Regardless of where you traditionally do your networking, the ability to reach more people always grows when you are doing business online.
When I was a child, it never occurred to me I could have a conversation with someone from across the ocean without paying through the roof in “long distance” phone charges- and even if I plinked coins in my piggy bank for years, who was I going to call? I didn’t know anyone, anywhere.
It’s 2021 now. I travelled to Scotland, England, Canada, South Africa, California, Indiana and Texas this week. How about you?
We’ve become accustomed to Zoom meetings. Many of you have gone full circle from not knowing how to unmute yourself to coaching your own clients on how to use Zoom or online tools to keep their business running.
But you miss seeing your people. You miss dropping into breweries for a pint and a chat with the owner. You miss going to industry events and talking to interesting business owners and learning more about what they are doing, where they are going and how you might be able to help them.
Meeting up in real life builds trust faster. You are intuitive and can tell if an initial connection will lead to something more- and it’s easier to figure that out if you can see a person’s body language and make eye contact. This becomes a little harder online. You have to learn all over again what to look for and how to read people.
When meeting in person is your preferred way of doing business, how can you get the same results from the online world? Or – is that even possible?
In former times, there were plenty of people going to in-person networking events, and plenty of people who didn’t. Some business owners would have hated small talk, and networking events can be a hub for quite a lot of that. At these events they (or you) might have gotten the feeling people are trying to sell to you rather than get to know you.
Networking online means you choose who you connect with (and ignore the rest).
You’ll meet all sorts of interesting business owners via online networking – and the beauty is you can cut through the crap a lot faster.
When you get a LinkedIn message saying “Hey I thought we’d be a good fit and oh buy this thing now because it will change your life” you instantly know it’s not a good fit. Peace out.
But what if you’d gotten a message that was related to something you’d said on social media, and they started a conversation without ever trying to sell you something? What might that feel like?
They just shared, and you did the same, and eventually you got to the point where you couldn’t even remember if you’d met in person or not. You can meet people from anywhere and talk about anything and if it gets too salesy that’s the moment you click “unfollow” and it’s done.
Your clients and potential clients think like this too. Remember this the next time you are tempted to do some “cold call” marketing on LinkedIn.
In its purest form, social media was created for online networking.
You are on social media to listen and learn and understand where your target audience is coming from. You want to sympathize with them and dig deeper to understand what they are truly going through. Sound like more than you bargained for? It can be if you aren’t prepared.
Building relationships online is like growing a garden.
Each comment or like is a seed. When someone responds back to you it throws a little water on that seed. Slowly planting and watering turns one “like” (or seed) into a lovely garden full of interactions and relationships. So whenever your buyer IS ready, they will only think of you and the lovely garden you’ve grown with them. (It’s cheesy I know, but it’s so true.)
Start by following your own clients on social media.
Whatever platform your clients are on, you need to be there. It’s a great way to show you are involved in more than just their accounts. It will probably surprise you how much you find out about their businesses and them personally by following them on social (both their business and personal accounts). That will help you in future client meetings.
Pay attention to the social media accounts your clients follow.
While being on social media helps you know more about them as people, it will also help you know more about them as a business. From social media accounts you’ll be able to see:
- What their interests and hobbies are
- Who their target audience/buyer is
- More about their family/relationships
- Connections to other businesses similar to theirs
- What they care about most (this could lead you to like them more or less!)
Follow social accounts of businesses you’d like to work with.
- Like their posts (only if you really like them though)
- Comment on their posts
- Share their posts, blogs and videos (if you support the message and think it would be helpful for others).
- Compliment on anything you find interesting or love- images, words, etc.
Only ever do any of this as a way to uplift those people and businesses- don’t expect anything in return. By nature, you and most other accountants are helpers- you are doers. Think of these things as another way to help your clients and those you’d love to have as clients.
Don’t get me wrong- you will see overall return on some of these efforts. But if you go in thinking “if I give this, I will get this” people will feel it and shy away from interacting at all.
You are there to be a learner first and a teacher second.
If you’ve ever planted a garden, you know the first season is a lot of learning. How fertile is the soil? Is there the proper amount of sunlight? Did you water too much or too little? You wait and you watch, trusting your plants will come bursting out of the soil and grow in all their glory.
So it goes with your social interactions. Pay attention to what people are saying, and what’s behind what they are saying. While oftentimes you only get the surface layer, when you are paying attention there is more going on beneath the dirt.
