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 ( or meeting dozens of strangers while eating appetizers) does not always produce results. What is the secret to networking that works? Here are six tips from the experts.
- Choose the right networking opportunities.
Most traditional networking opportunities are inconsistent in 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. You both sat silently for a few moments, then wandered in search of 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”.
- Think strategically.
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 wouldn’t feel comfortable jumping into a business relationship 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. So, take those conversations elsewhere!
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 isn’t 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 a couple of 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 got from working with you. It could be streamlining business processes and cutting expenses by 20 percent, 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, your relationships there could indirectly lead to new business.
- Focus on consistency and frequency.
You probably already know your advocates in the business community. How can 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 – just work on building a relationship, becoming a resource, and staying in a conversation that adds value.