Finding Small Business Tax Clients through Networking
Networking is a great way to connect with small business owners, who can turn into clients. Different CPAs have had varying results with using networking. Some say it works exceptionally well for them, others report it has been ineffective. In reality, it can be either – depending on what you do before, during, and after the event. How do you set yourself up for success?
Here are a few points to consider:
Be selective about events.
There are dozens of networking events happening in your area every week. Attending them all would be a poor use of your time. You must do your due diligence to find the events that will be the best use of your limited time.
Consider the industry mix of attendees, the cost, and the substance of the event. Who are the speakers? Are there testimonials from previous events?
Remember that some of the best networking events are not labeled “networking”. Perhaps there is a fundraising gala, a groundbreaking ceremony for the new wing of the local hospital, or a sporting event that can give you an opportunity to expand your professional network.
Set a goal.
Going into the event thinking “I will just show up and see what happens” may not serve you best. Do your work before you walk in!
Research the event host or sponsor. Any interesting facts and tidbits you learn can turn into great conversation starters! If a guest list is available, peruse it and find 3-5 names of individuals that you would want to connect with. If the event is offering a speaker or a panel discussion, look into the topic.
It is also best to set a concrete goal for the event. Your time is valuable, and networking with a purpose will give you better focus. Perhaps you want to connect with two small business owners who may become clients. Take a mental note of that goal to keep it in mind during the event.
One-on-one conversations work best.
Discussions around a 10-person lunch table may be entertaining, but the connection (and the business that follows) comes from deeper one-on one-conversations. Networking events are usually not the best place to have them – there are too many distractions, and your contacts may not want to delve into a sensitive topic while surrounded by a crowd.
Set a goal of scheduling 1-2 coffee or lunch meetings with the professionals that you meet. If you do that while you are at the event, your post-event follow is that much simpler!
Get to know them.
Use the time to get to know other professionals. No one buys any service (let alone something as complex as business tax advice) after a 5-minute chat. Don’t try to close the deal, or spend much time on your elevator speech. Instead, focus on the person you have just met.
How did they get into their business? What are some of the things they are most proud of? How are they dealing with industry challenges? A genuine interest and curiosity will help you stand out, and earn you the right to ask for a follow up meeting.
The best way to demonstrate the value you offer to your clients is to give your prospects a sense of what it is like to work with you. Sometimes, an insightful question may leave a small business owner thinking about you long after the event has concluded.
Get contact information for the people you have connected with, and close the follow up loop after the event. If you have promised to send someone an article, a book title, or a name of a professional that you trust, do so quickly – it will position you as someone who follows through and delivers as promised.
If you made connections because of someone’s referral (perhaps a colleague recommended the event, or a referral resource suggested someone to meet there and made an introduction), remember to thank them.
Remember your personal network and hobby groups.
You are surrounded by people everywhere you go. While it can be nice to have the focused professional space of a dedicated networking event, don’t discount the value of staying involved with your personal network and hobby groups.
In closing, keep in mind that potential client connections are not the only possible outcome of networking. You may meet referral resources, professionals who may one day be of service to your own clients, or professionals who may be of service to you (technology consultants, for example). Keep your radar on and your eyes open – the perfect connection may not be what you expect!