As a low-cost method for connecting with influencers and ferreting out new opportunities, networking remains one of the most effective ways to market your small business. And if it’s true that “your network is your net worth” - as author and technology pioneer Tim Sanders so famously quoted - then having a strong network is very much like having money in the bank.
Unfortunately, putting ourselves out there with the intention of cultivating key business relationships doesn’t come easily to everyone. But that’s okay. Because networking is a skill that can be learned like any other. And while the internet is full of helpful advice, you might want to consider what your bookkeeper can teach you about the ins and outs of a networking system.
After all, building social capital isn’t so very different from building any other type of capital – and growing a business is something accounting professionals know quite a lot about. So, if your attempts to network have been chaotic and haphazard so far, why not see what unexpected benefits lie in adopting a bookkeeping mindset?
Go for Quality Over Quantity
Most of us recognize that networking is a numbers game, and if there’s one thing your bookkeeper understands, it’s numbers. At the same time however, accounting specialists know that the right numbers are not just important – they’re crucial to your success. Apply this concept to the networking scene, and you’ll realize that, while collecting vast numbers of contacts can be tempting, it’s not necessarily the most profitable use of your time.
Use your discretion in who you reach out to, and make every interaction count. Establishing a connection that’s firm, positive, and memorable will be of far greater value to your business when it comes to gathering contacts who not only remember who you are, but who actively look for ways to help you.
Get to Know the People You Meet
Getting to know your business intimately is what allows your bookkeeper to make the most of their skills. In fact, the more they know about the industry you’re in, the more likely they are to have insight into ways you can improve your bottom line.
The same concept holds true for your networking efforts. Taking the time to get to know the people you meet – and giving them the opportunity to know more about you, in return – will pay dividends in terms of finding common ground where you can both be of help to each other. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of initiating contact, start the conversation rolling by asking a fellow networker for professional advice, or by simply extending a compliment.
What’s in it For Me?
Sometimes it’s understanding what NOT to do that can help you improve your networking skills. For example, asking the question “what’s in it for me” may help your bookkeeper track down pertinent cost savings that increase your profits, but as a mantra to schmooze by, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Focusing on your own needs is not the most effective way to leverage your networking contacts. Networking has the potential to be the ultimate win-win scenario! And adopting an approach based on what you can do for someone else is ironically one of the best ways to get help for yourself.
The Difference Between Networking and Selling
Your bookkeeper may tell you that a focus on sales is good for your revenue stream, but recognizing the difference between selling and networking is essential for self-marketing success. Connecting on a social level - by investing in chit-chat at networking events, for example – will help get your foot in the door of opportunity.
Nobody likes a hard sell – especially when it follows on the heels of an introduction. But making the effort to transform that first meeting into a relationship over time, can lead to results that benefit your business – whether they come from being put in touch with an important new client, or from learning more about the strategies that bring others success.
Following Up for Success
Any accounting professional will tell you that following up plays a key role in financial achievement. If your organization leaves its bookkeeping records incomplete and disorganized - or fails to submit governmental documents when they’re due - it’s going to wreak havoc on company profits, and make it difficult to stay in business.
Don’t let fear or apathy stand in the way of creating meaningful connections through ongoing communication - following up regularly with new friends and associates is just as important as adding them to your contact list. Building social capital means building relationships. And as the foundation of all networking efforts, these professional associations form the give-and-take environment where entrepreneurs help entrepreneurs, and everyone wins.