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.
The biggest challenge 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.
How to get the most out of networking events
If you have a conference or other networking event coming up soon, here are a few tips to help you connect with other attendees and potentially earn new customers.
1. Set goals to meet new people
When attending conferences and events it can be all too easy to never actually meet anyone. You may engage in small talk, sit through seminars, and even pick up a business card or two—but never actually meet anyone. Before you attend, set the goal to meet at least 1-2 new people and actually introduce yourself beyond just chit-chatting. Get to know their business, why they’re choosing to attend, share insights you’ve already gained, and so on.
This can help you avoid just gravitating toward people you already know and potentially make new long-term connections. If it’s a remote conference, be sure to engage in any hangout sessions or breakout events. Leave your LinkedIn, email, or other contact info in the chat and mention that you’re looking to connect with people from specific industries or fields of expertise.
If you take the first step and make yourself approachable, it will only improve your chances of actually connecting with new people. Get past uncertainty and be willing to engage as much as possible.
2. Work with your connections
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. 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. It can also showcase how valuable you are as a potential partner and that you’re willing to promote your friends’ work.
3. 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.
Additionally, if you have access to who will be attending ahead of time, or at least have a general idea of who might attend, you can work to tailor your UVP toward their specific needs. This can help you better approach different individuals and make natural connections by identifying a need that you can help solve.
4. Give something away
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 or service 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!
5. Offer pro-bono services to startups
Startups can make excellent clients – especially the ones that are already funded, but there are many startups that 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. 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.
6. 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.
Now, while you want to avoid being overly salesy, you can offer a special promotion for those that attend. The goal is to showcase your expertise and pique attendees’ interest so that they’re more likely to seek you out and participate in the promotion.
Get outside of your comfort zone and keep networking
I hope these tips help you step outside of your comfort zone and win more clients. Be sure to keep looking for opportunities to network in both small and large-scale environments—even remotely. If you want to practice these tips for yourself with other advisors and accountants like yourself, you may want to consider signing up for LivePlan’s Strategic Advisor Bootcamp. Click here to learn more about how you can upgrade your financial advising and bookkeeping services using the LivePlan Method.
Please let me know if these tips work for you, or if you have other suggestions. Best of luck to you!