Darren Fleming

Six networking tips to supercharge your business in 2019

As the end of the year approaches and a new one begins, now is a good time to consider some key points in broadening your accounting network and taking your firm to the next level.

There comes a time when you need to generate new business outside of your current clients. How you do this is partly dependent on the level of cash you want to invest in growing. You could put an ad in the paper, run advertising with Google or get out and network. The first two are easy, but can be expensive if not executed by professionals. Networking is a lot more affordable and yield greater results if you adopt the right strategy. Unfortunately, most accountants don’t use an appropriate strategy and never achieve the results they need.

Choose your event

There are two types of networking events you can consider. The first is accounting industry networking events. This is where accountants hang out with each other. These events are great for professional contacts, but terrible for generating new business. After all, how many accountants go to accountant networking events looking to engage an accountant!  The events you should attend is based on what you know.

Specialise your knowledge

Pick an industry that you like working with and you have knowledge of the issues it faces. It might be wine makers, or food manufacturers. You want to go beyond just the generic issues that all small businesses have and focus on what is specific to that industry. This way you have something to talk about. These events are where you go to network.

Curiosity wins

The strategy to adopt at these events is one of curiosity. Be curious of those there and how their business is going. Ask general, open-ended questions to find out about their business and their concerns. Ask specific questions about what you know they will have issues with. If there has been a recent change in legislation, ask if they know about that. Before going to the event, work out what these questions will be. Practice asking them.

Being curious gives you two advantages. First, it gives you something to talk about with strangers. It helps you avoid those awkward moments of standing around in silence before asking about the weather. The second is it gives you strength in what you say. You may not have the experience to talk about the production side of their business, but you are qualified to speak about the numbers and compliance sides of what they do.

Listen and probe

When they tell you about their business issues, simply listen and tell them you see that a lot. Probe a little deeper to really understand their problems. You’ll be surprised at how much people like to talk about their problems when someone asks!

At the right time, offer a small diagnosis of what you see happening. Tell them you work with clients like this all the time and that you should catch up to discuss what can be done about it. Then ask for their card and offer to call them the following day.

At no time attempt to sell them anything. Networking events are for networking – not selling. Resist the temptation to tell them what they need to do to fix their issues. If you tell them what to do, you’ll have nothing to sell them!

Talking about yourself

When people ask you about what you do, be easy to be pigeon-holed. It might just be as simple as ‘I’m an accountant and specialise in the wine industry. I’ve come here because a lot of my clients come to these events.’ Follow this up with a question about them. This strategy works well because at networking events people don’t want to have to think too hard about you, so make it easy for them.

If you tell people you’re a business growth expert, and then rattle off your unique selling proposition, two things will happen. First, they wont be able to simply categorise you. This causes confusion on their part. The second is your USP sounds all salesy and does not invite further conversation.

The follow up

Following up is what networking is all about. If you don’t follow up, you may as well not have gone out. The follow up is not about catching up for a coffee, but rather discussing the possibility of doing business together. Sure, you might meet in a coffee shop with a skinny latte, but the aim of the meeting is to talk business. Make this the focus from the start and it will be much easier to guide the conversation as needed so you can grow your practice.

Happy networking.

Darren Fleming, engagement expert, Darren Fleming & Executive Speaking

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