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Coach Carol: A well connected accountant

12th Jun 2009
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Contrary to popular stereotypes, accountants are brilliant communicators, says personal development coach, chartered accountant and NLP practitioner Carol McLachlan, who this week is on hand with some advice on how to cultivate good connections.

Q: What do you call an extrovert accountant?
A: Someone who looks at your shoes instead of their own.

There are many stereotypes that poke fun at accountants’ personalities. Boring, introvert, obsessive – we’ve had them all, but how does that stack with such an intensively people orientated business? Communication is fundamental to what we do. From team work and colleague consultation, to relationship building and translation for the financially illiterate, accountants have to be consummate communicators.

Not only is communication an essential part of the job, but as accountants we are also one of the most well connected professions of all, so once again let’s take all this good stuff, stir it up and make it even better.

Get connected
Let’s start with our connectivity. Even without being particularly proactive, our networks are incredibly wide, deep and complex, but do we appreciate how wide deep and complex they truly are? Do we leverage this – from past career connections, to our clients and their clients, intermediaries and their clients, our own suppliers and their clients? Not to mention ex-clients, new prospects and abortive prospects, and all of their connections. Before you start thinking ‘forget the day job, I’ll just spend my life networking’, here are two crucial tips:

  • Every networking investment should be looked at as exactly that, an investment. Before you commit your precious time you need to ask yourself, what is my objective here? What do I want to get out of this meeting or relationship? Then do a quick ROI calculation.
  • If you haven’t already done so, embrace virtual networking. This means much more than simply cruising ye olde Friends Reunited or Facebook. Hook up to specific business orientated forums where your time invested can go a long, long way (e.g. LinkedIn, UK Business Forums, Twitter, etc.). For those of you who’ve already discovered the promised land, think ROI here. What do you want to achieve, what’s your budget?

People like people who are like themselves
Once we’ve fully exploited our networks, it’s time to optimise the relationship. It’s a proven fact that people look for similarities with each other and as opposed to differences, so on an accountants’ forum, technical banter cuts it. However, with a non-finance professional, duck the ‘boring’ slur by looking for connection points. From the old favourites like sport and the spouse and kids, to the more esoteric like body language, words and phrases, verbal pace and volume.

This is called mirroring and matching, and with a little practice it can become automatic. Switch on your conscious awareness right now and see how much you’re already doing without even thinking about it. Find those similarities. The key is mindful observation and active listening, that means actually hearing what’s being said. Have a look at my
test and use it to ‘switch on’ to other people’s preferred styles. Then adapt your communication style so that you’re speaking the same ‘language’.

Fellow accountants, we are already fine communicators, translators and interpreters. Now take this to the next level and get even more from your relationships, at home, in the office - to infinity and beyond!

Carol McLachlan FCA
Email: [email protected]


Replies (8)

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By AnonymousUser
15th Jun 2009 19:51

John – you have no experience of networking which sort of explains your comments but not why you’re making them. Has someone told you to links back to your Website for SEO reasons so you looking for an excuse?

Good networking is about helping others and like all marking it’s about pulling as well as pushing – you can hear that in the language too.

Measuring ROI – work out the lifetime value of a client and the cost (money and time) and then you’ll get the ROI. Some marketing is more reliable than others and that’s why it’s a good idea to have multiple tactics going at the same time.


Bookkeeping Franchise


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By AnonymousUser
15th Jun 2009 11:21


I think we have to be a little careful about definitions. My comment was primarily aimed at "networking events" where (I understand) everyone is trying to push their wares. I must admit I have never been to one so this is based on comments by other people. We have a couple of clients who have tried joining networking clubs with very little success.

Realistically we are networking all the time by talking to people in social situations, but we don't push and it is part of our normal social/business life. We've just picked up three new clients through a member of staff's connection to a local children's football team and I was at a dance a couple of weeks ago when someone approached me and said, "I understand you're an accountant, we've been discussing something - can you help?" I know that if I started being more forceful, everyone would be turned off.

It's difficult to measure the ROI. The member of staff was taking her children to the football matches/training in any case. We had a good time at the dance - cost me about £30 for tickets plus drinks - and we would have gone in any case.

This laid back approach definitely isn't predictable; we can go for weeks without receiving an enquiry, then receive several in the space of a few days. I'm sure it also works better in a rural area; it almost certainly wouldn't work in a city environment.

John Perry

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
15th Jun 2009 11:02

It's important to avoid misunderstandings
I totally agree about establishing a strategy for your networking activities - online and offline. Networking can be very time consuming and it will be a waste of time if you set out with the intention of winning new clients and securing new leads from every event that you attend.

Effective networking involves developing profitable relationships and that takes time.

Do you have a strategy to help speed up the process whereby new acquaintances move up the tree from simply knowing you, to liking you and trusting you? Or is your strategy to secure just a small piece of one-off work whereby you can prove yourself before seeking to establish a longer term relationship built around recurring compliance work?

