[IMGCAP(1)]Networking is one of the simplest tools you can use to maximize your accounting firm’s business opportunities and increase your connections with potential clients.

It is also considered difficult for many reasons. A master networker is usually not the loudest, pushiest person in the room. A master networker simply uses his or her voice to make genuine connections.

Networking can happen virtually anywhere and certainly at more than designated networking events. Are you an amateur photographer? Are you a craft beer enthusiast? Interested in competing in triathlons? What about spelunking? Figure out what it is you like to do, and the type of people you would like to be around, because there is probably a group of people who are interested in or doing the same thing as you.

Think about how often you strike up a conversation with someone at your child’s sporting event or birthday party. Potential clients may be fellow committee members and volunteers, alumni, sorority or fraternity members, or those you attend religious services with. Many of the people you interact with work somewhere, and many of the places they work at will need your services now or in the near future. It’s just a matter of finding the right people and the right place for you.

Working through your initial fear of meeting new people, introducing yourself and thinking of something intelligent to say can be daunting. I’ve worked with clients who self-identify as what many consider to be the classic CPA mold:

“I’m an introvert.”
“I keep to myself.”
“I’m really shy.”
“I don’t like meeting new people.”
“I have social anxiety.”

Networking is not necessarily a skill that you’re born with. If you aren’t comfortable networking yet, you will find that it becomes easier the more you do it. Similar to learning a new language or something that you want to improve, it gets better with practice. Just think about how great you’ll feel when the managing partner acknowledges you for bringing in a new client.

Accounting is a relationship business, and one of the best methods to get more business is to continue networking and building relationships with your current clients. If you’re not comfortable introducing yourself to someone you don’t know at a networking event, start by asking current clients for referrals, or if they know of similar businesses that would be in need of your services, and don’t forget to ask for introductions!

Indeed, networking is not a cure-all for what ails you, but it is certainly a tool to challenge yourself while making connections.

It Takes Time
It’s easy to sit behind your computer, connect with people online and consider that networking. But always remember the human aspect of connecting: a firm handshake, eye contact, asking questions, nodding throughout the conversation and actually listening.

By all means, connect with people you meet online, send emails, updates, links to articles, etc. Likewise, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and invite them to coffee or lunch. That is how meaningful conversations and ultimately good relationships are made.

While it’s possible to land a new client during your first meeting at a networking event, it’s highly unlikely. Research shows that it takes multiple interactions for an individual to be comfortable doing business with you and your firm. A colleague recently told me she receives emails from a hair and nail salon at least once a week. The majority of the time, she deletes them without reading them, but recently, she was reminded by her daughter that it was time for a hair and nail day. Guess which salon they went to?

Keep going! Not to the point of stalking or weekly emails, but understand that networking is not a three strikes and you’re out deal. You’re busy and working, and they’re busy and working too.

Maintain communication to ensure that you and your firm are who they think of when they or someone they know is in need of a service you can provide.

Cheryl Oribabor is a senior marketing consultant and life coach with Tierney Coaching & Consulting, Inc., she serves multi-partner CPA firms across the country, offering customized marketing plans, business development coaching, leadership development programs and LinkedIn training. Cheryl can be reached at (856) 441-0577 or Cheryl@CPAMarketingConsultant.com.

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