Leveraging Your Network to Build Your Practice
People are at the core of the accounting business – and connecting with the right professionals can offer a significant boost to your practice. However, traditional networking (meeting dozens of strangers while eating appetizers) does not always produce results. How can you best use your time and your network to grow your practice?
Choose the right networking opportunities
Most traditional opportunities are hit or miss in terms of generating meaningful connections. Think back to the most recent networking breakfast you attended. You probably introduced yourself as a local CPA, the person next to you said he did IT. Then you both went silent for a few moments, and wandered back for some coffee and bagels.
If you want to avoid this scenario and use your time wisely, pick your networking opportunities carefully. Going to a gallery opening or a groundbreaking ceremony for a local hospital may produce better connection opportunities than attending an event labeled “business networking”.
What kinds of businesses would you like to have in your extended network? Perhaps your ideal clients are in the real estate industry – and you want to meet developers, property managers, and investors. Or maybe your clients could benefit from an introduction to a trusted attorney, financial advisor, doctor, realtor, or mechanic. No matter what your answer is, take note, and focus your networking efforts accordingly.
Go with a specific and realistic goal in mind
You would not do business with someone after having a 45-second meet-and-greet. Neither would any other established professional. The hustle of a networking event is not an ideal backdrop to having a deep conversation.
If you have a list of attendees prior to the event, study it and select 2-3 professionals that you would like to meet. Once you connect, ask them for a one on one meeting. Coffee, breakfast, or lunch meetings could work equally well. Get to know them and their business. They may become a client or a referral partner later, but first they must get to know and like you.
Focus on the people you already know
Networking is not just about getting to meet as many people as you can. Your primary focus is on getting people who know you to share opportunities.
So, make 1-2 phone calls every day to people you already know. They could be past clients, colleagues, or professionals you have met at conferences and community events.
Ask every happy client for one name: someone in their network who would benefit from being introduced to you. Consider asking your client to reflect on the most valuable thing they took away from working with you. It could be streamlining business processes and cutting expenses by 20%, using a tax strategy to save $10,000, or uncovering and fixing a risk exposure in their payroll system. Once they have verbalized their biggest take-away, ask them if they know a professional in their network who could benefit from the same. Having experienced the value first-hand, your client will have an easier time narrowing down the mental Rolodex and making an introduction.
Leverage your non-business circles
Spend time cultivating your non-business network. Whether you join a civic organization, a local soccer club, a music band, or a wine tasting group, build relationships with the people there.
Focus on consistency and frequency
Chances are, you already know your advocates in the business community. How do you maximize the connection? By staying top of mind for them.
A useful guideline is to never be more than 30 days away from your referral partners. Schedule simple touchpoints with your contacts once every month. They need not be expensive, elaborate, or time-consuming. Here are some ideas:
- Face to face meeting for coffee
- E-mail with a link to a useful article
- Tag in a social media post
- Copy of a book that may be of interest
- Phone call
Don’t feel pressured to ask for referrals every time – work on building a relationship, becoming a resource, and staying in a conversation that adds value.