Networking and Business Development at The Bonadio Group

bonadio-logo_0.pngNearly a decade ago, when I first took interest in a career in public accounting, I knew it would mean a lot of learning, a great deal of hard work, and a fair amount of dedication to get through the busy seasons. Three years of specialized education, months of studying for the CPA exam, a tax code overhaul and multiple new ASU’s over my first five years has proved this to be true. While at times overwhelming, these experiences are par for the course as a young accountant, but they are not all that the job entails. As you grow in your career at a CPA firm, you must also build skills in networking and business development to bring in new clients.

Anyone at any level can bring in work, but “how?” presents a more complicated question with various considerations. Young accountants may ask: when do I start networking? Where is a good place or setting to network? What are best practices to network successfully? I spoke with several partners at The Bonadio Group to get their advice on effectively networking to attract and win new clients.

When to start networking:
Nearly every partner recommended starting to network within the first couple years of your career if you haven’t already. But don’t fret if you didn’t focus on building up contacts in college as, per a majority of the partners interviewed, this is not a prerequisite to becoming a successful networker. New hires may question networking’s potential impact on work performance or personal time, but fortunately Bonadio has various resources including performance coaches and mentors to help young professionals identify networking opportunities, set goals and get started.

As you get more comfortable with networking, you should develop short- and long-term goals based on what you’d like to achieve. Keep these milestones manageable and achievable – smaller goals can help you start to expand your comfort zone and build toward your larger networking goals. Additionally, when goal setting, remember the importance of quality over quantity. If you meet your goal of attending thirty networking events, but don’t talk with anyone you may not see progress toward your long-term goal of getting a referral source in commercial banking.

Where to network:
Networking doesn’t have to be a formal, post-work event. Networking can be as simple as meeting and keeping in touch with various individuals as part of your day-to-day activities in anticipation that they will one day be a prospect or referral source. However, to build your skills further, you’ll want to expand your networking activities to include: going to Chamber meetings, attending or hosting a panel, joining the board of a non-profit organization, sitting in on a partner’s client lunch meeting, or even asking to deliver a final product to the client, among others.

Once you’ve started to build a network, there are many ways to market to them and build engagement, including writing and sharing industry-relevant articles on LinkedIn. Contacts in your network may like or share your post, exponentially increasing the amount of people you can reach outside your network and casting a broad marketing net without any additional advertising investment on the part of the firm.

Best practices when networking:
What to say while networking varies based on the type of person you’re talking to and your level of expertise. For example, don’t try to impress a CFO-level prospect with your “understanding” of the early disposition addback for New York’s investment credit, when it is your first year in accounting and you only just overheard someone talking about it. Most partners agree that your networking focus should be narrowed to the field of accounting in which you specialize. If your identity includes your acumen in construction accounting, focus on contractors, then you can start leveraging your network for marketing purposes.

Generally, don’t push a sale on someone you’ve just met as this seems disingenuous and forced, Like Rome, a great network was never built in a day. Any partner would tell you that relationship building takes time and dedicated attention to evolve a group of contacts into a group of clients, referral sources and even good friends. If you worry about being inconsistent or insincere this early on, try forming a networking identity which helps to provide consistency in developing each relationship within your network. With this identity, you make a promise to present yourself in a certain way in specific settings. A networking identity can be interpreted as four attributes that, depending on you and where you are in your career, can be seen as a progression or collectively as all essential, they are likeability, competency, value and trust.

Marketing yourself and networking may not come naturally at first, but practice makes perfect, and we have some of the best mentors right here at Bonadio. The mentoring pyramids among our own partners is evidence of the significance of this resource. As I asked the partners, I interviewed who their mentors were it became clear that the last step in networking in a public accounting firm is spreading your knowledge to future rain makers. The best time to start benefiting from such mentoring is right now.

Finally, don’t get caught up on rejections at any stage in your networking development. If you feel you lack the interpersonal skills to advance, there are highly recommended interpersonal skills courses designed to help nurture those skills. Most partners agree that if you keep trying, those skills will eventually become natural. Rejections happen; as some partners noted, you can do everything right for the better part of a decade, but you still have to be professional despite all the time and resources spent that didn’t pay off as quickly as you’d like—because eventually they will.

Contributed by Kristopher Duge with The Bonadio Group (kduge@bonadio.com)