Networking when you’re new in practice

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Mark Lee offers clarification, advice and tips that are especially relevant for start-up practices that plan to attend networking events.

In this article I will share some ideas as to what face-to-face networking is really about.

In part two of this series I will outline what you can do before you go to a networking event so as to make it more enjoyable and more worthwhile.

In part three I’ll focus on what you can do during a networking event to build on your preparatory work and to make it easier to relax and talk to people.

And in part four I will address the all-important and often overlooked aspect of how to follow up after you attend a networking event. If you ignore this you may well be wasting your time with face-to-face networking in the first place.

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  • What is networking?
  • What networking is not
  • Types of networking event
  • Finding networking events

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About Mark Lee

Mark Lee works almost exclusively with savvy sole practitioners who want more out of their practice.  More clients, more money, more time, more satisfaction - or everything!

An accountant by profession, Mark moved away from the provision of professional advice in 2006.   He is now a professional speaker, mentor, facilitator, author and debunker.

Mark Lee is a realist and regularly debunks myths and hype related to his areas of interest and expertise.  His keynote talk for audiences of accountants is How to STAND OUT and be more than 'just another accountant'.

Mark is passionate about helping accountants generally so is a keen blogger and commentator in the accounting and tax press. He is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and has written hudnreds of articles here that have been viewed over a million times.

Check out how he could help you here:

Mark stopped giving tax advice himself despite being a past Chairman of the Chartered Accountants’ Tax Faculty. He is however Chairman of the Tax Advice Network - the UK's highest ranked lead generation website for tax advisers and accountants. The network also publishes a weekly practical tax update for accountants in general practice and full tax support, on demand too.  You can also use it as a lead generation resource for local people seeking tax advice from an accountant.

Mark has extensive network reach through his blogs, talks, social media activity, articles and his regular newsletters that go to thousands of accountants every week.


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06th Jul 2012 09:07

Wise Words

Some good advice Mark - very realistic.

It seems to me that the world is divided into those who enjoy networking and those who don't. Sadly, I fall into the latter category.

In my early days I attended the local Chamber of Commerce and many other such events but I didn't really enjoy it (actually I hated it) and all I ever seemed to meet were other accountants. So gradually I abandoned this practice as I came to see it as a waste of time - and focused on relationships with people in business who I already knew and, more importantly, I worked on developing a website which has now probably been through about 8 or 9 iterations over the last 15 years as we gradually developed our niche.

In fact almost all of our business has come through the website - so to those people like me who really loathe networking I would say it is possible to still build a practice and not do it.


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06th Jul 2012 10:37

Networking is worth £583.33 an hour

@Mark - good stuff.

I have worked out networking time is worth £583.33 an hour.

Bob Harper

Crunchers Accountants

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10th Jul 2012 11:38

I was very interested, until i looked at the fees that these organisers want, £500 per annum etc.  A lot of money to part with, on top of the fees for the breakfast's etc.   I dont doubt you can get this money back, maybe they should offer some new business breaks, if it pays for itself as time go's buy you can afford to pay more for membership in later years.

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10th Jul 2012 11:41

Good advice here

Good solid advice here. However, I will make one comment you mention that "networking involves meeting up with people in the hope that you will build profitable relationships with them", and here in lies the problem.

Effective business networking is the process of finding, building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. There should not be 'hope' involved. Hope is not a good strategy for networking. Waiting to bump into people can be a very inefficient way of networking, particularly if you are in the wrong place.

To lessen reliance on hope, I would recommend that before any accountant, who is new to starting up their practice, goes networking they think about:

who do I want to meet and why?who can introduce me to lots of prospects and why?what is the best way to meet these people?

If you are wanting to meet owners of SMEs, then I would suggest that you hone down who you want to meet to something more specific, e.g.

size of companysector of companylikely lifecycle stage of company or company owner/director


Author of the award-winning and best-selling book on business networking, 'The FT Guide TO Business Networking' - 75 five star reviews on Amazon

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10th Jul 2012 11:46

Networking is necessary

Mark, I think your article is really eye opening.

