Networking is an important aspect of doing business in the accounting world, where personal, authentic relationships really do count. It does not have to be formal networking, per se, as connections can be made anywhere, anytime you are around other people (virtually on social media or in person at the airport, the supermarket, the dog park, PTO meetings, etc.).
What matters most is that you begin to build your network, both professional and personal, early in your career. It will pay many dividends along the way—whether you are looking for your very first job as an accountant, developing a client base, or considering a mid-career move—the more people you know, the better your prospects for success.
In this blog post, I will de-mystify networking and provide some tips for becoming a powerful networker. Let’s first define networking: “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.” Networking is a two-way street, with both parties benefitting in some way from the relationship in the near- or long-term.
It is essential to grow and maintain your contacts over time in ever widening circles. Here are some ways to kickstart that process:
When starting out, make a commitment to actively participate in organized networking events. Set a goal to attend at least two events per month. This can include your company’s sponsored get-togethers, alumni reunions, professional organization mixers or meetings, and events identified by friends and colleagues. Identifying events and then showing up is half the battle!
Being in a networking environment with like-minded professionals only pays off if you introduce yourself. It’s not a time to be shy. So, wave or tap elbows (whatever you are comfortable with!), ask others what brough them to the event, and be interested in what they have to say. Take mental notes that you can write down and refer to later. It also helps to have a rehearsed “elevator speech” handy to introduce yourself in a confident, polished manner.
Who should be in your referral sources contact list? If you are a public accountant, I suggest you build relationships with bankers, attorneys, wealth advisors and investors to start. Of course, there are many more types of businesses to connect with. These four can get you started and targeted when at virtual or in-person events.
Consider joining groups of interest or volunteering your time as another way to make new friends. You never know who will turn out to be a potential client or referral source. Casually talking about your work life can spark further conversation and plant seeds for growing your business. It’s all about fostering relationship and building rapport, since people like to do business with people they trust, know and like.
For public accountants, check out the AICPA, state CPA societies and accounting firm alliances (i.e. AGN International) for national and local events to attend. You may also look into niche associations or young professional groups to expand your circle.
Following a networking session or chance encounter, keep yourself and your company on the minds of people you just met by sending “Let’s keep in touch” email messages and connecting via LinkedIn. It is most effective to do this right after making someone’s acquaintance while you are fresh in their memory. Then, continue to maintain an online presence through occasional social media posts that resonate with your target audience and establish your expertise.
Invite a colleague or friend to join you if you are going to a work event, online roundtable, networking happy hour or other social gathering. Even if they can’t make it, you have reached out to expand your relationship by letting them know you were thinking about them.
Everyday life presents countless opportunities to make an impression in all sorts of places. For example, say “hello” to passengers on the elevator rather than looking straight ahead. And try putting down your phone or iPad and make eye contact with the person next to you at meetings or in a coffee shop. If others don’t initiate, you can by first making small talk (i.e. ask how their day is going) and then, move to a professional exchange of ideas. If you want them to be part of your network, offer to exchange contact information with them. When in an online setting, use the chat feature to start conversations and ask for virtual meetings outside of the current event or ask if they are interested in connecting on LinkedIn.
Networking results build exponentially. The word of mouth phenomenon eventually kicks in, and people recommend each other to third parties (i.e. when asked if they know a good CPA). Someone may mention your name and someone else will chime in that they also know you. In no time, you will have established your reputation and expanded your reach.
As your career progresses, your network will continue to grow and support you, helping you do better in your job and making it easier to change jobs if/when you choose to. Remember, everyone you meet can end up being a part of your team.
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