Accountants tend to do most of their work in-house. They are not usually required to associate with outside colleagues in the intensive way salespeople or managers are. It can be tempting to stay safely tucked away in a corporate corner, crunching numbers, creating spreadsheets and avoiding contact with the outside world.
But doing so would be a mistake. Reclusive accountants miss out on the many perks of networking. Networking not only helps accountants broaden their personal connection base, it also helps them to form strategic alliances, engage with industry thought leaders and reap myriad other benefits that have the potential to enrich their careers.
Networking begins with education, when prospective accountants interact with professors and their fellow students — even in online accountancy programs, such as University of North Dakota’s master’s in accountancy online. The program can be the first step in building an accountant network that will support students throughout their careers in accounting.
In-person networking involves you getting to know a room full of strangers, one by one. It can be intimidating — but the good news is that networking is a learnable skill, and practice makes perfect. The website Accounting.com offers a checklist of general tips that can help accountants and other professionals to be great networkers.
- Quality over quantity. No, you don’t have to meet everyone in the room. You are better off making a few solid connections than lots of superficial ones. One way to limit your efforts is to focus on people with some accounting connection.
- Practice good listening skills. Don’t just talk. Be attentive and genuinely listen to the people you meet. When people feel heard, they are more likely to like and remember you.
- Prepare questions in advance. If you know who will be attending a networking event, great! Do some research about them and come up with some smart questions to ask. People love to talk about their areas of expertise and they’ll like you for giving them the chance.
- Provide value. In a networking relationship, you can’t just take; you need to give something back. Provide interesting information and focus on things that make you stand out from the crowd.
- Ease your way in. Avoid pressing new contacts for commitments or hitting them with sales pitches. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you won’t build strong contacts in a day either. Establishing a connection takes time.
- Set goals. What do you hope to achieve at an event? Decide in advance and stay focused on your goals.
- Dress appropriately. Accountants must be trustworthy, and professional dress inspires trust. The right clothes can also communicate confidence and approachability.
- Bring business cards. Lots of them — and be generous with them. Hand them out like candy at a parade.
- Be concise. Babbling can bore your listeners. By keeping your comments brief, you show respect for others’ time.
- Follow up. After an event, follow up with new contacts within 72 hours. If you don’t, you risk being forgotten and all your hard work will be for nothing.
Not all networking is done in person. Professionals today have many options for online networking as well, which can be less scary and also offers time flexibility. Online networking cannot replace in-person efforts, but it is a great addition to your networking repertoire.
The website Firm of the Future summarizes some popular online networking options:
- General networking groups. They’re everywhere. You need to evaluate the options on a case-by-case basis and decide which ones work for you. Examples include Meetup, Business Network International (BNI) and local chambers of commerce.
- Thought-leader or knowledge-based networks. Sites such as LinkedIn, mosaicHUB and professional association websites often host virtual meetings where executives share their expertise and attendees have the opportunity for virtual chat.
- Education-based networks. Learn something new and meet like-minded colleagues at the same time on sites like Score and the Small Business Administration (SBA).
- Social networks. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, oh my! Sites like these blur the line between personal and professional, so make sure you’re comfortable with that before “friending” your work colleagues.
Professional organizations offer yet another excellent networking opportunity for accountants. The main U.S. accounting association, the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), has online chat forums for members. It hosts conferences where attendees can enjoy keynote speakers and then do a little mingling afterward.
Members can also volunteer to serve on a committee, perform community services such as filling out free tax returns for the needy, or get involved with government advocacy, among others. These activities allow accountants to meet colleagues and form connections.
Besides the AICPA, accountants have other professional associations to consider. According to Robert Half, some of the most popular associations include the American Payroll Association, the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance, the National Association of Black Accountants, Financial Executives International, and the Institute of Internal Auditors.
Membership in any of these organizations can provide networking opportunities. Pursuing one or more of them is a personal choice — but accountants who understand the benefits of networking and wish to develop this skill have countless avenues to explore.
University of North Dakota’s Master’s in Accountancy Online Degree
University of North Dakota’s Master of Accountancy (M.Acc.) online program helps students master accounting principles and the skills necessary to reap the career benefits of accounting at the highest levels.
UND is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, which only recognizes about 30% of business programs in the United States. The master’s in accountancy online program offers practitioner and fundamentals tracks. Coursework is done online, which allows busy professionals to study accountancy and earn their degree without disrupting their work or personal lives. For more information, contact UND today.
Benefits of networking – Robert Half
In-person networking tips – Accounting.com
Online networking – Firm of the Future
AICPA opportunities – AICPA
Other professional organizations – Robert Half