate your interest as long as you have decent conversational skills.
  7. Make a point of visiting the exhibition stands but, if you are not a decision make for your firm, try to avoid wasting the time of the people manning the stand. Of course if the stand is empty or the staff look especially lonely they may appreciate a cheery hello even if you are not a real prospect for them. And, anyway, you never know when you might be in the market for the services or products on offer.
  8. If you have a specific reason to follow up with people you meet, be open about this and ask for their business card. I make notes on the back of cards (where there is room) to remind me why I wanted them and what I have promised to do for each person. You could alternatively rely on your memory and ask if the other person is on Linkedin.
  9. I make it a point these days to check out most people I meet on Linkedin anyway. You can do the same after the event and ask them to connect with you. Make sure you personalise the connection request and mention where you met. This is good etiquette and likely to get more positive responses than simply sending the standard bland Linkedin connection request.
  10. Finally, if you are considering changing firms, you may find that you can find out more about how others operate by talking to fellow delegates. Do ensure that you avoid coming across as disloyal, desperate or boring. You never know who will be involved in the recruitment process. Fellow delegates may be in a position to help or to hinder your move.

PS: I have written a 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to Network more effectively. 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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