What you should know about who you should know.
The typical, cynical version of the line goes like this: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Usually meaning that it – fill in the blank: getting into college, getting a job, getting a promotion – has everything to do with connections, and nothing to do with merit.
Well, phooey. (Pardon the strong language.) Connections are a good thing, and you don’t have to feel bad about actively pursuing them. It just makes sense: if you’re seeking professional advice, information, camaraderie (or, yes, a new job or new clients), turn to fellow professionals.
Networking is not a shortcut, or a replacement for doing a good job; it’s part of life in the business world – another widget in the toolbox you use to gain knowledge, expand skills, build business, identify opportunities and advance your career.
And like any part of that life, a little preparation on your part will go a long way.
Step One: Get real, not just virtual.
These days, when someone says “networking,” we’re pretty much conditioned to think “online,” as in social networking. Which is an incredibly powerful tool for interacting with far-flung contacts and tapping the wisdom of the hive. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter – they’re big for a reason.
So use them to their best advantage. (We certainly do). Just keep a couple of things in mind. Don’t overdo it – it’s not about “how many you know.” Set up shop on few sites or message boards where you can be an active participant and nurture your online presence. Being a one-comment-wonder in a dozen places doesn’t really do you any good. And friending everyone you come across? Well, that’s just…wrong. (Besides being really hard to keep track of. You still have a day job, remember.)
But don’t use these digital godsends to the exclusion of meeting real, live people. An amazing amount of connections will always get made with the accompaniment of piano music and cocktail napkins. And it’s still the best way to figure out what the local scene is really like. Which leads to…
Step Two: Get over yourself.
No, seriously, you’re great. You’ve taken the time to target a specific event that’ll give you a chance to mingle with some great potential contacts. You’ve researched the topic of the event, and thought about questions you might want to ask. You’ve got a pocket full of business cards, a carefully lettered nametag and a pen at the ready. You went to the dry cleaner. You brushed your teeth.
Well, guess what. You’re not the only one in the room who’s trying to hit their magic “people I need to talk to” number, or looking for an in, or swallowing hard and slapping a smile on their face. You’re at a networking event, after all.
So, to achieve your main goal – creating a powerful web of business connections that you’ll be able to draw on in the future – you need to step outside yourself a little bit. Pay close attention to the goals of the people you meet. Think about how you can be part of someone else’s network for a change.
It’s a truism because it’s true: We’re all in this together. That’s kind of the point of a network. And the good news is that, in addition to being helpful, when you do a good deed you’re also demonstrating that you can be an asset for others. You become the kind of person people turn to, the go-getter they want on their teams and committees. And – bingo! – all of the sudden you realize you’re building your own network, after all.
Step Three: Get practical.
Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard this all before. (And if you haven’t, here’s a list of articles with more detail on this subject that you might want to read.) But what should you actually do?
You’ve come to the right place.
The AICPA is all about networking. There are innumerable places for you to plug in, whether you just want to dip your toe in the water or you’re ready to dive in headfirst. Take a look:
Community: A great online oasis where you can start your meeting of the minds. Share questions, answers and ideas with CPAs who share your outlook and concerns. Watch the tips fly, and the connections take hold.
Conferences: Find out where you can get together with a few dozen or a few hundred of your closest professional friends. Swap stories over morning coffee, compare notes after the keynote. Mingle. Don’t forget to smile.
Committees: With so much work to be done, you will almost never be turned away from serving on a committee. Especially when there are 180 or so to choose from. Find the one (or more…) that speaks to you.
Volunteering: In addition to all your committee and task force options, there are other ways to get involved in your local community, through financial literacy programs, and audit committees that promote good corporate and non-profit governance.
Advocacy: Take a stand! Put your knowledge and persuasive powers to productive use at the state or national level, promoting the legislative or regulatory interests of CPAs and the public at large.
State Associations: Get connected to the goings-on in your state, and discover a whole new level of opportunities for involvement.
Want to read a little more?
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