Using networking to build bridges

Mar 29, 2018
Roseann Heavey shares her tips for making connections and getting the most out of networking events ahead of the Chartered Accountants Annual Conference.

We read all the time about the key factors that have contributed to the business success of the world’s best leaders and decision-makers. Most will mention something about their networks with other individuals or businesses.

When I took on a new role as Junior Partner in Noone Casey a few years ago, I found myself reading such articles and wondering: where should I start, and will it work? I needed to start working on my connections so I joined many different networks and attended several events but over the years, I have learned that building your network takes time. There are skills you develop that will help you grow both professionally and personally, and you will never look back.

Networking is something we should all engage in, whether we own a business or are part of a wider team. More often than not, Chartered Accountants are key decision-makers and it is important that they have a skilful, reliable and loyal network they can rely on. But also, as individuals, we know that to succeed it is about pushing yourself outside your comfort zone time and time again. Networking is bound to do this and you will begin to learn things about yourself, gain confidence and acquire skills that cannot be taught.

Set goals

Identify desired outcomes: the first step in creating a networking goal is to identify your desired outcomes for the event. It is possible that your desired outcomes will change from one event to the next, depending on the nature of the event and the people in attendance. However, it is more likely that your networking goals will be dictated by the needs of your business – partnerships you may like to look into or identifying experts to satisfy a client request. If it is about making connections with your peers, you will have different goals. You may want to learn from the speakers or take tips back to your organisation. Either way, you need to be clear why you are attending and know leaving the event that you have achieved your goal. Trust me, you will feel great if you achieve this and it will give you the encouragement to go back again.

Target the right events: after you have identified your networking goals, it is time to turn your attention toward choosing the right networking events. This is the place where a lot of business owners go wrong because they neglect the fact that not every networking event is the right fit for their business or their networking goals. For example, I attended the Annual Conference last year. A past client was speaking at the event; we reconnected and we have begun working together again this year. On other occasions, I attended events where the demographic was not right for the size of business I work with. Better planning on my part would have prevented this.

Research strategic targets: this is difficult as you will not always know who is attending, but you should know if they are the right fit for you. After the event, be strategic with who you follow up with. Who can you help out? I am a firm believer in referring business when you are confident each party can deliver. Once you start helping others in their business or their teams, you will start to see the benefits.

90-second pitch

Identify what is unique about what you do: when asked about what they do for a living, most people state their job title or launch into a lengthy speech describing their job duties and tasks. As accountants, this can sometimes be a conversation killer! So, make what you do sound intriguing. Start by identifying something unique about what you do or describing in a creative way the immense value you deliver by doing what you do. With some trial and error, you can easily come up with an interesting way of describing what you do. Persevere and it will feel right eventually.

Use a question to create a two-way conversation: identify a question you can ask that automatically results in the other person asking a follow up question, such as: “So, how do you do that?” Try to say something to involve the other person, rather than just talking at them.

Keep it simple and straight to the point: to make an effective pitch, keep it simple and manage the conversation so that you are being asked questions rather than telling about or selling yourself. The more questions you are asked, the more effective your 90-second pitch will be.

Follow up and make valuable connections: there is no point attending events and taking business cards unless you follow up. This is something some people are good at and some people are very bad at. Do not be put off by follow-up emails. These people are just following the textbook rules of following up. I would suggest making a few good connections at an event and contacting these individuals, but to remain genuine and true to yourself at all times. Establishing a business relationship is important. It may take some time before business is done, so learn to have patience. Choose your connections either by seeking out those who are similar to you and whether you can see yourselves doing business together, or those that will help you develop yourself personally.

Mentoring is another buzzword we hear a lot of. Again, it is difficult to find that perfect mentor, and where? Through building your networks, you will meet a wide range of individuals who all have different skills that can really contribute to you and your business. You too may get an opportunity to be a mentor for someone else through the relationships you build, which is in itself very rewarding.

On a personal note, networking has truly helped me develop a strong client base. It has taken time and I have learned that business relationships are about trust. However, it has also helped my personal development through the connections I have made. Networking is a valuable way to expand your knowledge, learn from the success of others, reach new clients and tell more people about your business or firm. Building a successful business takes a lot of time and commitment, so it is good to have a network of friends and acquaintances to draw energy from and keep you motivated. By surrounding yourself with people who share a similar drive and ambition, you are more likely to move forward as a group and as a person.

Roseann Heavey is a Partner in Noone Casey and a member of the Strategy & Communications Committee at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

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