Professional services firm leaders feel acutely the fact that every minute you spend on networking is a minute you’re taking away from something else. That often becomes an excuse for why it’s not happening… one I don’t condone. Although thousand person chicken dinner events, drawn out coffee meetings, and “being in the right place at the right time”, aren’t options right now, the focus on nurturing meaningful interactions with the people who matter most hasn’t changed. To get the most possible value from your networking time—and to use your contacts’ time respectfully—consider a systematic approach to networking that focuses on connecting regularly with your most important contacts.
Finding Your Networking Circle
With referral sources, quality matters over quantity—and that’s true even when you’re communicating remotely. Be intentional about how many people you bring into your inner circle. The more people you cultivate relationships with, the less time and attention you’ll have to devote to each of them.
For an inner circle, 10-15 contacts is a manageable group for most people. In addition to the other marketing and networking commitments you have, aim to reliably commit to a one-on-one networking session two to three times per month, so you’ll be able to spend quality time with each person in your inner circle two to three times a year.
How do you pick the people you put on your short list? Obviously you want them to be positioned to refer work to you, but you may know dozens of people professionally who could make referrals. Narrow down the list by honing in on contacts who meet other valuable criteria.
Think about people who you actually like and would enjoy spending time with (even if it’s virtual time). Other good contacts are people who have previously referred you to really good clients, and people who have the networks and clients you aspire to have. If you’re a member of any networking organizations, fellow members of those organizations could be useful contacts since you’ll cross paths at events and be able to make introductions for each other then.
Your outbound referrals should go in this inner circle as well. You might even want to introduce non-competing referral sources to each other as a benefit to you all.
Making a Plan
When things get busy and you’re focused on time-sensitive tasks, networking meetings aren’t top of mind—but ignore those relationships too long, and you won’t be top of mind for your contacts either.
By creating a system to schedule your networking meetings, you’ll increase your chances of the meetings actually happening! Consider creating a series of calendar invites for yourself on the first of each month. In the invite, include the names of the people you want to connect with that month. When the invite pops up, reach out to those contacts to schedule conversations. This is a much more effective way to get that critical “face-time” with referral sources, compared to saying “let’s get together sometime!” and not following up.
Using Networking Time to Move Forward
Though you may have expertise across several industries, or be able to speak on a range of issues within your own industry, you don’t necessarily want to be that broad when talking to your referral sources. A better goal is to position yourself as a great resource within a niche industry or service that relates to what your referral source does for their clients. The idea is that when one of your referral sources is looking for help with the niche you mutually serve, you’re the person who comes to mind right away.
The risk in being “all things to all people” is that you’re never top of mind for anyone, and you get the worst referrals because you aren’t displaying your expertise in any particular space. Effective networking is about creating lasting relationships that help people to understand your work over time through examples, stories, and getting to know each other’s strengths and style through shared clients.
For the “B” List
It’s entirely possible that you don’t think you can reduce your networking list to just 10-15 people. For that, I would suggest that you either dedicate more time to networking, or create a “B” List; a list of people you email each month instead of offering to get together. This can be a check-in email and can even include an article or some other resource that the person might find useful to help continue your bond. The benefit of this is that you will keep in contact with more people but also that you may find someone who bubbles up from the “B” List to the Inner Circle.
2020 has forced us to change our habits and has disrupted our “usual” ways of keeping in touch. Networking will look different for a while, but it can’t be ignored entirely. Strong relationships find a path through any challenge. Stay close with your closest allies and you will both be better for it. If you want to up your networking game, contact me today. I’m deeply invested in all of my clients development.
So…. How’s it going? With your marketing new year’s resolutions, I mean. July 1 is half way through the year (hard as it is to believe!) so now is a great time to evaluate your plan and progress to date because there is still time to course-correct and achieve your goals before year-end. Let’s reflect back on the process:
#1: What do you want to achieve?
Begin with the end in mind I wrote in my second-ever blog post way back in 2013. It’s still true today. If things have gotten off track, perhaps it’s time to evaluate whether your goal was a bit too ambitious. It can be better to recalibrate and achieve a lesser goal than to give up later in the year as the original goal is clearly going to be out of reach. Conversely, if you set a low-ball goal, it may be time to ramp-up your effort and get going!
#2: How much time you can commit to marketing?
I said before that 2-3 hours per week is necessary in order to accomplish anything meaningful. With everyone’s varying vacation travel, I find July and August can be a nice time of year to focus on some self-directed work. As a bonus, you’ll also be developing a good habit that can be continued through the fall.
#3: What activities will lead to your highest probability of success?
Networking in the summer tends to be more one-on-one as the Chambers and other groups ramp down their event calendars. Make a list of the clients, referral sources and other service providers that serve your clients and start sending invites to meet for (iced) coffee. It’s OK if the date you pick ends up being seven weeks away, the time will pass!
If you want to do more writing but haven’t gotten started because you don’t know what to write about, considering asking your marketing department. Your website traffic may offer the answer in the form of popular keywords used to find your site.
#4: What support do you need?
If you’ve been trying to go it alone, but it’s not happening, it may be time for some external accountability from your marketing team, a fellow partner, or a business coach.
If you’re doing the work but the results are coming, then this summer can be a good time to reevaluate your expectations. Sometimes marketing takes longer than you’d like it to – and sometimes the activity you’ve chosen isn’t actually aligned with the outcome you’ve selected. Either way, your marketing team ought to be able to offer some council in this area.