In this economy, SME's need to work together to provide a network of services. As a new start up firm, I find that making connections with other businesses in the local area is paramount. I have found that networking has given me connections to clients, suppliers, and business mentors.

By networking we can build not only our own business but we can also help to build other businesses that we are connected to.

Networking doesn't have to be going out to breakfasts. I have found online networking to be just as effective as going out to the breakfasts. As a new mum, going out to breakfasts can be difficult, but online networking is something you can do at any time of the day, in between meetings and at more convenient times.

I would recommend that anyone who wants to build any business give networking a chance.


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10th Jul 2012 12:46

but what's the message

Hi Mark

Nice article. I have been in BNI for 9 years. Networking, certainly at BNI, is a no brainer. I make money from networking, face to face i refer to not on-line. What you and the other contributors have not mentioned is "the message".

I agree target the right networking groups but anyone networking has to give a message.

Remember the basics of marketing, who are we targetting and what is the message. Everyone needs an elevator speech. Something said in one minute that people will remember and will be the reason they swap business cards.  For new practices I suspect it will be something, we are young and keen and up to date and sharp and eager to give a brilliant service at very reasonalby rates.

If the message is a vague "we are the same as other acountants", then the response will be a vague "we might as well stay with our current acountants". You reaps what you sow !!!!!!

So get a good message, then go networking.





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10th Jul 2012 19:39

Thanks for your comments

Remember this is the first of a four part series. In subsequent parts I'll be addressing what you need to do Beforehand, During and After attending networking events. Then we'll take a look at online networking.

Part of the preparation 'before' attending networking events is indeed to spend some time clarifying who you want to meet and what your message will be. 


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10th Jul 2012 19:50


As I noted in the article each Networking organisation has a different fee structure. And I suspect most allow you to 'try before you buy' as long as you pay for breakfast/lunch etc.

4N, for example, charge £12 per breakfast and you're allowed to attend 3 before you have to pay anything further - enough time to decide if you can make it work for you.

NRG charge £45 for lunch (in London anyway) and you are only encouraged to join and pay an annual fee afterwards.

Neither of the above have annual fees anywhere near to the £500 you mention.

If their current models didn't work I'm sure they would have amended them by now. 


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to ShayaG
11th Jul 2012 12:52

It is ~£500 for 4N

bookmarklee wrote:

Neither of the above have annual fees anywhere near to the £500 you mention.




I am sorry Mark but you are wrong.  4 Network which you link to in your piece charges £44+ VAT per month for existing members (£634 p.a. inclusive of VAT for those not VAT registered), and they are doing a deal for new members of £200+ vat for 200 days, so a full year (£200 + 5.5mts @ £44) would be circa £450 + vat (£540 p.a. inclusive of VAT for those not VAT registered).

BOB has a one off fee of £95 and then £295 p.a.

I am not doubting these are profitable enterprises for the owners (therfore they might not think there a need to change their business model), i am just expressing that for some smaller sole practioners, it might be a daunting amount of money to part with, although i see benefits of joing a network.



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11th Jul 2012 13:59

Not sure that really counts as wrong Steve

You seemed to be complaining that you would be expected to pay £500 before finding out if a networking org'n was going to work for you.

The way 4N work is that, after 3 x £12 breakfasts they invite you to take out a passport membership of £200 for 200 days, during which time you could attend anything upto 200 further sessions just paying an additional £12 for each breakfast. Even if you only attended 10 you'd have a good feel as to whether you could make it work for your practice long before you have to start paying a higher monthly fee. 


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to gwilkinson
11th Jul 2012 17:03


Lets call it quits then you said "Neither of the above have annual fees anywhere near to the £500 you mention." but plainly they do, and i complained it was a lot of money to pay to join, but with 4N you can get three free events to make up your mind and a 30% reduced 200 day "passport".


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11th Jul 2012 23:43

Whilst there are various

groups that do charge annual fees, there are others that just charge for the lunch/breakfast etc....


