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Updated: April 26, 2024

Building bridges: Why networking is important for accounting professionals

Published By:

Logan Allec, CPA

Many of us are familiar with the stereotype that accounting professionals are introverted bookworms, more interested in poring over receipts and updating spreadsheets than meeting new people. Like many other accounting industry myths, this perception could not be further from the truth. Being the owner of an accounting practice means you’re also a business owner, and success often depends as much on your ability to build rapport with current (and potential) clients as it does on your technical expertise.

 

In most industries, it can be an uphill battle to get very far without building and nurturing a network to attract new clients. Being able to prospect through networking is becoming increasingly important as business owners use non-traditional avenues like social media to find their next accounting professional. Nearly gone are the days of growing an accounting practice by simply putting up a storefront with “Your Name, CPA, EA” on it that attracts walk-in traffic.

 

We all want to stay a step ahead of the latest accounting thought leaders on LinkedIn — or, better yet, become the next influencer who receives tons of passive (but qualified) leads. But to be an influential thought leader, and attract those new clients, you have to shake hands and build a circle of connections. The best way to do this is through networking, both in person and online, so it can be a good idea to add these opportunities to your to-do list.

 

Here are five things to keep in mind when considering the value of networking for accountants.

Connect with potential new clients

A colleague of mine (who’s also a CPA) in the San Francisco Bay Area grew his practice from nothing to netting seven figures a year in less than a decade. The secret to his success? During his firm’s peak seasons, he makes a point to attend as many as seven networking events a week.

 

And now, the majority of his clients (and colleagues like myself) are folks who connected with him through these networking events over the years. And they told their friends in their personal network, who also hired him. That’s the power of building a network in your community.

 

Even if you don’t live in a metropolitan area like San Francisco with potential networking events every night of the week, chances are there are still some events you could frequent to connect with potential clients. For example, there are over 7,000 chambers of commerce across the US (or you can research a site such as meetup.com for opportunities to connect with business owners).

 

That said, start slow and see which networks feel like the best fit for your business, and your personality. It’s important to focus on attending the right events that make the most of your time – and the relationships you’re building. So how do you find the right network events to attend? Start by putting yourself in the shoes of your ideal client – think about their goals, challenges, and anticipate the kinds of events where they’d be likely to spend their own valuable time.

 

For example, let’s say your practice specializes in commercial real estate, but your ideal client is an experienced multifamily real estate investor. Knowing this helps you to be more selective with your time, and avoid attending events for networks interested in other areas of commercial real estate like factories and plants, warehouses, or office and retail space.

 

Now you have more time for the kinds of events your ideal client would attend:

  • Real estate investor meetups
  • Mortgage bankers meetups
  • State apartment association meetups

 

There are even industry-specific educational events on commercial real estate through organizers such as Bisnow, who host events across the country, from Birmingham to San Jose.

 

Visit a handful of these events, mingle naturally, and resist the urge to make every conversation a sales pitch. You’ll soon have an idea of which group you feel most connected with. Once you settle in with the right group, focus on attending every one of that group’s meetings and events.

 

This could also be an opportunity to really establish your authority in front of your potential client base. Many groups are always on the lookout for subject-matter experts to present ideas at meetings and events. After attending a few networking events with successful presentations, reach out to the event’s organizers to see if you can present your insights on tax, accounting, bookkeeping, or payroll strategies at the next event. Once you secure a slot, it’s likely the group will share event information on their social media channels and email newsletter, creating awareness around your brand.

 

Remember, as the business owner of an accounting practice, your highest priority, and the best use of your time is not completing tax returns or performing monthly bookkeeping — it’s getting new clients and growing your business. And attending networking events helps you do just that.

 

Diversify your outreach

It may feel unnecessary to add networking to the mix because you invest such a healthy percentage of the revenue your business generates into advertising, month in and month out. What’s the point of attending network events if you’re already spending thousands of dollars on print, radio, and digital ads every month, right?

 

Here’s the thing to remember: Networking doesn’t replace or compete with your current advertising strategy — it complements it. The rule of seven is a common marketing rule of thumb. It says that, on average, a potential buyer will need to be “touched” seven times by a seller before they purchase from that seller.

 

Although this figure may be a bit on the high side for professionals like accountants who provide a necessary service, you may want to avoid putting all your marketing eggs in one basket. That’s because some of your ideal clients will need to have seen your advertisement online, heard your ad on the radio, visited your website a few times, and finally gotten the chance to meet you in person at a networking event before they engage your firm for its services. Attending networking events helps you create these opportunities for engagement.

 

Connect with non-accounting professionals for referrals

Some of my tax relief firm’s best referrals don’t come from accountants at all — they come from bankruptcy attorneys. The relationship, of course, is mutual.

 

For instance, a prospect may reach out to my tax debt relief company with both tax debt that would be dischargeable in bankruptcy, as well as additional consumer debt that they cannot afford to repay, such as medical or credit card debt. In these situations, referring these contacts to bankruptcy attorneys in my network shows my clients that I’m there to provide the best options for them.

