Networker: just one cup of coffee

THE REACTION to my first networker column reminded me that the ‘art of networking is still very much misunderstood within accountancy. When I say ‘networking’, most people instantly think that this means going out to an ‘event’ at which they will need to talk to strangers with the hope of winning work.

While the skill of being able to build rapport and converse with anyone is vital for any accountant, the time-honoured tradition of being able to work a room is now not so important for today’s successful networker.

Today’s successful networker has realised that networking is not the start of the sales process but the start of the relationship-building process: there is a myth that it takes only one cup of coffee to win work via your network.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you truly believe that all it takes is one cup of coffee then I would suggest that you are prospecting for clients when networking rather than focusing on building up strategically important relationships.

When I say strategically important, these are the people who can provide you with introductions to the people who matter or a steady stream of referrals. To be clear here, like anyone with business development responsibilities, I love accidentally meeting potential clients when networking.

Another networking myth is that it is all about meeting and talking with strangers. So many of us hate socialising with strangers, so why put yourself through this exquisite form of professional torture? Why not use your networking time to interact and reconnect with your existing network, such as your clients and particularly other professional advisors, such as lawyers, who you have worked together with on client assignments.

I would place a large bet these are the relationships that, if focused on, are more likely to generate you new business month in, month out. Many networkers subscribe to the view that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to meet a prince but I beg to differ.

The more targeted and selective you are about who you want to meet and how you will meet them then the higher rate of return you will achieve for your time spent networking. In my first column I talked about the chargeable time we waste by trying to kiss as many frogs as possible.

Finally, there is this old-fashioned view still that you have to go out to network. I disagree: how many of the partners and client-facing members of your practice could refer work to you?

We often forget that our peers and colleagues are gatekeepers to a large network of clients that might benefit from more than just one of the firm’s services. Once you have navigated the tricky little problem of who actually owns the client – and who gets the credit for the additional fees – then it is win-win for everyone concerned.

In your opinion, is there an art to networking or is it a science?

Heather Townsend is author of The Financial Times Guide To Business Networking and a specialist in working with accountants. Heather regularly blogs at Partnership Potential and Joined Up Networking.

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