Get a greater return on investment from the time and money spent on networking when you follow these tips.
Professional networking is vital to the growth of any career, and accounting is no exception. Yet, many accountants and bookkeepers inwardly groan at the idea of attending networking events, associating them with awkward conversations, gathering stacks of business cards, and the idea of “selling” yourself.
However, when done right, networking is more about building relationships. The long-term goal might be business development, but networking can also help you find a mentor, discover new professional opportunities, and learn more about the accounting profession or your clients’ industries, or best practices in technology and processes.
How to Network the Right Way
Whatever your ultimate goal when you engage in networking, these tips can help you make the most of the time and money you spend.
Expand Your Networking Horizons
Networking with other business professionals—such as financial advisors, attorneys, bankers, and entrepreneurs—can be an excellent source of business referrals. They often know other business owners or high net-worth individuals who need accounting, bookkeeping, and tax advice.
Don’t neglect your peer groups, either. Some accountants avoid networking with other accountants and bookkeepers because they think of other professionals as “the competition.” But other accountants can be an excellent source of referrals and information on trends, best practices, and new standards or tax legislation.
“Network with like-minded accounting professionals to refer business between yourselves and complement the services you don’t provide,” says Kellie Parks, CPB and cloud accounting aficionado at Calmwaters Cloud Accounting.
Be a Resource
To grow relationships within your network, seek to be a resource for others. Don’t reach out only when you want something or need help.
According to Sal Rezai, CPB and expert cloud bookkeeper at Accounting by Sal, one of the biggest networking mistakes people make is neglecting to really engage with others at networking events because they’re preoccupied with self-promotion. “At the early stage of my business,” says Sal, “when I was attending networking events, I was just there without really interacting with other attendees and not showing interest in listening to others. I was too focused on selling my services.”
Instead of focusing on yourself, go into each networking opportunity with the goal of giving as much as you take.
When you meet someone new, send them a helpful article or introduce them to someone who can solve their problem. If you meet someone trying to fill an open position, introduce them to a great recruiter you’ve used in the past or a colleague who’s looking for a new professional opportunity. These sorts of introductions lay the groundwork for building relationships and eventually lead to greater opportunities.
Traditionally, accounting professionals have relied on in-person events for business development. But if you do it right, online networking can be just as effective.
Here are 3 key online networking tips:
1. Know Which Social Media Platforms to Use
Nobody has time to master every social media platform, and different social platforms are better at different things. For example, Facebook is good for building community. Instagram is great for building brand awareness with visual content. Twitter is good for quick interactions, and LinkedIn is great for detailed thought leadership. Choose one or two platforms that are best suited to your company, target clients, and goals.
2. Really Engage With Others
Don’t just schedule a few posts and “like” other people’s posts. Effective social networking requires real engagement. Create and share valuable content, respond to comments and mentions, and comment on and share other people’s posts. Schedule time each day for engagement just as you would for other important tasks.
3. Show Your Personality
You want to present a professional image on social media, but don’t forget to let your authentic self shine through as well. People tend to trust other individuals more than businesses, so be human. Post selfies, share your hobbies, and inject some humor into your social media content.
Authenticity is so important to networking that it bears repeating: Be yourself!
It’s been estimated that anywhere from 59% to 75% of accountants are introverts. Such stereotypes might be overblown, but even accountants who lean toward introversion can excel at networking. The key is to be your authentic self.
Don’t try to fake an extroverted personality or play a role you think other people will find engaging. Instead, lean into your strengths. For example, people tend to remember those who listen and ask questions as great conversationalists, and introverts tend to be good listeners, so use that skill to your advantage.
Also, remember that big networking events and conferences aren’t the only way to network. Look for opportunities to network in small group situations or invite others for a one-on-one lunch or coffee.
As Jim Rohn, professional entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, famously said: “The fortune is in the follow-up.”
Meeting someone at a networking event only to never talk to them again is a wasted opportunity. Instead, connect with them on LinkedIn by sending a personalized note. Send a short email to say you enjoyed talking to them, or share a resource or recommendation related to your conversation.
Take time to occasionally reach out to connections again to invite them to lunch or another social event. This will help you develop a rapport and turn one-off meetings into solid connections (and potential client referrals).
“Don’t fear network marketing!” says Shea Keats, founder/advisor at Breakaway Bookkeeping & Advising. “The best and fastest way to get new clients is to reach out to people who already know and like you.” This includes people in both your personal and professional networks, former and current clients, and referral partners.
And, she says, “Don’t be afraid to connect with your network multiple times. Just because they didn’t send a referral to you last month doesn’t mean they don’t have one for you this month. By following up consistently, you’ll stay top of mind. And no—it’s not annoying!”
5 Easy Networking Hacks You Can Put Into Action Today
Are you ready to get started? You don’t have to wait for the next big accounting conference or networking happy hour to start growing your network. Consider taking one or more of these steps today.
1. Update Your Social Media Profiles
If you haven’t updated your social media profiles in years, now is the time. Ensure every account has a headshot, current company and contact information, and a link to your website.
Hootsuite has some great tips for improving your social media profiles in one hour or less.
2. Reach Out to an Old Connection
Arrange a virtual or in-person coffee, or just ask how they are and what they’re up to. Share something you’ve come across that reminded you of them. Invite someone to an upcoming event, or organize a small get-together where everyone can do some networking.
This LinkedIn article has good advice for getting back in touch with old contacts without coming across as spammy.
3. Join a Peer Network
4. Block 15 Minutes to Engage on Social Media
Comment on and share other people’s posts, write a few insightful comments in groups, share helpful Q&As (that also highlight your expertise), and respond to any comments or messages you receive.
By blocking off 15 minutes every day to “do” social media you’ll get into a groove, and start to learn the types of posts that resonate with your audience and work best for you.
5. Ask for a Referral
Send a short email to 5 clients, acquaintances, friends, or family members to let them know you’re trying to build your business and asking for a referral. How do you ask for referrals? Consider timing, personalization, specificity, and rewards. Read more advice on getting referrals, including a sample email.
Remember, growing a thriving professional network is a marathon, not a sprint. Carve out some time every day, week, and month to network in-person and online.
Nurture those connections, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Eventually, small but consistent efforts will lead to new opportunities and business growth!
about the author
Janet Berry-Johnson, CPA, is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience working on both the tax and audit sides of an accounting firm. She’s passionate about helping people make sense of complicated tax and accounting topics. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Forbes, and The New York Times, and on LendingTree, Credit Karma, and Discover, among others. You can learn more about her work at jberryjohnson.com.