Being an accountant or a CPA also requires learning how to sell yourself and your firm’s services. Larger firms typically have someone responsible for marketing and business development, but smaller and one-person firms must know how to do it all if they want to compete and differentiate themselves.
Most towns and cities offer a multitude of places for you to attend networking events and meet other business owners who can either promote or utilize your services.
- Chambers of Commerce
- Economic Development organizations
- Rotary Clubs
- Small Business Clubs
- Business Network International (BNI groups)
- Young Professional Networks (YPO)
- Other lead sharing groups
- Networking events for startup companies and entrepreneurs
The biggest challenges most people have when attending networking events is feeling comfortable promoting themselves. This requires stepping outside of your comfort zone for many people. It’s not easy – but it can be very rewarding.
Below are some tips for how to maximize networking events and promote yourself and your business.
- Get a “promo buddy”: For those of you who may be shy and don’t feel comfortable walking up to someone and talking about yourself, I highly recommend attending these events with – what I endearingly refer to as – a “promo buddy.” A promo buddy is someone who knows you and has a business that doesn’t compete with yours. When you attend events you both approach people and you introduce each other to the person or group. For example, “Hi, have you met my friend Sarena? She’s the owner of Smart Accounting Solutions and she’s really good at helping small businesses who need their books cleaned up. She’s also really savvy when it comes to identifying and using the latest cloud-based apps for small businesses. Have you ever had an accountant who wants to actually help you grow your business? Well Sarena is the best at this!” It’s usually easier to brag about someone else than it is to talk about yourself, so this is a great way to get introduced at networking events and get comfortable with approaching people and pitching someone else’s services. And remember, knowing how to promote others is promoting yourself.
- Identify and share your unique value proposition: If someone asked you today what makes your accounting practice different from others, what would you say? Whatever that is – that’s your unique value proposition, also known as your unique selling proposition (USP). This should be a simple statement that’s easy to remember, and easy for the people you share it with to remember. Your unique selling proposition isn’t meant to appeal to everyone. On the contrary—you want a USP that is attractive and effective to your niche audience. This will help you advertise and market your business alongside competitors while carving out a market share all your own. Try it out on different people and ask them if they get what you do and why you’re different.
- Give away an item for raffle: This is a great way to have your name and your firm’s name shared with everyone at the event. Depending on the type of networking event, you may even be able to set-up a table displaying the item you’re giving away and include your marketing materials on the table (i.e. brochures, business cards, case study). Keep this item under $50 and make sure the raffle item reflects your company culture and belief system. For example, if you pride yourself on being a paperless accounting office don’t have your donation be a product that is bad for the environment. Gift cards to one of your client’s businesses make a nice raffle item. This way you are promoting yourself while promoting one of your client’s businesses. This shows the people at the networking event that you are a creative accountant and you care about your clients. It’s a win-win!
- Offer pro-bono services to startups: There are more companies starting up now than any other time in history. Entrepreneurship seems to be the sexy word these days – you should capitalize on this. Startups can make excellent clients – especially the ones that are already funded, but there are many startups who have a great product or service, but haven’t yet received the funding they need to scale their business quickly. I recommend taking on one or two of these clients pro bono. Be clear about the types of services you will provide to them and how long. Be sure you document what you will and will not do so the pro bono services are clear. Many cities now have networking events that target entrepreneurs and early stage companies. Your local chamber, economic development organization, or university should be a good place to start to identify the types of groups there are and where/when they meet. Attend their events, listen to their stories, and when the time is right – offer your services. I recommend doing some due diligence on the company before you jump in to offer your services, so spend some time with them and their co-founders, ask them for their business plan, and see if you think they’d make a good client for you. Hopefully they’ll get funded and make some sales so they can begin paying you. Don’t ask them to pay you for services already rendered. For one, investors typically don’t allow startups to fund debt with their investment, and if you’re offering pro bono services, stick to that offer.
- Deliver a presentation on a topic (but don’t sell): Some networking events allow their members to deliver educational content to the group. It’s important that your content is educational and not salesy – that is unless they ask you to share your sales pitch to the group (BNI does this because the nature of this group is to pass leads among the group). If you get the opportunity to deliver an educational presentation create a short (10-15 slide deck) and nicely designed presentation on a topic that you have expertise in. For example, you could present 5 tips for maximizing profits, or how to avoid tax pitfalls. A great place to post your presentations is on Slideshare. Create an account (it’s free – they are owned by Linkedin) and upload your slides. It’s a great way for you to build your thought leadership around certain topics (like I did above in this article when I linked you to my presentation on stepping outside of your comfort zone). You can also embed the Slideshare widget onto your Linkedin profile.
I hope these tips help you step outside of your comfort zone and win more clients. Please let me know if these tips work for you, or if you have other suggestions. Best of luck to you!