There are six months ahead of us in 2019; plenty of time to reflect, adjust, recommit, and get going with marketing! Let’s end the DECADE strong! If I can help you, please reach out!
Have you ever watched Dora the Explorer? My two year old went through a Dora phase a few months ago… and to my surprise, I had an epiphany!
Dora does an amazing job of making it excruciatingly clear what’s going to happen through repetition and inclusion of the viewer in the story as it is planned and as it unfolds. This is what leaders in professional services firms should be doing with their rising stars on their path to partnership. (more…)
There was a lot of discussion among the presenters and at round-tables at the MSCPA’s Practice Management conference about making your firm attractive to future buyers.
Who are these future owners? For most professional services firms, it’s some set of younger people on the partner track who will “buy you out” and keep the firm running. And yet firms make it seem like the rising stars would be lucky to be a future partner.
Here’s what struck me. The partners NEED these rising stars. Partners not only need the younger people, they need the people to want to BUY their firm (one partner’s share at time).
I think it’s time partners get off their high horses and start thinking of rising stars as prospects to whom you would like sell the product that is your firm. What would that look like? Think of it like a long-term, daily, marketing and sales pitch.
Rising Stars as Customers of your Firm of the Future:
- Express to your rising star customers that they are important to your partner group and why. Tell them what characteristics they have that you admire and that you think will make them good partners in the future. Do your best not to sound like a parent saying nice things to a child but rather as if you are talking to a prospect.
- Give your rising stars a map to partnership and some motivation to stay the course (it’s a long road). It’s not obvious to your rising star customers how to buy your product (the firm), when it will be available to purchase, what qualifications you’re considering for a future buyer, or even specifically why they should want to buy-in. Give them a road map and tell them more about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
- Communicate regularly with your rising star customers so that they can understand better the KPIs of firm management and growth. Share your firm goals for the year (and five years) and your progress to goal including who is contributing and in what ways.
- Start having meaningful TWO way conversations. Ask your rising star customers what qualities they want in a firm they would like to purchase. This means listening and probably making changes to close the gap between the current reality and the future desired state over time.
- Give your rising star customers some “skin in the game”. Give them meaningful responsibilities and bonuses based on firm performance.
- New business generation – bring them with you to networking events and prospect meetings. Get them involved in committees or a non-profit board so they can flex their networking muscles before there’s pressure to bring in new clients on their own.
- Recruiting and Interns – When you’re 19 or 20, you think a 35 year old is old, let alone a Baby Boomer partner. Put a rising star in charge of college campus outreach and include younger staff as well. Consider putting your rising stars in charge of your interns from onboard to management to ongoing relationship building. In addition, your rising stars have relationships with other professionals so keep them heavily involved with sourcing and interviewing experienced hires too.
- Firm retention and leadership – Do you want to know who has the answer to “why are our young people leaving?”? Your rising star customers know the answer. They may not tell you (it will seem like a betrayal to their friends) but if give them resources and stay out of the way, I think you’ll see positive improvements.
- Leadership and Management – Your rising star customers may not know how to run a firm – yet. Start helping them to learn now so they’ll be ready when the time comes. Bring them with you to leadership conferences and a portion of your partner retreat and have quality conversations afterward.
- Niche marketing – What niches do your rising star customers want to focus on? Provide them with some modest resources to allow them to be successful in this space. They will be motivated to make it successful and will help your firm grow.
Recruiting and Retention are a BIG DEAL in professional services because your people are not only your product (in serving your clients), your biggest expense (in payroll), but also your future customers (as future partners). Let’s be sure we’re give our rising stars the training they need in the short-run and respect they deserve for the long-run.
If you want help with coaching and developing your future leaders, internal firm communication, or developing a career brand, contact me.
Next month I’ll be presenting on the topic of How the Fastest Growing CPA Firms Spend their Marketing Dollars at the MSCPA’s Practice Management conference. If you’re a CPA, I’ll hope you attend!
While the research this article (and presentation) is based on is from CPA firms, I believe the basic principles are true for all of professional services firms, so everyone, please, read on!
I have been giving a presentation on networking to young professionals for a couple of years now. I always feel good about motivating young people to try networking by encouraging them to focus on building their skills and confidence first knowing that building their networks will naturally flow from their continued efforts. If they attend events thinking new clients will flow quickly, they will get discouraged and quit because their discomfort isn’t worth the lack of benefit. (more…)
It has taken you years to build your firm’s client base. Some clients you had to work hard to win and some practically fell in the front door. Some are an exact fit for what your team does best – and others are not. Some pay your current billing rates without discounts or write-offs, and some quietly get the best deal in town (maybe too good!). In the lifespan of any firm, there comes a time when firing clients is the right thing to do. But how do you decide which clients to let go, and what process should you follow to communicate your decision? (more…)
A longtime friend and mentor, Brenda Sleeper, has a fantastic saying to refer to celebrating wins in business. Her motto is to “Ring the bell!” and to do it frequently. Let’s explore why, when, and how. (more…)
One or multiple partners in your firm are 6-24 months away from retirement. Generational demographics and industry trends make this a near certainty.
I know this, and YOU know this. Do your CLIENTS know this? (more…)