[IMGCAP(1)]In some parts of the world the business card is revered and is handed out as well as received with a great deal of respect and honor.

In the Asian business culture, when giving out a business card, one holds it with both hands, nods to the soon-to-be recipient, and then releases the card to the person one is facing. It is proper business etiquette and protocol for the recipient of the card to take the business card with both hands and look and read the card that was just presented to them.

I recently learned this honored tradition the hard way while attending an Asian trade show. I had no idea and was very embarrassed when I found out that I happened to be 10 for 10 in things not to do when exchanging business cards. I was wondering why so many of the people I was handing my business cards to — or should I say dealing out my business cards to like a Las Vegas Blackjack dealer — had such a look of horror on their faces. I had my cards going out of my wallet like a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

Then when I was receiving them, I was like a vacuum cleaner sucking them into my pocket. Never once did I take the time to read the card. I’m sure the individual who invited me was very proud of his guest.

The business card, no matter how you present it or receive it, tells the world who you are. Or does it? Because accounting just happens to be an exacting profession, most business cards from accounting firms will have a combination of the following: the name of the firm, the person’s name and title, work address, other locations, logo, e-mail address, fax number, accounting association affiliations, website, mission statement, vision statement, direct office phone, cell phone, social media icons, assistant’s name and contact info, service offerings menu, tagline, other entities within the firm, general office phone number and/or a direct voicemail number.

Thank goodness the trend is for using the backside of business cards. Otherwise you would need to pass out a magnifying glass with each card.

There are two accountants from two different firms sitting in the same reception room waiting to see the same business owner to pitch their respective firm’s services to that business owner. (I know, it sounds like the setup to a bad joke, but this is not funny.) The business owner, being a smart individual, calls in both accountants to see them together.

“But we are from two different firms,” pleads one of the accountants. “Why is he going to see us at the same time?”

While looking at both business cards, the business owner states that he has heard of each firm, so he is not dealing with unknowns but doesn’t really know them well. The business owner sees that both firms are local, according to the addresses on the business cards.

According to their mission statement or vision statement, both firms in so many words are committed to their clients and offer outstanding service and are both proactive in meeting the needs of clients. The business owner asks the accountants the size of each firm, and both are very close in size. Same thing when he asks about the services they provide. Both accountants reply with a similar menu of service offerings. Finally the business owner asks about the tests and certifications it took for them to both become CPAs. Both reply with the same answers, almost like a duet trying out for a choir.

With that the business owner leans back in his chair, looks at both accountants, takes both business cards, puts them together, and then rips them in half, only leaving the name of each accountant on the remaining portion of their business card. He then puts just the name portion of their business card in front of each accountant. Then the business owner leans back in his chair, looks at each accountant, and says, “OK, you both are CPAs, same-size firms, with the same services. Both offices are close by and you both say you are committed to your clients. So that’s all a given. You both are on an equal playing field. Now what are you going to bring to the table to help me better run my business than the accountant sitting next to you?”

Does someone say, “But we’re value added”?

While this scenario may be a bit extreme in having both accountants sitting next to each other at the same time, it does happen every day, though separately. Other firms are calling on your clients. It’s not always the quality of services your firm offers that makes a difference in a relationship, but the other resources you, as the one responsible for the relationship, bring to the client.

How can you assist your client to grow in addition to performing your firm’s usual work? Become a resource of non-accounting resources for your clients. Is your client looking to hire someone and you happen to know someone that you can refer? Is your client looking for a new banker, attorney, insurance agent, consultant, graphic designer, cleaning service for their office, tickets to a football game, a baby sitter for their kids, and the list goes on.

Communicate with clients to strengthen your relationship with them and to uncover things you can do for them or help them with other than accounting services. You can’t be a resource of resources if you don’t talk to your clients. Become a resource of resources for your prospects and referral sources too.

You can be the differential between your firm and another firm. Everyone you meet can either become a new client for you or they could help out a client you already have.
Lesson to be learned: Be respectful with those business cards.

Nicholas D. Keseric Jr. is the director of practice growth with Mulcahy, Pauritsch, Salvador & Co, a Chicago-area middle-market CPA firm, and a partner with MPS Capital Advisors-Mergers & Acquisitions.

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