[IMGCAP(1)]Whether we like it or not, the accounting industry has not typically been on the cutting edge of technology.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some firms out there that are utilizing technology and that have most definitely caught the social media wave—very successfully I might add. The thing about technology is that it is constantly changing and improving. What we buy and install today is outdated sometimes in three to six months, and certainly after a year or two.

Firms that keep waiting for the perfect software to fix all of their problems get further and further behind the technology curve. The longer they wait, the more money and time it takes to invest in technology and then use it to their advantage. The firms that have embraced cutting-edge technology in one capacity or another still have their ups and downs, but they are finding it easier and faster and more efficient to help their clients, generate new business, and produce the work.

There are some firms out there that are blocking social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn; however, they allow staff to bring their smart phones to work. Now, while we don’t like to believe it, I promise you, if the sites are blocked from the work computers, employees are most certainly still accessing them from their phones. I say, if you can’t beat them, join them, and teach them how to use social media and technology to help the firm’s business grow.

I believe initially those sites were blocked because they were perceived to be time wasters, relatively unstable or unknown, and not useful for business purposes whatsoever. That might have been a good move several years ago, but not so now. The social media wave is no longer coming…it’s here crashing down upon us and it’s time to ride the wave!

So how do you take a social media site like LinkedIn and use it to grow your accounting business? First you need to get on LinkedIn and create a profile. If you are not familiar with how to do this, just ask any young staffer, or your kids for that matter. They know how to do everything when it comes to technology. Even if they have never seen the site, they understand what it means to create a profile. Plus, LinkedIn has a great step-by-step setup that you can walk through.

Here are some keys to setting up your profile. Put your picture on your profile (this will come in handy later). For the summary section, create a paragraph or three about how you help your clients, your niche areas, a specialty, or a great client success story. Make it lively and interesting. Make sure to add your firm’s Web site and your office contact information. In essence, it’s like a résumé of your life with previous positions held, educational background, etc.

Once you have a profile, now you have to begin connecting or getting LinkedIn. Start brainstorming about all the people you know personally from the club, the golf course, the sports field, church, old college friends, your neighborhood, people you sit on boards with, the parents of your kid’s friends, your family and even your spouse. Make sure to jot them down so you don’t forget them. Then brainstorm about those you know professionally. Start with your clients and referral sources like bankers and attorneys, and then move on to those you meet at networking events.

Last but not least, go through those business cards you have been collecting that are sitting in your desk drawer waiting for some type of follow-up. Now just start sending invitations to connect with those business contacts. You can search for the people on LinkedIn or just type in their email address. LinkedIn has a readymade invitation that allows you to enter up to 200 names at once and sends everyone an invite to connect with you. You may want to customize some of the invitations, but it is a generally accepted rule that you can send the readymade one.

Even if the people are not on LinkedIn, it’s OK to send them an invitation regardless. I have had two managing partners tell me they were finally getting on LinkedIn after my invitation was the sixth or seventh one they had received from a myriad of people.

Initially this may take you a little bit of time to set up. After that, you can maintain your LinkedIn presence in a few minutes a couple of times a week, depending on how active you want to be. So now that you have made connections and are linked in, how does this help your business grow?

LinkedIn is a great resource to find a contact name for prospects in your pipeline and a way to “warm up” a call or get an introduction to a possible new client. The more connections you have, the better the chance that someone in your network will know someone at a company on your prospect list.

I had a prospect on the West Coast and knew no one in the firm. I searched for the firm on LinkedIn, and it showed that one of my connections who happened to be client on the East Coast was connected to the CEO of my prospect firm. I would have never guessed those two knew each other. So I made a call to my client and he was happy to give me an introduction to the CEO.

An accountant I work with was trying to get some face time with an audit committee before her proposal went out. She could not get an introduction or access to the audit committee members. She typed their names into LinkedIn and found that an old college friend had a connection with one of the members. You guessed it: She got an introduction, built trust, and won the bid.

I could tell you one success story after another from using LinkedIn in this capacity. It is absolutely amazing. There is even a button you can press if you don’t want to pick up the phone and call for an introduction. You can send your connection a readymade invite that requests an introduction to someone they know on LinkedIn. It’s a great way to help each other out.

LinkedIn is also a great way to manage your follow-up after returning from a conference, networking event, chamber meeting or a business mixer. Gather the business cards you collected and make time the next day to send them an invite on LinkedIn to connect with you. This might take you five minutes, depending on how many cards you received. This shows you to be proactive and technologically savvy. It also immediately connects the face with the name and reminds them of whom they met at the function.

Once you are connected, now it is OK to contact them six months later for a lunch appointment, as opposed to leaving their card in your desk and ultimately throwing it away because it has been six months and you are worried they will not remember you.

LinkedIn also allows you to post PowerPoint presentations or articles that you or others have written. You can choose to send them to specific connections as a touch point. One accountant posted an article about a new franchise tax law on his profile and then sent it specifically to his clients and prospects on LinkedIn. It was another touch point to show them he was thinking about them and their business. He won two prospects from that because their current accountant had never mentioned the new franchise tax law. The LinkedIn part took him three minutes.

There are thousands of groups with many different interests on LinkedIn. Most of your popular accounting associations have groups on LinkedIn sharing questions, answers and best practices. So you can utilize the groups for educational purposes.

Another accountant was breaking into the health care niche and joined several groups to get firsthand knowledge of what was happening on the ground from all the different types of people in the health care industry. What he also found was that many of the companies that would be ideal clients for him had a lot of representation in these groups.

As he began to participate in the discussions, his name and picture were being seen multiple times. After a little time in the group, he requested some LinkedIn connections with some of the participants, and has since had several meetings with what would be an ideal client for him.

Another accountant in the construction niche joined a local construction group on LinkedIn. He found he was the only accountant in the group. Don’t think he didn’t use that to his advantage!

In a time where we are no longer order takers picking up the phone and getting new business on the other end, we have to be proactive and utilize the technological opportunities at our fingertips. We must meet the client where they are and if that means getting out of our comfort zone and getting on LinkedIn, so be it.

Most people say there are two things you can always count on: death and taxes. I would say there are three: death, taxes and change.

Business development still has the same fundamental elements like building trust, listening for problems and needs, creating value perceptions, and of course asking for the business.

Nowadays the channels in which we grow our firms have changed, and we have to change with them. In an industry that is becoming more competitive, not less, if you are not utilizing every resource at your fingertips, you might get left behind.

Julie Johnson is the vice president of The Rainmaker Academy. She is a successful business development professional, entrepreneur, speaker and training consultant dedicated to helping her clients not only gain personal revenue growth but growth for their firms. She helps her clients to understand and work through a business development process with accountability to help them achieve proven results in the market place. You can contact her at Julie@therainmakeracademy.com or (615) 373-9880.

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