Practice Perspectives | Winter 2022
The CPA’s Guide to Networking: 6 Steps to Meet Amazing People
With networking, there’s no magic bullet. But rather, it’s a business development process that takes practice and repetition with the help of a few key steps.
President, Kuesel Consulting
Moving Your Firm Forward
I’ve been fortunate throughout both my personal and professional life to have met so many
amazing people. Admittedly, this list of people is quite long, so for the sake of this column,
I’ll be mentioning only a handful of very influential individuals who’ve made a huge
difference in my life. This handful includes Bob, Sue, Bill, Donna, Zach, Lynn, Marc, Allan,
Here's a quick rundown on how I met them all: Bob and Bill have been fantastic professional
mentors of mine and I’ve gained an immeasurable amount of business wisdom from each
of them. Sue and Zach have been my “A” clients who’ve introduced me to other “A” clients.
Further, they’ve served as references and helped me build my business when I was still
starting out. Donna, who I met at Allan’s conference, introduced me to her partners and it
turned into a breakthrough role for me in public accounting. Marc and I have become
business partners, and thanks to him, I built upon his idea to expand and grow my business.
And Lynn? Well, she introduced me to Colleen, my wife of more than 19 years.
So, you might be wondering how I met all these amazing people. Simple, it was networking.
Don’t get it wrong—I’m not one of those people who walk into a room and spins around
like a ballerina chatting up the high rollers. (You know exactly who I’m talking about. We all
know someone like this!) For me, it’s quite the opposite as I’m not a natural extrovert. A
better description of my approach to networking would be: I tolerate it, I’m decent at it, and
I do it because I know it works.
If you’re looking for a magic bullet to networking success, I don’t have one—it’s a process.
But I believe with practice and repetition, you can become better at it.
Here are six steps I recommend for improving your networking skills.
1. PLAN AND PREPARE
First, you need to make sure that you’re networking in the right places. Take time to review
the audience that’ll be in attendance. Does the audience consist of ideal clients, referral
sources, and contacts? When the answer is “yes,” your networking efforts will be more
fruitful. But if you’re in the wrong place, your networking efforts will be less successful. Also,
make sure that you have your elevator speech ready (you know, the brief, 30-second
introduction of who you are, what you do, and some questions). Having this prepared will
improve your confidence level when approaching new people. Most importantly, don’t
forget to bring a few business cards along with you.
2. APPROACH STRANGERS
It’s much easier to network if you have a buddy with you. Notably, it can be easier to break
into a small group of people already networking when you have someone already by your
side. Regardless of whether you’re solo or not, it may be helpful to know that most of the
people you’ll encounter while networking don’t enjoy it. From my own personal research, I’ve found only about 10% of professionals actually do. This means that most of the people you’ll encounter either tolerate networking (like me) or dislike it altogether. Bottom line, you’re in good company when it comes to your apprehensions about walking up and introducing yourself to someone you don’t know.
3. KNOW YOUR WHO, WHERE, AND HOW
As previously mentioned in step 1, preparing a game plan is critical. Quickly survey the room and see where you may have an easy opportunity to meet someone new. Is it at the bar or the food lines? In my opinion, these often slow-moving lines are great places to strike up a conversation because you already have something in common with them—you’re both thirsty or hungry. And don’t discount the power of other unique places in the room: rescuing someone standing alone, joining a semi-circle of people already talking, chatting up an exhibitor, or finding the host to get you talking.
Once you find your “in,” how do you start that conversation? I find that an appropriate compliment is often warmly welcomed. Maybe you like someone’s watch, briefcase, or notebook. Whatever it may be, just make sure you have a genuine interest in the item you’re complimenting. Also, you should take some caution in who you compliment and how. Other ways to start up the conversation include small talk, comments about the event or venue, and of course—your elevator speech!
4. FIND COMMONALITIES, MAINTAIN CONVERSATION
Some may prefer to lead the conversation toward personal topics, such as weekend plans, upcoming vacations, or personal interests such as pets, food, wine, or travel. Others may lead with professional topics, such as where you work, the kinds of clients you serve, and the kind of work that you do. Both are viable options. Just remember that the more you can find in common with the person, the better this conversation will feel. In addition, be sure to ask great questions and, more importantly, get someone talking about themselves. The key here: be interested, don’t try to be interesting.
5. EXIT THE CONVERSATION
At some point in the conversation, you may decide that this person could be a good contact, referral source, or client. When the conversation has a natural break and you’ve generated some rapport, thank the person, ask for their card, and suggest that you would like to stay in touch. Then, go back into the crowd and repeat the process. Meeting one person during the event is usually not enough. You may also determine the opposite is true of this contact (i.e., they’re not likely valuable to you in the future). In these cases, thank the person and say it was great getting to know them but omit the part about exchanging cards and staying in touch.
6. FOLLOW UP
This final step is possibly the least often executed, which is unfortunate given the effort you put forth in the process up to this point. Plus, you should know that it’s highly unlikely the people you meet will follow up with you. Speaking from personal experience, most of the success I’ve shared in this column wasn’t the result of someone following up with me (that’s right, this includes my wife Colleen). Instead, it was the result of my follow-up. It was as easy as saying, “It was great meeting you last week at ‘XYZ.’ I’d welcome the opportunity to learn more about your business and how we could help each other in the future.”
As you can see, I owe a lot of my life success to networking. It’s made a remarkable difference in my personal, professional, and financial life. Though admittedly, it takes a lot of practice to become proficient at this skill. But once you realize there’s a process and it works, I promise you’ll become hooked on networking.