One of the biggest barriers I hear potential partners tell me about is actually finding and making the time to grow their own client portfolio. After all, it is often the lack of a client following which stops so many talented accountants and business advisors make the step up to partner.
Networking is often seen as the silver bullet to generating new clients – get it right and you will find it easy to be seen as the firm's rainmaker. However all to often, accountants find their networking activities a huge drain on their time, energy and spirits.
In this blog post, I will look at what you can do to spend less time networking, but more time winning business.
1. Stop collecting contacts
Effective business networking is the process of finding, building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. So, why do so many accountants spend their time hunting for new prospects at networking events? All this ‘hunting’ activity does is collect contacts, without the all important building and maintaining part of the process.
2. Have a goal
Going networking because you feel you have to is frankly soul-destroying and a form of professional torture. In fact networking is so ingrained in so many accountancy practices psyche that going out to networking events becomes part of the way ‘we do business around here’. I've even heard of partners been subjectively managed by how often they are perceived to be 'out and about' - or in other words, a 'busy fool'.
It doesn’t need to be this way. In fact, the sooner you decide on the purpose and reason for building up a network, i.e. having a goal, the sooner you can ditch the networking events which are a waste of your time. (OK, there will always be occasions when you receive a call asking you to sub in for someone else at the last minute – but that should be the exception rather than the rule) Click here for a free (email required) step-by-step guide to building your own networking strategy.
3. Spend more time deepening relationships rather than acquiring new ones
Accountancy firms do not sell £20 widgets. (Even Cheap Accounting lowest fee package starts at £19.99 a month for sole traders) Stating the obvious, all accountants, whether specialists or general practitioners, normally complex and expensive services which come with a degree of risk. This means that intermediaries are not going to automatically recommend you, unless they are sure that you are the real deal and they like and trust you. This deepening of trust and a relationship takes time. Time which many accountantss don’t seem to want to spend on their network. Look at your networking activities and timetable. Now rebalance it so you are spending 80% of your networking time engaging with and keeping close to your existing relationships.
4. Keep close to your existing clients
Your current clients are your number one source of new work. (Most accountants 'get' this - after all, GRF is what it's all about.) But it's more than just GRF, it's your current clients becoming your number one advocate. If you only have a limited amount of free time, then use this to catch up with your existing clients to find out how they are and keep yourself top-of-mind with them.
5. Rebalance your on-line and off-line networking activities
Far too many accountants discount on-line networking. There are times when on-line is better than off-line and vice versa. For finding relationships, on-line is far superior to off-line networking tools. For building trust within a relationship, it has to be face-to-face methods of communication. If you find that you don’t have enough deep and strong relationships in your network, then allocate more time in the short term to some 1:2:1s with your network. If you are finding that you are struggling to make the time to go to networking events, then how about using on-line networking tools to make new contacts and increase the number of touch points with your existing network?
6. Build a power team
A power team is one where you bring together a complementary group of professionals, i.e. a solicitor, IFA, Surveyor, business coach etc. The team may be from within your firm or outside of your firm, or a mixture of both. The idea of a power team is that you all pool resources and contacts and work hard to refer each other into your client base. Members of a power team ideally should share a similar target audience, but have a different skill set or offering.
7. Be selective about where you network and who you network with
I’ve met some accountants who have confessed to me that they will even turn up to the opening of an envelope. You hardly need me to say this, but this is not a productive use of your non-chargeable time. If you have a networking goal and strategy and know who you want to meet, then it becomes a lot easier to decide who and where to network with. Not every group, venue, event, social networking site or contact is created equal. Click here for a free (email required) step-by-step guide to building your own networking strategy.
8. Ditch some of your network
Yes, I did say that. Ditch some of your network. Sometimes, whether for the right reasons or not, we can cling onto relationships. Relationships which may have been very promising at one point in time, but are no longer going to benefit us in the short or medium term. Running around after intermediaries who are never going to refer work to you is de-motivational and a large waste of your time. Do spend the time to track where all your referrals are coming from. If a relationship that you have invested time in is not bearing the fruit, maybe it's time to nurture another fruit tree instead.
How do you make sure your networking is fit for purpose?
About Heather Townsend
Heather Townsend is a brand ambassador for the Practice Excellence Programme, and the Founder of ‘The Accountants Millionaires’ Club’. In 2015 the ICAEW decided she was the number one online influencer for the accountancy profession. She is the author of 4 books, including The Go-To Expert, and ‘How to make partner and still have a life’ (co-authored with Jo Larbie).
Heather is always up for a challenge. Perhaps that is why she has built a track record of helping accountants grow the size of their practice by 50-200%, often in under two years. Often helping them make partner or equity partner in the process.
Heather is a high profile member of the accountancy profession in the UK. She has worked with over 300 partners, coached, trained and mentored over 2000 professionals at every level of the UK’s most ambitious professional practices. Heather's clients have included: 7 out of the Top 10 UK practices, including all the Big 4 firms.
In 2016 her and her team of coaches have coached:
1) 7 people successfully to partner
2) Professionals from all of the Big 4, from every major continent in the world
As well as helping accountants make partner, she still spends 40% of her time helping small firms, typically under £1m GRF:
1) Create profitable revenue streams from advisory services and reduce their reliance on revenue from compliance services
2) Radically increase their profitability, even if they are a cloud based practice, often helping them achieve a net profit margin of 40%+
3) Double or even triple the size of their practice within 3 years
4) Win bigger and better clients
5) Grow the right team around them so they stop working stupidly high hours and spend quality time with the people they care about
Her articles appear regularly in the UK national and trade press, including The Financial Times, Accountancy Age, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. Heather is also in-demand for her speaking and has recently returned from the South African Accountancy Academy conference.