In social networking, if you follow someone they will often follow you back. They’ll start liking your posts and commenting and sharing and maybe even ask questions of their own.
When they do this, make sure you:
- Reply to their questions and requests for connections
- Give them ideas
- Ask clarifying questions if you don’t understand something
All the while you are being helpful, tending to the soil of this relationship and not expecting anything in return. If this turns into a client someday- awesome. If not, that’s awesome too.
Why is it awesome if they don’t turn into a client? It’s a great question with a simple answer. You don’t want clients who aren’t ready for what you have to offer. If they aren’t all in- then you haven’t built enough trust for them to be so.
Having clients who don’t fully trust you but are jump in the deep end will lead to lots of hard conversations, surprises (oh yeah, did we tell you we have another business credit card?) and scope creep (would you do this for us for free since it is just one small thing?), you get the picture.
Join online networking groups.
These days there is always a dedicated space online to find the people you want to interact with. From Facebook groups to dedicated “members only” websites, you can find your people. It may sometimes come at a cash cost, but it’s probably worth it if your target audience is there.
Give this some good effort. It might be tempting to quit if you don’t make any connections in the first couple of months. Engage with people for a minimum of 6 months to see what happens.
Share free resources abundantly.
Remembering the “learner first” mentality, it’s still okay to share knowledge after you’ve built relationships. Give away information; charge for implementation. This means you share your knowledge when it’s in a format you could give to anyone – a blog, a video, a social post. But if it requires detailed, personalised implementation of that knowledge to THEIR situation, that’s when fees are involved.
If you aren’t known super well in a group and someone asks about something you know about and have content already prepared on, you can say “Oh I have a blog on that if you want I can send you a DM.” *If you are more well known in the group then just go ahead and post the link directly.
*always remember to adhere to the admin’s guideline regarding posting your own material
If you don’t have the content ready, you could use this as an opportunity to do so quickly and with motivation. Don’t post anything yet – record your video, write your blog post, share your post. Then, go back and say “Actually I’ve just recorded a video on that question because it’s such a good one. Happy to DM it to you if you like”. Again, you’re not pushing your content on someone, but you’re using their question to push YOU to creating content you can use time and time again. If they don’t want it, no problem: you’ll use it the next time someone asks.
Video helps build trust more quickly.
Having a visual presence online really helps in the absence of a physical presence. People need to see your face. They want to hear your voice and get a better sense of your personality, your mannerisms and how you conduct yourself in business.
Remember, 38% of communication is through tone of voice, and 55% through body language. Without video, you’re sitting at 7% of potential communication. With video, you won’t be fully at 100% (they’re going to miss some of your body language cues ), but it will be a lot closer.
You’ll build trust through answering your client’s questions, from YOU. Not just facts and statements, but through the way you answer it. Your style, your words, your tone of voice, your body language, your accent, your attitude.
When people ask questions, they are looking for answers. (They’re also looking for whether they will connect with you as a human.) And if they are asking the question it’s likely someone else has the question too.
If you know the answer, record a video on it. You can send the video to them directly and also post it to your social channels. You are answering the person and being helpful to the greater social world who might be looking for an answer to the same question.
When initiating a connection online, don’t start with a compliment or praise and immediately try to sell them something.
Here’s an example:
“Hey ______, thanks for connecting. I love all the images you’ve been posting of the products in your boutique. You know what could make your sales even better- figuring out your profit margins. In fact, we can do an analysis of that for you with our _______ service.”
Remember you are there to help, not to sell.
There’s no need to swoop in and tell them what you think they could do better. They don’t trust you yet. Let them come to their own realizations. Guide them to the point where it’s their idea to get help.
Always ask questions to understand what they are really looking for. Once you’ve gotten clarity, you can then say “Oh I’ve recorded a video on this, would you like the link?” If they don’t want it, they probably won’t respond. If they do respond, you’ve got permission to share.
This still doesn’t mean sending them your video will instantly cause them to rush to you with a proposal request. It might…or it might result in nothing at all…or they might continue to listen and learn and watch for months or even years.
Conducting business online saves you time and money
Traveling the country (or the world) in a day is a whole lot easier when you are a virtual firm. You can meet with more clients and prospects than you could if you had to travel to each individual person (or if you had to wait for them to come to you).
