Where are the best places for accountants to network?
Networking is not everyone's cup of tea, yet we know the reality is that people do business with people, and often pressing the flesh is good way to ensure that this becomes a reality.
Zoe Whitman recently wrote on AccountingWEB about how she learned to stop worrying and love networking. As Whitman outlined, networking is not always but it can be very rewarding if you go in having a plan, with some useful techniques in your back pocket.
So, now you’ve swotted up on these networking tops, the next stage is putting these techniques to practice. But where do accountants find the best places to network are?
The go-to place has generally been the formal local networks, such as the American franchise giant BNI. With very specific commitments, a highly formal process, and an enduring reputation, the BNI membership makes networking a very focused business development.
But like industry stalwart Mark Lee, we know that this doesn’t suit everyone. “Whilst I know many accountants who like the formality and their exclusive place in a BNI group, I know far more who prefer a more relaxed approach like 4N.”
However, the rules and regulations of these kinds of networks can often rankle with the mavericks.
Thursday night is the new Tuesday at 6am
If you’re the outsider or entrepreneurial type like Avery Martin’s Glenn Martin, you might just create one that suits you better. “Like most people I had been to most of the networking events and felt they were too formal with too many rules. We set up Next Generation Business and Networking to get away from this.
“Whereas some groups penalise you for non-attendance we reward the best attendee with spa days. We also encourage a big social theme, so take tables at charity dinners and have a lot of social nights to break the ice.”
The latest development for Martin’s networking group is the monthly Thursday night Cocktails and Connections, where all the members and other professionals in Newcastle get together and socialise. “It’s a bit like a student night for people with jobs. We want to make drinking on a Thursday fashionable again,” he said.
Martin ably proves that business and high ideals can mix easily in the right conditions. However, it would be hard to argue that tying business and pleasure is a bad thing, which leads us back to another old classic: the golf course.
Is golf still a thing?
In a word, yes. Gone are the days of the managing partner quietly slipping out the office for a round with a few ‘business contacts’. Networking on the green is growing in popularity.
It has often been a staple of certain firms to organise their annual golf day as a central part of their marketing strategy, and it’s amazing what funds can be found for the struggling internal marketeer for such an event.
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But, it’s also big business in its own right with outfits such as “FORE” Business, an international golf networking community, proving that it’s still not too hard to find an excuse for business owners to drag themselves away from the desk to drive their businesses forward.
Although for others, the closest to the course they may get is reminding clients of the tax implications of trying to put membership as a deductible expense.
But sport is a great unifier generally. Finding people of common passions is an obvious way to make introductions, as Mark Lee confirmed. “I learned that an old contact of mine has established a squash based networking group which is much better than golf in my view.” A quick google search brings up many similar events for football, rugby, badminton, and horse riding.
But please let us not confuse networking with corporate hospitality, unless of course, you have an occasional spare seat at Anfield.
Where passion leaves, there are more professional skills that can be brought to bear.
The sales ledger approach
Perhaps a more analytical and pragmatic approach would suit you? Jim Norrington, a partner at TC Group, has a novel way to use client data to help facilitate useful connections. “With the right approach, a good networker should be able to find opportunities anywhere. How about through your clients' sales and purchase ledgers?
“This week I saw client A had a big customer that was the perfect customer for client B. A phone call with client A and they were more than happy to make an introduction.”
The attention to detail, client knowledge and trust between him and his clients is commendable and shows that networking doesn’t necessarily have to mean a large room of people or even face-to-face contact to begin with. This opens the door to digital.
Accountants, I believe, are actually pretty good at digital networking. LinkedIn is hugely popular with the profession, as is Twitter and increasingly Facebook. Although it’s easy to be dismissive about correlating direct business from your time online, it can be highly effective as part of your overall approach.
Hudson Business Advisers’ Della Hudson has long been an advocate of the blended approach when building up her practice. “Most of my networking was via social media as it saved having to organise childcare. I’d then meet one-to-one with people I met online or invite them to our quarterly Money Matters event. When I did get to face-to-face networking events (mainly the local FSB and Chamber of Commerce), I’d continue to build the relationship online through social media.”
A dog’s life isn’t so bad
Whatever your approach, you can’t beat following what feels right. Talking to a long-standing accounting friend in a pub recently (an ideal networking), she revealed that she was no longer part of her formal networking group and has, in fact, changed it for a new dog. “I meet so many more interesting people,” she remarked.