Mark Lee
Tax Advice Network

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By AnonymousUser
14th Jun 2009 17:10

It's only words
Mansoor – I know some words and phrases use by others can seem like buzzwords and gibberish. It’s like clients thinking a journal is a diary and not understanding debtors and creditors so where did anyone say networking is not about having the attitude of getting to know new people?

In today’s highly competitive world, soft skills can be the difference that make a difference. After all, it’s not about finding the one thing that makes a 100% difference but discovering 100 little things and improving them all 1%.

There are a few things in this article that readers can use to get better results. People can choose to ignore this knowledge base and risk being as ignorant to communication as clients are when it comes to reading a balance sheet.

But, it can be difficult to understand how important something is when you don't know what you don't know.


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By maacprime
14th Jun 2009 16:07

2 out of 5
The post starts off well but descends rather appallingly into trite buzzwords and NLP gibberish. The attitude to networking seems rather mercenary. Approach it with the attitude of getting to know new people, not just as a leads-generator.

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By AnonymousUser
14th Jun 2009 12:45

Strategic networking
John – who says you can’t be straightforward, honest and friendly when networking?

I see from your Website that you’re offer management consulting. So, do you think having a documented networking plan with well defined outcomes and the measuring the results is poor practice management?

Ian – I am not sure how helpful your post is but assuming you're right (which you're not) how about the boring accountant just employ an extrovert person to do the networking for them? After all, that’s what business is about, isn’t it?

We ran a marketing workshop at the end of last year and when discussing networking we discovered one firm who employed a young lady to do the networking as part of the marketing. The ROI on this activity was over £1,000 an hour, assuming fees are valued at one times turnover.

Sitting next to her were accountants struggling to recover £100 an hour doing accounts and tax. What did everyone do? Nothing - why? Because most accountants are prudent technicians and not prepared to invest in their practice.

Networking can be an incredibly effective strategy both in the short, medium and long-term. Did you know for example that 70% of firms that are well known report their overall lead generation tactics work well? This is compared to only 30% for firms who report they are not well known - networking is one activity than can build brand awareness.

Accountants should know that they can go out and win new business, quickly. Off the back of that they will win referrals and find other marketing tactics working better.

The key questions to ask before you start is – what do you have to offer, is it distinctively different and compelling attractive? Do you have a story? And, do you having anything genuinely interesting to offer people when networking to start the relationship?

For example, our bookkeeping franchisees have useful reports like “Should you have a bookkeeper” and “The dangers of a tax investigation” and even a book of “17 bookkeeping stinkers” they can offer fellow networkers.

They are the only bookkeepers in the world with their own software so can offer software as a service with technical support with a bookkeeping manager, job sharing arrangements as well a bookkeeping service.


Bookkeeping Franchise

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By AnonymousUser
13th Jun 2009 16:49

Am I the only one?
I find this whole "networking" concept very unreal. Maybe I'm old fashioned but I don't analyse every contact with another person to see if it is a networking opportunity. I am turned off by deliberate attempts to "network" with me. I prefer someone to be straightforward and honest.

"Exploitng the network" and "connection points" - what's wrong with just being friendly. There are quite a lot of people I just enjoy talking to - and there's no hope of any business coming from them. Perhaps I should go home tonight and ask my significant other whether she is a worthwhile ROI? Spare bedroom here I come.

John Perry

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By AnonymousUser
12th Jun 2009 23:48

Boring accountants
Popular stereotypes often have a basis in fact. So, unfortunately, Carol, the truth is that most accountants are intensely boring, are appalling communicators, and make dreadful managers. (Yes, I know there are exceptions, but they are few and far between. I never worked for one when I was training, and I couldn't wait to get away from them when qualified).

It should be a people oriented business, but too often - indeed usually - it is not practised that way. (Tip for young accountants : if the practice has got an 'Investors in People' award - their staff management is probably awful. Get a job elsewhere).

Suggesting that accountants embrace virtual networking is risible : boring, introverted nerds staring at a computer screen to try to contact other boring, introverted nerds. What a pitiful thought.

Actually, 'active networking' is usually a self-defeating exercise : there is something deeply unappealing about anyone who trys to 'network' in order to further narrow business interests, and most normal people can spot the desperate networkers a mile off (and avoid them accordingly.) On the other hand, if someone gets a life the network will follow and the business benefits will follow too.

Ask any golfer : they would much rather play with someone who wants to enjoy the game rather than someone who feels that golf will be a means to further their career.

By the way : the quip about 'extrovert' accountants and shoe gazing is, in my experience, quite literally true. next time you go to a CPD course, go and engage a stranger in conversation. Watch them squirm with embarrassment.............

Happy networking!!

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