[IMGCAP(1)] Networking is a critical part of a CPA firm’s overall strategy. Aligning with other full-service or niche firms can lead to information sharing, referrals, and a sound support system. CPA’s can’t go it alone…we all need to reach out at some point to ensure we are moving our firms in the right direction.

With that in mind, a solid networking strategy is recommended. What I mean by this is that professionals need to put some effort into qualifying networking channels before moving forward. Otherwise, it may end up being a big waste of time. Consider one of my recent “networking” adventures.

In recent months, a CPA from the next town over contacted me. He indicated that we shared mutual relationships and invited me to lunch for what I assumed would be an opportunity for information sharing. Man, was I ever wrong. We began discussing people we both know and then I proceeded to share information on my firm, my processes, and how I envision the future. Once I had finished, I sat, waiting to receive some fresh information on practices or workflow. Instead, I sat through a lengthy description of his physical ailments, which included one exploded colon. I sat frozen wondering how I could respond to this highly personal information between fries and bites of my BLT.

What I took away from this very bizarre meeting was that CPA’s aren’t always the most adept at networking. And unfortunately there is no class in accounting school titled Networking 101…though there should be.

This networking attempt failed on both sides. First, I should have qualified the contact over the phone to ensure a positive networking experience. A few minutes on the phone or over email may have uncovered the fact that I would not receive any valuable information.

Second, the other CPA should have known better than to share such detailed personal information, especially on a first meeting. Networking between professionals needs to stay, well, professional. It’s important to understand that some personal information is okay. You can’t be all business all the time, but there is a limit.

Here are some networking basics:
1.    Establish Common Ground—Briefly discuss kids, hobbies, or current events to establish a friendly peer-to-peer environment. Just avoid tales of major surgery or organ explosions. Go for “friendly acquaintance” not “BFF.”

2.    Be Genuine—The trick to networking or connecting (what I like to call it) is to show others that you are real. If you come off fake, others see right through you. It takes practice and you have to open yourself up to new people and new ideas, but it works. During your next opportunity to “connect”…just keep it real.

3.    Qualify Networking Opportunities—Don’t agree to meet with everyone who calls you or attend every networking event. Take a moment to qualify potential networking channels. It will save you time.

I love to network with other CPA’s. I get the best referrals because they understand what is needed within the engagement. And if I’ve networked properly, they also know me well enough to know if the referral is a good fit for my firm. So, get your networking strategy in place. You’ll be glad you took the time to do so!

Jody L. Padar, CPA, MST, is a Certified Public Accountant experienced with Complex Federal & State Income Tax Compliance for Business & Individuals. Jody is an adjunct professor at Oakton Community College, where she teaches Taxation and QuickBooks Courses. She is part of Intuit Trainer Writer Network and speaks nationally on various Technologies and Taxation. Reach her at jody@matousekconsulting.com.