And whilst i agree that £500+ can sound like quite an investment I would question how much the cost is for a small business to gets it name out their in other ways???....Assuming they don't rely on family and friends then at some point they will do a mail shot, advert, leaflet drop etc....all cost money - with what return.  If you do the networking in the right way with a group that suits your needs then you are likely to benefit from quality leads/referrals/contacts....rather than experience the random variety of clients you can end up with from doing an advert etc.


There are always the exception to the rule but in all probability if you go to an event that is £10 only....then I would suggest you are more likely to meet people who are price sensitive....people who want things cheap as chips.....and unless they meet the brief for your target list then that £10 has been wasted!




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12th Jul 2012 16:15

Is it really that costly?

I think the debate over networking will be an ongoing one. Each person has their own thoughts on it and, while annual fees can be expensive, just think of the cost of one advert in one magazine issue or in a newspaper.

Remember, word of mouth is the best advertising that you will ever get, and that is what networking provides... a team of sales people working on your behalf, telling all of their contacts, both business and personal about you!

As justsotax said, advertising via mail shots, leaflets etc all costs money, but what return do you get on the investment.

I've been to a BNI breakfast and before I've even paid the fees, I have two leads to follow up... for free!!!

Those jobs themselves may end up paying for the annual BNI fee!!!

My advice is to go to a networking meeting and see if you get on with the people there. If you do, it will work! If you don't, move on and find somewhere where you can!

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12th Jul 2012 16:27


Why all the focus on the costs, what about the value?

Networking can be one of the most valuable things a start-up can do click here to see some calculations.

Bob Harper

Crunchers | Alternative Accountants

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13th Jul 2012 11:12

Breakfast meetings

I was in a breakfast froup for some time and I think that whilst they do work,  they work even better for the organisers who can make substantial sums of money from them.  For the ordinary memebr of the group there can be some initial referrral activity but this tapers off over time as everyone gets fed up with constantly trying to bring referrals to the group.  Breakfast groups should only be one part (if at all) of your overall networking stratgy.

I think that networking is extremely importanat and we always need to look for networking oportunites.  I fully agree that people often expect too much from networking. It should be more about getting your name known and keeping it to the forefront,  rather than expecting cutomers to directly flow from attending networking events.

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13th Jul 2012 19:06

@John Di Mambro

As I have tried to point out in my articles the BNI model that requires you to bring a constant stream of referrals to each breakfast meeting is not replicated across all other groups. It is a huge mistake to dismiss all others because you don't like the experience of one model (whichever it is)


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18th Jul 2012 11:29

Point taken.  You quite

Point taken.  You quite rightly guessed that my experience of breakfast groups is largely with BNI.  Overall I believe that aggressive networking is counter - productive, and I think that this could be a criticism of the BNI model.  There are, of course, other groups and I was, for a time, part of a group organised by the local chamber of commerce.  I found it much more user friendly. 

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14th Jul 2012 12:32

Networking is not a short term quick fix for lead generation

I think it is worth noting that there are 4 reasons to go networking:

build your businessbuild your profilebuild your communitybuild your knowledge base

if you count out 'building your knowledge base', the remaining 3 reasons all take time to achieve. This is because they are all based on building and strengthening relationships. Networking is the start of the relationship building process, not the sales process. It is from those relationships that sales come from. 

Networking does produce a great ROI for your time, if seen as a:

long term investment in lead generationfocus on key relationships in your network

After all, how many of us go networking to look for suppliers? Therefore, most people are not going to buy your services, or recommend your services to someone they have just met. It's the long term investment in the relationship, which will bear fruit. 90%+ of all my business comes to me via networking activities - but not because I am a member of any networking organisation. It all comes to me from clients, introducers and my strategic partners.

Most networking organisations at the moment are struggling to make any money. (I've also seen first hand how difficult it is to run a networking group & make money from it) This is normally because they are run on a pyramid basis - everyone takes their cut of the membership fees.


Author of the FT Guide to Business Networking (76 x 5 star reviews on amazon)

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