Building a Better Network

Is it better to surround yourself with people just like you, or is a diverse group of colleagues? For many of us, it is more comfortable to stay within a network of like-minded people who look, talk and act like us.  Accountants who network with accountants may discuss interesting initiatives and issues within their profession, but they will not learn what is impacting people (read potential clients) in other professions.

Building a stronger professional network depends on going outside your comfort zone. Networking outside your profession can offer you new ideas, diverse opinions and exposure to various professions. For young professionals, establishing a diverse network is really important to ongoing success and job satisfaction.

An AICPA blog post, The 7 Types of People You Need in Your Network, talks about how to build a well-rounded network.  Develop a strategy for developing your network that includes people who fulfill specific roles:  Mentors, Peers, Influencers and Prospects. Three others groups – Cheerleaders, Grounders and Connectors – are, I think, more difficult to cultivate but critical to your success.

Cheerleaders – In every career, something goes wrong. Clients leave, accounts are lost, mistakes are made. We all need trusted friends and colleagues who know us, believe in us and will stand by us when things are not going well. A cheerleader helps lift the fog and lets you get back to the business of doing business.

Grounders – If Cheerleaders pick us up, Grounders ensure we don’t fly out into orbit! Think of these folks as the realists in your network. They challenge you, encourage you to push harder and are the people you can count on to help you think through your biggest ideas.

Connectors – This under-developed group are the folks who offer you access to their network. While many people you meet will not do this, the Connectors take pride is offering contacts, information and resources to help you succeed.

Networking does take effort but you will reap benefits. Identify opportunities within your professional and personal communities to meet diverse groups of people. Whether it is your local Chamber of Commerce, a charity that you care about, Rotary or Kiwanis, or the PTA at your child’s school, get involved. For networking, showing up is half the job.  Actively participating is the rest.

Introverts CAN Network!

It can be easy to hide behind the “I’m and introvert” excuse when it comes to networking. But that doesn’t help you develop your skills or your business. While it may feel uncomfortable to mix and mingle at social and business meetings, there are steps each of us can take to make networking feel less risky. A good article I read gives six networking secrets:

1.  Introduce Yourself – Make the first move. Say hello and initiate conversation. Chances are there are other shy people there, and you just may be helping one of them get engaged.

2. Choose an Easy Title – No matter what title is on your business card, start out telling people what you really do. Instead of “Vice Coordinator in Charge of Client Experience,” it’s probably easier to introduce yourself as being in “customer service.” And more people can recognize your job or position.

3.  Listen and Repeat – Repeating the concept of a conversation, not verbatim, helps to keep you in the moment.

4. Stay Off Your Phone – While this should be obvious, it is one of the biggest problems for introverted networkers. Instead of hiding in the corner, they hide in their phone – searching, digging, checking the weather. Anything to avoid meeting someone!

5.  Don’t Fear Silence – Lulls in conversation happen, not a big deal. If the lull turns into ackward silence, jump in and save the day with a comment germaine to the event or your industry. If the conversation is really over, say how glad  you  are to have met and move on.

6.  Show Up – It is more than half the battle! Like many other things, improving your networking skills takes practice.

Need more help? Check out my Building a Stronger Professional Network course.

Get The Most Out of Every Conference

Much of my life is spent at conferences and conventions, so I have some pretty good insight into how to get the most out of every conference. They can be a really good experience or a big waste of time – you decide which. With some planning and effort, you can gain insight into your industry, meet great contacts and have fun. Here are some of my tips to maximize each convention.

1. After you register, use the conference planner to plan your itinerary. Review the sessions and then hone down to a day-by-day agenda–including alternatives in case your preferred session is full. If you are going to the conference with colleagues you should attend different sessions to ensure you have it all covered.

2. If pre-registration is not required, have at least two sessions in mind for every time slot. If you get to one and the room is overflowing or the topic isn’t what you thought it would be, head over to your second choice. Conventions and conferences are a great way to learn more about areas outside your expertise, so consider signing up for them.

3. Check out the exhibitor list and create a list of “must-see” booths. You will be able to cover the convention center more efficiently and still have time to wonder around. Spend enough time at each booth to gather the information you need and talk with the exhibitors.

4. Stay with the group for meals, and try to sit with people outside your normal network. Meeting new people and sharing information expands your connections and sphere of influence.
Collect and offer business cards, talk about relevant professional issues and learn a bit about the person.

5. Take notes on sessions you attend.  Suggest to your boss that each person who attends the convention present what they have learned back to the office staff. Sharing what heard and saw helps reinforce the material and is expands the ROI of the trip.

6. Have fun…but not too much fun! Unfortunately I have seen too many attendees miss significant convention time because they partied to much. Pace yourself and get plenty of sleep.

Oh, and one more thing: If I’m presenting at your conference be sure to come see me, I’m sure you’ll learn a lot and have fun, too!

Happy New Year!

2013-happy-new-year-wallpapers-15For many accounting professionals tax season marks the end of one year and the beginning of another. Let’s bring the new year with a few resolutions that will help drive your business.

A big obstacle to ongoing business development is networking with purpose. Here are a few ideas that may help you and your team focus on business development as a positive part of your life, not a chore.

Set goals:  What are your objectives when you go to an event or a meeting or interact with clients? It should be more than passing out your business card. Plan to meet 2 people, ask 2 people about their work, learn more about 2 people’s hobbies. Meet, ask, learn, and listen.

Make a difference: Rather than passive networking events, be strategic about how and where you spend your time.  Get involved with organizations that you believe in – share your expertise with your community, offer valuable advice to a charity or join a service organization that shares your values. You can help others and grow your network.

Stay in touch: Deepening relationships with acquaintances and clients is more valuable than meeting new potential clients. Just as in other service industries, excellent customer service counts. Make a phone call, send a note or email, whichever you prefer…get connected, stay connected.

The C-Suite Is Getting Smaller

ON24-C-suite-communications-300x200There is a trend at Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies that impacts the career path for some financial professionals. A recent study shows that only 35% of those companies had a COO on staff last year, a drop of 13% since 2000.

According to Chris Baysden’s article in CGMA Magazine, the reduction in payroll (or at least positions) at the top could mean that CFOs and other aspiring finance professionals need to expand their horizons, broaden their networking skills and develop a less linear career trajectory. Competition for top jobs will be even more fierce, responsibilities broader.

If you are an ambitious CFO aspiring to a big COO job, you may want to rethink your career goals. With fewer COO positions out there, more companies are looking for talented CFOs who understand both their financial world and the full scope of the company’s business, from strategy to supply chain, human resources to operations. Soft skills training is becoming more critical, too. No longer are professional acumen and aptitude the final determination points for promotion. It is a who you know, what you’ve done and the depth of your experiences that matter.

Networking for all professionals is not just about meeting new people, garnering interesting connections and collecting business cards. In this case, the real value is reaching into your own organization, learning about diverse business groups where you work and delving into initiatives and projects outside of the realm of finance.