[IMGCAP(1)] If your firm is at all marketing-oriented, you've undoubtedly heard about the importance of building your network to help get the firm's name out there, as well as for your own professional growth. When it comes to social networking, you're probably already a pro. With a bit of guidance from the firm to keep a professional focus, expanding your social media network will undoubtedly serve you well.

There is another sort of networking that can significantly add to your success as a professional. It is the old-fashioned, in person networking that provides in many ways, the best possible opportunity for relationship building. There is something about the synergy and dynamics of a face-to-face meeting that cannot be duplicated.

If you’re not sure what to say or do the next time you find yourself with a face-to-face opportunity, here are a few simple guidelines to make it easier. For starters, be prepared to answer the question, "Who are you and what do you do?" Ask someone at the firm, perhaps a marketing director or partner that you have a good relationship with, the one or two key things that the firm wants to be known for. With some guidance, put together and memorize your response to that question so you can deliver it naturally. Keep your answer to just a couple of sentences, and phrase it in a way that would be a benefit to the listener. Something simple like, “I’m Jane Smith, and I work with Jones & Co, a CPA firm that (short benefit statement here, such as “helps businesses grow”).” can be very effective. There’s no need to try to explain everything that the firm does. No one is really interested. What they are interested in is whether or not what you do could possibly benefit them.

Next, as soon as you answer their question, ask about who they are and what they do. The secret to comfortable networking in person is to not talk about yourself, but to ask questions to get the other person to talk about themselves and their business. The truth is that people are much more interested in talking about themselves and telling their story, than they are in hearing our story. Use this to your advantage when networking, because the more you learn about the other person, the greater the possibility of building a relationship and uncovering an opportunity.

Qualifying potential relationships, and deciding which ones you want to pursue, and which ones you don’t is an important part of building your professional network.

What are some experiences you’ve had with in person networking? What works well? What are the challenges?

As a consultant and trainer for the past two decades, Rick Solomon, CPA, both challenges and empowers accountants to reach higher levels of success. Making more money in fewer hours, doing more enjoyable work, and having an awesome life/work balance are just part of how he defines success. He is chief executive of RAN ONE Americas.