By Fred B. Miller II
Many accounting firms regularly network with law firms and host or attend events with a group of attorneys for the purpose of growing each firm's or individual's respective practice. There typically is a good deal of a firm's resources put into these mixers, or networking events, in both hard dollars and time; however, they can be much more cost effective than many other business development and marketing activities with a couple of simple steps. The challenge is how to make these very nice events deliver the results we want. There really are three keys to success.
#1 - Focus
Make sure the professionals at all levels (partners, directors, managers, associates) from both firms that are getting together are focused on common areas with shared target client profiles. For example, if your accounting firm wants to build your family-owned business practice, it likely is not going to be effective to get together with attorneys who spend most of their time serving SEC registrants. The same approach applies to industries as you do not want a group of manufacturing CPAs investing time with health care attorneys. Certainly many accountants and attorneys have a diverse practice and may serve clients in multiple industries as an example, but these professionals must focus their energy and align their conversation to the objectives of this mixer to get the most out of their participation. So if the focus is on family-owned businesses, the professionals participating must focus on this segment of their practice.
A specific example I can recall was a group of about seven accountants who wanted to grow their health care practice by serving more mid-size health systems and community hospitals. They got together with eight attorneys from a 100-lawyer firm who had those types of clients. Needless to say they relatively quickly identified some shared connections to leverage and found some new contacts during the course of a two-hour event.
#2 - Advanced Preparation
Once you narrow and have focus for the networking event or mixer, then advanced preparation will help ensure your professionals get the most out of the time spent together with the group of attorneys. The key here is to share some specific background information on each professional attending the mixer from both sides. This background information should include more than just where they went to school, how many years they have been working, technical competencies, and speeches and articles. The backgrounds need to include key clients in the focus area of the mixer and, if possible, how much time they spend doing work in the focus area. Professionals' practices change over time and what they are doing now or have been working on for the last three to five years is the most relevant. Since most professionals have short biographies or background statements already prepared, just adding something like the following to the bio can be quickly done by an executive assistant or someone coordinating the event for the firm:
If we assume the focus is family-owned businesses consider adding something like this:
Three family owned business clients currently served:
Miller's Heating & Cooling
Fred works approximately xx% of his time serving family business clients, and the balance of his practice includes:
xx% serving medical practices...
The bottom line is to be as specific and detailed here as possible and focus the biographical information on what each professional is doing now or has been doing for the last several years. These profiles should be shared with each professional participating in the mixer prior to the event.
#3 - Follow-Up
The third and final key to a successful mixer is critical to getting the results. Most of us leave these mixers having collected a few business cards and feeling good about the discussion and the effort invested on business development. We return to the office, set the cards on our desk or give them to our assistant to put into our contacts file or the firm's CRM (customer relationship management) system, and then we get to work on an important client project. In a very short time, the 2+ hours spent at the event connecting and initiating a relationship with a potential source of new work is forgotten, and the opportunity to get results disappears.
The first thing you must do when you leave the event is send yourself or your assistant a voicemail or dictate a message or whatever other means you use to record your action items. Get these out of your hands and to someone who will help assure that you will develop these new contacts or take timely action to be sure that the contact stays on your radar screen and that you initiate a timely follow-up. Your assistant or event coordinator should capture what you committed to do at the event and then find ways to help you stay connected to these new contacts. Are you supposed to have a lunch with the attorney you met and one of his client contacts? Are you supposed to send a new contact some information or an article you wrote? Whatever your follow-up plan is, make sure you prepare a record so that you actually follow through.
Personally, I write on the back of the contact's business card at the event, and then leave a voicemail for my assistant when I leave the event describing everything I committed to do or what the contact I made committed to do. This way the plan is documented and I can begin following up when I get to the office. My assistant is empowered to continue to ask me how I am progressing on the list of items I have provided to make sure I am following through on my plan and my commitment. We all want and firmly intend to follow up and maintain the contact, but without documentation of the actions and then regular reminders, the good intention can easily become no action and thus no results.
About the author:
Fred B. Miller II is Managing Principal and founder of Bright Light Consulting LLC, a Columbus, Ohio-based consultancy that works with professional services firms with the goal of delivering an outstanding client experience and achieving double digit growth. He can be reached at [email protected].