CPAs: Hate to Network? You’re Not Alone.

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.

Capstone Marketing Blog, Networking

Stir Things Up at Your Next Firm Mixer

Mixers with referral sources are a marketing tool used by many CPA firms.  Mixers are small networking opportunities with 8-12 CPA firm partners and staff and an equal amount of people from one bank, one law firm, or other referral source organization.  You could also multiply the networking opportunities and invite two separate organizations to the same event.  Here are a few tips to stir things up at your next firm mixer.

Who to invite.  Start with who you know, a law firm or a bank that is a friend of the firm.  Think about the advisors who work with your clients or have referred business to you.  Then, branch out and invite those you want to do more business with.  The point person for your firm extends the invitation and works with your marketing professional and/or administrative support regarding the details.  Remember, invite members of just one or perhaps two organizations at the same time.

Location.  If you do not have a conference or training room that will allow 20-25 people to network comfortably consider holding your mixer in a private room of a local restaurant or country club.  Think of other interesting locations that may entice your guests to attend, e.g., a museum or a place with a good view.  Consider organizing your mixer prior to a sporting event to add another element of fun and conversation.

Day and Time.  I recommend late afternoon, 4:30-6:30 p.m., with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Avoid Mondays and Fridays.  Plan your mixers far in advance to accommodate busy schedules.

Do Your Homework.  Research each person attending your mixer using LinkedIn, the firm’s website, and Google.  Send the summary information to each person attending from your firm so they can learn about each attendee, develop smart questions to ask, and prioritize who they’d like to spend time with.

Introductions.  The managing partner of your firm should be prepared to give a brief introduction about the firm – no more than three minutes – about 30 minutes into the event.  Concisely describe your industry and service specialties and the types of new business you are looking for.  Then, each attendee should give their 60-second introduction including their name, title, areas of specialty, and, “Talk to me if you’re interested in learning more about (fill in the blank).”  Consider passing a 60-second sand timer from person to person to stay on schedule.

Follow up.  Holding the mixer is important.  Following up the mixer is even more important.  Create a spreadsheet of attendees and compile the follow up activities, e.g., lunch, further introductions, adding to your enewsletter list, LinkedIn connections.  Hand written notes to those you spoke with are a nice touch and will be remembered.  Your marketing professional, marketing partner or managing partner should follow up on the status of these follow up activities on a regular basis.

Don’t forget:

  •        Use name tags, not the peel and stick kind, but with a clip that are available in your local office supply store or online.  Print using a large font size.  Name tags are worn on the right shoulder so they can be seen easily.
  •       Business cards.  Bring your business cards in a business card holder and keep them in a convenient place, e.g., suit jacket pocket, purse.  Write a short note on the back of each card you collect with the follow up activity.
  •       Promotional items.  Give your guests the option of taking a few “parting gifts” of firm literature and promotional items at the end of the event.
  •      Cross-check the new business referrals you receive with the organizations you’ve held mixers with.  This will tell you how effective your team is with their networking skills and asking for the referral!