You save yourself having the same conversation over and over again by prequalifying people you actually want meetings with.
Most of us would prefer to cut through the small talk and get to the good stuff. We’ve written a blog on pre qualifying that you can read here, but the short version is:
- Figure out the qualities of the client you want, and create content only for them
- Make sure you are crystal clear on your values, and communicate them visually
- Have information about your firm readily available in digital form
- Answer FAQ’s
- Have somewhere to send people if they aren’t a good fit
Automate your process so only the best leads get to talk with you.
Using the above suggestions, you can create assets to help save you time. Your website will have plenty of information on your firm and the target audience you are trying to reach as well as communicate your values.
For those questions you find yourself answering all the time you can:
- Create an FAQ landing page
- Write blogs
- Film video content
When a prospect comes to your website, they’ll be able to find what they are looking for and if they can’t you’ll be able to direct them there without having to spend 20 minutes on the phone.
Automation can’t happen in person.
We’ve all had the experience. You spent 45 minutes chatting with someone at a conference you’re attending, and you think they’re a great lead…. only to find out they are actually a co-vendor at the event, or the sound guy, or the business owner’s uncle who came along just because he had some spare time.
Having your business online helps you avoid this situation. People who are coming to your website or chatting with you on social media will be weeded out (see what I did with that garden analogy coming through again) much more quickly.
Your processes ensure you don’t end up spending an hour talking to Uncle Bob about air conditioning. (If you want to do that, great. But at least you’ll know what you’re getting into.)
With pre-qualifying in place, you know who you are talking to and how you can help them before you even get on the phone. This helps you get to the “good stuff” faster.
Online networking leads to better discovery calls and prospect conversations.
Your conversations will be more focused and have more depth because you’ve prequalified.
You can ask deeper questions and get to the heart of their issues more quickly.
Use phrases like “Tell me more about” and “what about _____makes you think ____?”
*you can find more therapy questions and answers like this by following myself and Karen Reyburn on Instagram @themarketingtherapist.
Don’t be afraid to be bold in your questions.
The more you are predictive instead of reactive, the faster trust will be built. You’ll show your expertise and your intuition ahead of time, and your good question-asking leads you to more signed proposals.
Your prospects feel comforted because – even before you’ve “met” them, even online – you understand what their problems are and they believe it’s possible you can fix them. You’ve given away information and now it’s time to charge for implementation.
Once your prospect becomes a client, the real flourishing begins.
Online networking doesn’t only bring you great clients: it helps you attract and retain great employees.
People who apply for positions within your company have had a host of other work experiences. They’ll often know what they are looking for and what they aren’t looking for. By sharing your values – and by living them out in your business- you’ll bring in the type of people who live up to those values as well.
You can communicate to a broader audience and be more likely to find someone who adheres to your firm’s values online. The sheer number of people the online experience opens you to will draw those people in.
When you are hiring and firing by your values, you’ll get both employees and clients who live by them.
When you’ve put the time and effort into the pre-qualifying process, and your brand and website are bringing in the very best clients, it makes your job easier. You’ll be doing more of your favourite kinds of work and giving the very best to your business.
Your team will be happier.
They’ll be working with clients they love. Clients who are honest and open with them. Clients who are cooperative and excited about what your team is able to provide.
Your clients will be happier.
The trust you’ve built means your clients have signed on for monthly help with you. Because of the work you’ve put in to make sure they know what they are getting into, they are really ready for all you have to offer.
They’ll be more likely to take your advice on all things finances- asking for permission rather than forgiveness when it comes to making big business decisions (that’s the dream isn’t it?!)
They’ll also share about you to their colleagues online. There are fewer things better than a grateful client showing you some love through a shout out online and a call to all their fellow business owners that you are the accountant they need to be working with. It gives you warm fuzzies and also money in the bank 🙂
There are lots of opportunities for you to build relationships with prospects online. You’ll notice it doesn’t come without effort and input from both parties. You have to be open to investing in genuine relationships knowing it won’t always impact your bottom line.
Relationships are hard work regardless of how they started. It’s up to you how much time you’ll invest, working towards creating not only a network, but a group of loyal clients who love working with you and your team.
What is one thing you can do today to start investing in a relationship with a potential prospect? Start doing it with consistency and see what happens. I’d love to hear your results. Follow me on LinkedIn and send me a DM on how it went!