Networking is Now More Essential Than Ever
By the time the coronavirus pandemic hit, we were full swing into networking season. Most of us had decided which conferences we were going to attend. Some people had speaking engagements lined up. The rest of us already scheduled months’ worth of networking activities on our calendars. Then the pandemic hit, and everything was cancelled. In-person meetings were changed to Zoom events. Now we spend time in front of the computer trying to develop business opportunities and nurture relationships instead of in a restaurant.
Although Zoom is one of the most popular programs for networking and webinars, there are many others. These include, but are not limited to, GoToWebinar, WorkCast, ClickMeeting, BigMarker and WebinarJam. Each of these platforms has a variety of features such as screen sharing, live chat messaging, breakout rooms, polls, event recordings, password protection, and data and analytics.
Different Can Be Better
Networking online is different than networking in person. In a group event, you do not have the freedom to have a personal conversation with someone. Although you can send a private chat message, it is different than sitting down for a conversation. You would have to invite the person to a private online meeting.
Zoom meetings are ideal for one or many speakers. Either a speaker presents a webinar or a facilitator moderates a program. Speakers may open the meeting for discussion or have participants enter questions into the Q&A or chat feature for them or someone else to answer.
People are typically muted until it is their turn to talk. As you might expect, certain people will monopolize a conversation based on their own agenda while others do not get the opportunity to speak. Facilitators should control the flow of the conversion by establishing guidelines such as limiting the amount of time each person can talk.
Have Guided Conversations
An online networking meeting can be just as valuable as an in-person meeting. If the meeting is small enough, participants can present their value proposition to everyone in attendance. Large meetings can use breakout rooms for people to have more intimate conversations. Facilitators can structure the conversation by limiting the discussion to four questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Who would you like to meet?
- How can I help?
The answers to these questions tell the audience what they need to know about you. It is best to be specific. Give your name, title and company. Explain the value that you bring to a client relationship from his or her perspective, what you specialize in and why it is important. For example, you could say: “Hello, I am Jean Smith, managing partner of ABC Accounting, one of the top 50 construction accounting firms in the U.S. I help contractors take advantage of tax elections so they have the cash needed to operate and expand their business. I would like to meet general contractors and subcontractors that work in the industrial sector. You can help me by making a virtual introduction to roofing, HVAC and other contractors that have the capacity to take on more business.”
The person listening to this introduction knows who Jane is, what type of clients she works with and who she would like to meet. Jane could take it a step further and say she is looking for green builders.
Networking is all about helping others. Accountants who approach networking with the mindset of “who can I help today” instead of “who can I do business with today” will achieve a higher level of success.
The important thing is to share resources and follow through. Online meetings are perfect for follow up. You can schedule a meeting with anyone regardless of their location and invite people who would gain value by meeting them. Make it fun by hosting a virtual party or dinner. Just because COVID-19 is restricting our activities does not mean that we must stop meeting people and networking. All we have to do is be more creative.
This article appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.