Whether you work in a brand new start-up or a well-established tax and accounting practice, networking is critical to success. People say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it wasn’t built by just one person, either. There is immeasurable benefit in connecting with key players inside and outside the profession; we all have something to learn and something to teach others.
Connections are the bread and butter of a high-quality network. However, many people are reluctant to connect with others in their profession due to the perceived threat of competition. Don’t think of these players as rivals and that connecting with them is off-limits. We are all each other’s peers, and there are more than enough leads and opportunities for everyone!
Connecting with colleagues is mutually beneficial because you often face many of the same external forces and challenges; as a result, you benefit from a strategic alliance. Sharing your experience and knowledge, and your victories and struggles, allows everyone to better navigate the profession.
I’m not encouraging you to go out and connect with executives from every competitor under the sun and share your secret sauce, but if you make a good connection with a key player from a competing firm at a trade show, for example, it’s worth reaching out to see if they are interested in continuing the relationship.
Connections with suppliers, distributors, merchandisers, consultants and other professionals outside the profession are often just as important. Whether you’re networking inside or outside the profession, your goal should be to achieve quality over quantity. Instead of connecting with as many as possible, be super intentional about connecting with those more likely to engage with you and maintain a long-term reciprocal strategic relationship. In addition, don’t just connect with people you’ve met in person; be proactive and discover people around the world who make strategic sense to you and your firm.
Technology provides an amazing opportunity to discover, connect and develop relationships. It would be silly not to take full advantage of it and use it to enhance your social network. There are many platforms and tools available to you, and depending on your niche, some may be more relevant than others.
LinkedIn. I couldn’t write about enhancing your social network without mentioning the king of all networking platforms. LinkedIn started off in the early 2000s helping jobseekers find open positions. Today, with more than 645 million members, it’s used for networking, lead generation, posting valuable content and generating visibility for your brand.
Before making connections, you’ll want to make sure you have a complete and robust profile; people will be reluctant to connect with you if they don’t recognize you or if you don’t seem invested. Then, begin posting informative content, link yourself to your organization and start making connections.
My advice when using LinkedIn is to be active and engaged. Don’t simply invite someone to connect and let the connection end; be proactive and send prospective connections a personalized message. For example: “Hey Julie! It was great meeting you last week at the conference. I enjoyed our conversation about how technology is affecting us and would love to continue our discussion soon.” Or, if you’ve never met, you could say something like, “Hello Ramon! I see that we have some mutual contacts, and it looks like we work in the same profession. I thought I would reach out and introduce myself.”
You’ll find some people don’t respond, while others are eager to make a genuine connection. These contacts are invaluable, so pay attention to those who are receptive. Think of LinkedIn as networking command central where you can discover, interact, connect and exchange value. The sky’s the limit!
Social Media. Social media provides an unprecedented opportunity to connect with colleagues and customers in real-time, so why not take full advantage of it?
The social media platform you leverage most will depend on your specific niche. In addition to LinkedIn, consider Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. All of these are incredibly different and appeal to different demographics and psychographics, so determining where your connections are most active can help you decide which platform to focus on. Begin showcasing who you are, giving a face to your social media account so you’re easier to recognize when people are looking to connect.
To make connections, find pages on the platform, join relevant groups and start engaging with members. When connecting on social media, remember to focus on the strategic relationships you’re creating instead of the number of follows and likes.
CRM Tools. You may also want to consider using a customer relationship management (CRM) tool to help you keep track of your contacts. CRM tools aren’t just useful in managing your clients’ information; they also come in handy to manage professional and non-professional contacts as well.
At Pure, we use Insightly to create a contact and add any associated tasks, such as “invite John Smith to company luncheon in March.” We also take notes on conversations, link contacts to their organization for better management, associate them with larger projects, and make notes of important dates.
Other CRM tools include Zoho CRM and Salesforce. Regardless of which tool you use, tracking and managing your connections will provide you more visibility and interactivity with the people in your network.
Now that you have several high-quality connections on LinkedIn, followed and interacted with them on social media, and added them to your CRM, how do you stay connected?
First, know that it is virtually impossible to stay genuinely connected with thousands of people. Be intentional and decide which contacts to prioritize. Spend your time wisely, and only engage with the contacts that make the most strategic sense for you and your firm.
Second, when engaging with your connections, try to steer away from sending too many emails. Our email inboxes are way too full, so instead, send them a direct message on Instagram, post an endorsement on LinkedIn, or pick up the phone and actually talk to your priority connections. Not only will this break up everyone’s workday; it is much more personal and paves the way for a more genuine connection.
You are busy, they are busy; everyone is busy. Be as intentional as possible. The profession changes overnight due to technological advances, so accept the fact that it’s impossible to figure everything out on your own. Find reciprocal allies, overcome challenges to succeed, and leverage the power of technology to develop and maintain genuine connections.