 

And likewise, these bankruptcy attorneys sometimes get leads whose tax debt, it turns out, isn’t dischargeable in bankruptcy. So they send them my way to determine if they may be eligible for an administrative settlement with the IRS called an offer in compromise — something my firm specializes in.

 

If you have a network of non-accountant professionals, you’re likely to find untapped opportunities for referrals. For example, you may already have relationships with professionals like:

  • Attorneys
  • Bankers
  • Business coaches
  • Financial planners
  • Mortgage brokers

 

Think creatively about how you can provide value to them by sending the right kinds of prospects their way, and they’ll likely do the same for you.

 

Leverage the internet

While nothing beats face-to-face networking, the internet has opened new doors for networking that most accountants are not maximizing or realizing can offer value. And when it’s done well, it can complement your in-person networking, and vice versa.

 

If you’re not already using more interactive platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to network with other professionals, it may be time to start. You could discover valuable referral sources or end up using more evergreen platforms such as YouTube to publish content that can be searched for and found by potential clients.

 

Remember, the content you post online is “networking” for you 24/7 — putting you in front of potential clients as well as potential referral sources at any time of day or night.

 

Here are some general tips for getting started on the three platforms that accounting professionals are using the most for networking and lead generation:

  • LinkedIn: With LinkedIn, the key to getting exposure is by sharing interesting insights. Don’t just post links to your company’s website or to industry-relevant articles – very few people will take notice. Instead, share interesting anecdotes from your professional life or even your personal life — as long as there’s some kind of professional twist or association.

 

  • Twitter: Twitter’s definitely more conversational than LinkedIn — in fact, Twitter’s stated mission is to promote and protect the public conversation. One of the best ways to get started on Twitter is to just start commenting on posts (“tweets”) from other professionals — accountants and other non-accountant professionals who could be good referral sources for you. How do you find these people? Search Twitter for acronyms such as CPA, EA, or JD, and then click “People” to search for active users with that designation.

 

  • YouTube: If you specialize in, say, real estate, I’m sure you’d love to rank #1 on Google for “real estate accountant.” A much easier way to get organic leads from evergreen content is to publish YouTube videos related to your niche. Let’s say you own a real estate-oriented accounting firm, you may want to consider creating videos that answer simple questions such as, “How do I calculate depreciation on a rental property?” or “What are the tax benefits of real estate?” and others that clients may be thinking about. You can even use a keyword tool like Ahrefs or Semrush to see what accounting-related topics people are searching for in your niche. And don’t concern yourself too much with video quality — it’s likely that you won’t be going toe-to-toe against the most popular YouTubers in the entertainment, comedy, or gaming niches. The competition is made up of either 1) no one or, 2) a small handful of other accountants in your niche creating content on YouTube. Viewers won’t be as critical of production quality and will likely care more that you know what you’re talking about and are sharing valuable information they can use.

 

Try trade show marketing

While a more traditional way to earn business, trade shows are still an effective way to attract new clients and other potential business associates.

 

The concept is fairly simple: You pay for a booth in the exhibition area at the event, bring a backdrop, a couple of banner stands, business cards, and other swag (such as branded coffee mugs or pens), and then you talk the days away with other attendees of the event who come by your booth.

 

The hardest part is deciding which events are worth your precious time. Here’s a good rule of thumb: the more an event aligns with your niche, the better.

 

Just be sure to follow up with the leads you met at the event. More than once, I’ve been guilty of coming home from an event with a stack of business cards of potential clients or other associates I’d met, putting that stack on a corner of my desk, and not touching it for weeks or even months afterward — long after the memory of the event has faded.

 

It’s likely the prospect you met connected with dozens, if not hundreds, of contacts during the show. Be sure to follow up quickly or risk being forgotten.

 

Bottomline: Networking helps to nurture leads

Investing in networking is something that pays dividends over the long haul, and it can take some time to create awareness (and build the connections that come with it). There’s no reason to be discouraged if you start posting on LinkedIn or attending events and clients aren’t signing up for your services immediately. It’s rare for a lead to meet you once at an event or see one piece of content from you online and then sign up for your services right on the spot.

 

The takeaway is that networking is about making connections as much as it is about nurturing them. Both are necessary, but it’s in the nurturing — consistent networking over the long-term — where the payoff comes in. Best of luck as you expand your reach through strategic networking and continue to cultivate connections that help you grow your business.

Talk to us and see how easy it is to offer payroll services your way.

Logan Allec is a CPA and owner of tax relief company Choice Tax Relief, which negotiates with the IRS and state revenue departments on behalf of business owners who have fallen behind on their individual, corporate, or payroll tax obligations. With over a decade of experience consulting with business owners about their tax issues, Logan has seen almost everything when it comes to tax negotiations with the IRS and state tax authorities.