By Mark Lee, Chairman of Tax Advice Network, Author, Blogger
There is an old adage that ‘People buy from people whom they know, like and trust’. Translated into the world of accountants, this means that it’s easier to win new clients and new fees only after people have got to know you, to like what they know about you and to trust you.
During my talk at the Sage ‘Future of Accounting’ Roadshow in Cork I stressed some related points.
It is clear to me that, so far as accountants are concerned Online Networking is often best regarded simply as a precursor to Offline (or face to face) networking. You can save a great deal of time by engaging online before you arrange to meet anyone – be they prospective new clients, influencers, referrers or recruits.
After all, face to face networking generally involves meeting strangers. The outcome will always be more profitable if you have engaged online beforehand. This enables you to generate some initial understanding and common ground before you meet up. So it should also mean you can avoid spending time travelling to meetings with time-wasters.
How else can accountants combine online and offline networking? Here are seven practical ways you can do this:
1. Reinforcing an interest or focus in a specific niche area
Online you will want to focus on your expertise in a specific area or sector. Face to face you can show you really know what you’re talking about. Your passion, experience and focus will always be more apparent ‘live’ than is possible to convey online.
2. Evidencing expertise and skills
There is a limit as to how compelling will be your profiles and online conversations. It is much easier to evidence genuine, relevant and commercial expertise face to face.
3. Finding like-minded people
Linkedin provides a fabulous opportunity to find prospective clients, influencers and referrers in local groups. Even if you engage with them online, they will only really get to know you (and vice versa) if you then follow up and meet offline.
4. Finding collaborators
You can use the advanced search facility on LinkedIn to find people with a similar focus to you. It’s good to know what the competition is upto; you might however determine that you could collaborate. You will invariably want to meet with someone though before you agree to refer clients to them, or vice versa.
5. Generating referrals
Many is the time I have attended a networking event when someone I have not met before greets me warmly. This tends only to happen if we have engaged online beforehand! And they then go on to make some positive comments about the help, support and expertise I have evidenced online. This is great as the other people with whom I am speaking get to hear about me from a third person – which is always more powerful than if you attempt self-promotion.
6. Benefiting from Recommendations
If someone recommends your services on LinkedIn, why not ask them to lunch or meet up for a coffee? Build on the relationship. Do not confuse Recommendations – serious business focused reviews – with the newer ‘endorsements’ facility which is more of a game.
7. Recognising each other
Ideally your online profiles will include a consistent, current, professional photo such that you are easily recognised when you meet face to face. When people eventually meet you they may feel that they already know you – and vice versa. Indeed, they may be well down the route of knowing you, liking you and trusting you.