Networking can be just for fun too

May 25, 2011

OSCPA members networking at the Dayton Accounting Show

Last week I attended OSCPA’s Ohio Accounting Show in Dayton and as always, I came away with a few a-ha moments.

The first is no surprise really—CPAs, like every other professional, like to mix fun with business. On the first day, I was very popular as I handed out raffle tickets for the Kodak-Pocket Video Camera and iPad drawings. After breakfast, members hurried off to sessions but on the first break, they were back in the exhibit hall, visiting with exhibitors and straining to hear whose name was called for the latest prize drawing.

At the Society, we are always promoting the value of networking and this event delivered on such opportunities in abundance. But just as in any group, some took to networking like fish to water while others hung back, not sure of where and when to join the conversation.

At the networking breakfast, I sat with a group of business and industry CPAs. As we chatted amiably over eggs and sausage, the conversation moved from how small employers can afford to keep offering healthcare coverage to the outlook for college graduates. We didn’t pick these topics off of a networking card in the center of the table. We got there by sharing personal bits about ourselves which moved the discussion in new and sometimes funny directions, like how we get our teenagers out of bed for school.

I lunched with a group of exhibitors from CCH Walters Kluwer, and learned one from Canton knows the football coach at my daughter’s high school. We ended up talking about school funding challenges.

To my left was a retired CPA who is still active on our Dayton show committee. We both worked for the same international holding company years ago—me in Pennsylvania and he in Dayton. Who knew we’d someday be sharing lunch and talking about how much we love the mountains in my home state?

I’m pretty sure we didn’t solve world hunger or Ohio’s budget problems in those two half hours, but the conversation was interesting and provided a few friendly faces in the crowd of more than 500.

It didn’t just feel like a business event anymore. And it occurred to me that the best networking happens when you’re not even trying that hard.

Throughout the day, I ran into every one of my table mates and each time we smiled and said, ‘hello’ or shared our opinions on what we just learned—or on the food which, by the way, is fabulous at Sinclair Community College.

If networking doesn’t come easy to you, try thinking of it differently. It’s not something you must do to advance your career. It can simply be a way to meet new people. The other benefits are icing.

Getting started

For tips on effective networking, see OSCPA’s April blog post on that same topic. It includes a link to networking tips for shy people.

You can also ease into networking by sharing your time and talents doing something you love. The Ohio Society has a ton of volunteer opportunities where you can work side by side with other CPAs.

We are recruiting volunteers right now for our standing committees, and always have room for willing CPAs to plan shows and events, or to teach FETCH!, the elementary financial literacy program. There are even programs geared specifically for networking.

It all comes down to a mindset, really. Networking doesn’t have to be the big, scary elephant in the room. It can just be dinner with new friends. And who can’t use more friends?

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Networking series: Mistakes you aren’t even aware of

April 13, 2011

This is the first post in OSCPA’s Networking Series, helping professionals at all levels navigate the changing rules – and venues – for networking.

networking No matter what walk of life you’re in, be it professional, college student, or something else, everybody networks. And often, you may be networking and not even realize it. It’s no wonder so many of us make mistakes that we’re not aware of. But when that contact you unexpectedly met on a plane last month never sends you the information he or she promised, you’re scratching your head and wondering if it was something you said.

Networking mistakes can show up in many forms, but unless you practice some self-awareness, you’re bound to keep making them with little or no positive results coming your way.

Don’t wait until a crisis

Repeat after me: There is no time like the present.

Waiting until you’ve lost a job and you’re suddenly in survival mode is a huge mistake, but one that’s too easily made by most people. With the explosion of social networks over the last several years, it’s easier than ever to maintain and grow your connections. Get out there and create a LinkedIn profile and actually manage it. No excuses!

Take care not to go overboard with your online professional networks (keeping your Facebook personal is probably a good idea), but also don’t discount in-person networking events completely either, which leads me to the next mistake…

Don’t make it all about you

If everybody out of a crowd of 500 went to the same event all expecting to make a sale, or do even a small amount of business, then nobody would benefit. If everybody is out to sell something, then who is attending solely to buy? This happened to Ivan Misner, author of “Don’t Make This Networking Mistake.” His advice: Don’t confuse direct selling with networking.

So why do people go to networking events? Misner sums it up best:

You go because networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. Sometimes you go to increase your visibility and to connect with people you have never met. Sometimes you go to establish further credibility with people you know. And sometimes you may go to meet a long-time referral partner and do some business. In any case, the true master networkers know that networking events are about moving through the relationship process and not just about closing deals. Visibility leads to credibility which, with time and effort, leads to profitability.

Not being prepared

Elevator speeches aren’t just for trying to sell your company. Have one prepared so that you can really sell yourself in the process. Monster.com suggests practicing your pitch as well as your answers to questions about your career goals that might arise.

Make sure you know what you’re talking about ahead of time so that you can not only hold up your end of the conversation, but also so you can strike the perfect balance between casual and professional conversation (without talking about yourself too much, remember?).

Failing to follow up

People network for a reason. You want to add new contacts to your pool of business professionals who you can turn to for advice, referrals, favors, jobs, etc. But what good are these new contacts if their business cards just sit at the bottom of your briefcase?

“Sharing information — whether a website, article, report or phone number — with new contacts builds your credibility,” said Lynne Sarikas, director of Northeastern University’s MBA Career Center in an article on how to network for shy people. “So if you promised to email a report to someone you met on the plane, make sure you do that.”

“When you do what you’ve said you were going to do, it gives the other person the impression that you keep your word,” she says. If you don’t, you’re just another schmoozer.”

This just scratches the surface of networking dos and don’ts, but I don’t want to forget to mention the most important aspect of networking: your information. Whether you subscribe to the tried and true method of handing out business cards, or go the more technological route of “bumping” iPhones to swap info, it’s important to make sure your new contacts know how to get a hold of you so you’ll respond.

Go forth, and network

So let’s hear it. What’s working or not working for you? What’s the worst networking mistake you’ve made or have seen? Share your stories with me!

Get more info

OSCPA’s Career Center features several resources from Janice Worthington, president of Worthington Career Services and OSCPA’s career coach of choice.


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