By now, you’ve probably received quite a bit of advice and guidance on how to network. As a young accounting professional, networking is important because it can help you build business and enhance your company’s reputation.
However, there’s one MAJOR problem all of us experience at one time or another: we fail to network with the kinds of groups or with individuals who will do us the most good. Instead of forming long-term relationships to exchange referrals, you’re left feeling as if you’re just spinning your wheels.
It may come very naturally for you to network by “working a room” in a social situation by trying to meet as many people as possible. You may even volunteer for local nonprofits to do some good for the community as well as meet with other professionals who have like-minded ideals. Perhaps you even ask your clients for referrals—and if you do, good for you! Most professionals forget that step.
The key is to follow up in order to take the relationship to the next level, but at some point, you’ve figured out that the relationship just isn’t going anywhere. Why? Because the referral isn’t the right kind of referral.
When we meet someone new and exchange referrals, most of us come up with three or so names pretty quickly just to get the person off our backs and move forward with our work. For example, let’s say you meet someone who sells diet food plans. Everyone has to make a living, right?
What we tend to do is figure out how we can gracefully get out of the meeting as quickly as possible. Through no fault of your own, you have been placed in a situation that is uncomfortable. It’s true you could have known the person sold diet plans before you decided to meet, but sometimes people have a not-so-obvious agenda that is neither of interest to you nor of any value to help you with your personal and professional goals.
While you want to bolt, perhaps you haven’t thought this through. If you can help your source who sells diet plans, what’s to say he or she can’t provide you qualified referrals to your firm or business?
It all boils down to listening and paying attention. Find a way to turn around the conversation into something really useful. Think positively about the meeting and realize that even though a referral may not materialize right away for you, it may come at some point in the future.
So, instead of providing three random names to the diet plan person, take the time to listen to what makes a truly qualified, warm or hot referral. Be like a sponge and absorb the information. Find some kind of bridge or connection to what the person is telling you, and then think about whom you would recommend the person to meet. There may be a handful of people or there may be no one at all, at least right away. But, if you’re out in the community and networking, chances are at some point you’ll find a good referral who is a good fit.
Of course, you can’t create a commonality with another person all the time. There will be instances in which there could be no connection at all. Still, effective networking isn’t about quantity—it’s about quality. Think about this in your own firm or business. If you’re a CPA who specializes in franchise tax, why would you want a referral to a business that doesn’t need to file a return in this area? What’s the problem here? The person giving you the referral didn’t take the time to listen to what you needed! Perhaps it was your fault, though; did you tell your networking friend you specialize in franchise tax?
Networking, or putting yourself in a social situation to increase your business, and sometimes personal, connections, isn’t easy. It takes time, energy, and the ability to pay attention to what the other person needs. Once you do that, referrals will occur almost organically and you’ll become the go-to person in your firm or company; the person whose reputation says, “I know how to make great connections.” That’s what networking is all about.