Networking continues to be the most effective way for CPAs to generate new business. Yet, networking remains a marketing activity that many CPAs consider uncomfortable and intimidating. How can you resolve the risk and reward of networking? Read on.
Start with who you know. Regardless of where you currently are in your accounting career you already have a network. Think about those with whom you went to school, your clients, co-workers, competitors, your family, friends, neighbors, sports friends, parents and friends of your children, and members of your place of worship.
Prioritize your networking. Diane Darling, in her book The Networking Survival Guide, offers the following questions to prioritize your network:
- Whom do you like?
- Who gives you business?
- Whom do you give business to, and why?
- Who makes introductions on your behalf?
- Who returns your calls?
- Who is fun?
- Who makes you feel good?
- Who makes you feel stupid?
- Who is on the executive team?
- Where did each person go to school?
- What community organizations is each person involved with? What professional associations? What nonprofit boards?
- Where do each person’s children go to school?
Your answers to these questions will help you determine with whom you should invest your networking time.
Building relationships takes time. In his book Networking Like an Introvert Tim Klabunde writes, “Events are where we first learn enough about someone and their business to know how we can help them. Real Networking is the relationship building that occurs after events.” When you meet someone who you think will strengthen your network follow up and discover how you can help them. Here are a few ways to follow up:
- Follow through with promises made during your conversations.
- Add your new contacts to your mailing list and eNewsletter list.
- Send published articles or links that you think will be of interest.
- Call and arrange follow up meetings.
- Introduce them to other people who will be helpful to them.
- Invite them to join your LinkedIn network.
Remember, networking is not selling. It is about building relationships and helping others.
Make a plan. Lack of time is an often-used excuse. However, I believe that we make time for the things that we really want to do. Make a networking plan by answering the following questions from Jeffrey Gitomer’s book The Sales Bible:
- Where do I network now?
- Where should I network?
- Where do my best clients network?
- What are three organizations I should investigate and possibly join?
- How many hours a week should I network?
- Who are five prime people I want to meet?
- What are my first-year networking goals?
- Do I have the networking skills I need?
- Do I have networking tools?
- Who is great at networking that I can call and get help from?
If you need guidance on how to answer some of these questions meet with your mentor or your firm’s marketing director or managing partner.
Don’t network to “check the box.” You will not be a successful networker if your heart isn’t in it. Select organizations that you are truly interested in. Join a committee. Work your way up to the board of directors. When you make a commitment to an organization, you will build meaningful relationships. People will see how you work when you are at your best. These types of relationships build trust and friendships that usually lead to business opportunities.
Enhance your networking skills. There are many books, articles and classes about networking skills. Read the books. Attend a class. Increase your confidence by networking with those you know who are skilled networkers. Focus on others – and not your nervousness – which will make other people comfortable with you.
Hate to Network? You’re not alone, but you can choose to develop a system that will build your network, foster relationships, and generate new business leads for your firm, a system that will benefit your firm and your career.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.