As a tax practice entrepreneur, your success depends not only on your own skills and determination but also on your relationships with a wide circle of colleagues, partners, advisors, and other professional connections you’ve made over time. Often it really is “who you know” that makes or breaks your business.
At the same time, you can’t take these professional relationships for granted by asking too much of people too often, specially if you only contact them when you want something. Maintaining a solid professional network takes some work and discipline. You have to find the right balance that will enable you to benefit from those connections while also providing value to them in return.
Here are some tips on how to make the most of your network without coming off as selfish, demanding, or obnoxious.
1. Give something before you ask for something
When it comes to professional networking, keep in mind the old saying “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Never ask one of your contacts for a favor before first asking if you can do anything for them. It doesn’t have to be something major – it could be offering an introduction to someone you think could help them, or simply posting something in support of their latest project. This reminds those in your network that you can add value for them and you’re not just using the connection for what you can get out of it.
2. Respect people’s time and needs
The next thing to remember is that all those people in your network are busy, so their time is just as valuable as yours. Before reaching out to, say, make an introduction between two of your contacts, think carefully about whether the connection will really be fruitful for both of them. Being mindful of others’ actual professional needs is an important part of building and nurturing your network.
3. Focus on specific contacts
When seeking support for your tax practice, contact only those who you know have the specific skill set, background or knowledge that you need to draw upon. Don’t send out a blanket request to everybody in your network; this can be seen as a thoughtless, inconsiderate method of soliciting help and may rub some people the wrong way. One way to avoid straining your relationships with irrelevant or excessive requests is to organize your network. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of your contacts: their names, their relevant skills, and how many times you’ve reached out to each of them.
4. Remember the strongest contacts in your network
You run a smaller risk of being a nuisance and a bigger chance of getting the results you need when you reach out to those in your immediate network. Your team members, mentors, and investors are the ones who already know you and your business well and want to see you succeed the most. You still want to be mindful of burdening them too often, but chances are that they’ll be glad to lend a hand whenever they’re able.
5. Be active on social media
There’s more to maintaining a strong professional network or client relationship than just talking shop. You also need to maintain a more social connection with your contacts; remember, they’re people just like you. Make a point of reaching out on a regular basis to socialize via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms. Check in to see what they’ve been working on, ask about their personal lives (without getting too personal, of course), or just shoot them a friendly “Hi, how are things with you?” You’d be surprised at the difference simple efforts like these can make.