By Diana DiBello and Scott H. Cytron, ABC
Remember the old story about getting that "first" job? The feedback went something like this: "Without experience, we can't hire you. However, you have no experience, so we can't hire you."
While frustrating for job seekers, this time-tested Catch 22 is similar to what many financial professionals and bookkeepers experience to developing a reputation as a solid provider of accounting solutions. While you might know QuickBooks like the back of your hand, your knowledge isn't beneficial if you don't have clients. How will your prospects find you if they don't know you?
This is where social media can be a huge help. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs are a great way to let Aunt Mary know you just got back from sailing the South Seas, but in a business setting, these tools offer a practical, low-cost, accessible way for prospects to find you and strengthen your position with your current clients. Here's how.
Become an Expert
Thanks to technology, anyone can learn to use social media, but few know how to leverage the tools to build their business.
Let's start with LinkedIn's "Answers" section. Did you even know this existed? Most business professionals think of LinkedIn as a job-hunting site, but it's much, much more than that. "Answers" offers you the ability to position yourself as a qualified provider of QuickBooks' information simply by responding to questions online. Using the search function, you can locate questions that pertain to your field of knowledge.
First, click on the "Answers" tab and then scan the page. Any questions asked from your own network are automatically loaded in, so the more contacts you have in your area of interest, the greater likelihood there might already be a question there to answer. If not, click on the tab, "Answer Questions," and browse various categories, such as "Finance and Accounting." You can even subscribe and receive e-mail notifications of any questions in this topic area.
The more questions you answer, the greater your chances are of getting noticed as a credible "expert." While you do not want to spend endless hours answering questions, you can use LinkedIn to increase your QuickBooks practice by demonstrating your knowledge - at no cost other than time.
Become a Professional Matchmaker
Social media is useful because it connects people to one another. While there's nothing stronger than a face-to-face meeting, you can't possibly attend all the networking functions you want and probably don't have the time to do so anyway.
Remember your main purpose: You want use social media to increase your QuickBooks practice. By looking at Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, as conduits to making this happen, you can become a professional matchmaker within a matter of a few hours by introducing your network of colleagues to people they want to know - all online.
For example, one of us recently met an agent with Edward Jones who wants to increase his network to build business. Here's where the "social" success really shines. If you help him out by introducing him, he'll help you out to build your practice by connecting you with business owners who need your services.
Sound easy, and it is ... but it does take time. You have to make a real, concerted effort to get to know who he wants to meet, and vice versa, but it can be done. If you are skeptical and think introductions can't happen online, think again. We guarantee you that if you ask your online network who they've recently met on Facebook or LinkedIn - and what gains they received or might receive in the future from those meetings - it's likely you'll get great feedback and some results. Try it.
LinkedIn is an incredibly useful social media forum in other ways as well. For example, use LinkedIn to prospect. Go into your network statistics and scroll down to regional or industry statistics. Select one of the regions or industries, and voila! You have a prospecting database at your fingertips.
In addition, be sure to join groups on LinkedIn. These can give you access to people you wouldn't normally have in your network. This also gives you an opportunity to build your network based on your own interests. For example, there are groups for sports teams, alma maters and even hobbies. Who knows? The contact you make in the Quilting group could be your next client!
Start a Blog
Ok, so you're not the greatest writer in the world. If you were, you probably wouldn't be in this profession. However, you don't need to be a great writer to get noticed, especially through something like a blog.
Again, at no cost whatsoever, you can create a blog in a matter of minutes using free online programs such as Blogger. The system is simple and intuitive.
Your biggest obstacle will be related to "content" - what are you going to blog about? Again, you could blog about your last vacation, but if you're trying to build your QuickBooks practice and establish yourself as an expert, it's likely you want to write about what you know - QuickBooks, personal finance and money management.
The best way to start a blog is to create a list of topics you think you want to cover, and then randomly choose a topic to write on no less than once a week. The entries do not have to be long; they can be as short as a few paragraphs as long as you are imparting your wisdom and providing observations others will want to read.
Now to the most often-asked question on blogs: How will you obtain your readers? First, blogs are searchable by Google, so you may show up through searches. Second, you can push out the news that you have a blog by including a link in your e-mail signature, and if you have a Web site, by all means link to it on the site.
Using other forms of social media, use Twitter to "tweet" about your blog postings. While we are not detailing how to use Twitter in this column, there is lots of help online at Twitter.com to learn how to tweet.
Lastly, tell everyone you know you have a blog - and even put the URL on your business cards. You'll get noticed in no time!
Just Do It!
How do you break through the competition to get noticed, especially using social media? Consider this story from Diana.
"Years ago, I spent a couple years as an independent consultant. Trying to get people to buy my services at a great rate was difficult. It then amazed me that those same people were willing to pay four times my independent consulting rate for my services when I was associated with a "big" accounting firm. Why? Because having the established "firm" behind me made them feel more comfortable about my expertise. The lesson to learn? Using social networking can build that comfort level with your prospects without having to be associated with a "big" firm!"
To borrow a tagline from a popular sportswear brand, the best way to learn how to use social media is "Just Do It." Schedule at least an hour or so every week to do social media maintenance. Update your contacts, do some prospecting, update your blog, find new groups or just explore your network. It may seem like a chore, but it can be a fun and useful diversion to your regular work tasks.
What are some of your methods of building your practice by using social media? Send us an e-mail with your suggestions and we'll incorporate them into a future column.
About the authors
Diana DiBello is director of Product Development for SpeedTax, a provider of sales tax compliance software solutions. She previously was a senior manager in the State and Local Tax Services Group for Grant Thornton. Contact her at email@example.com.
Scott H. Cytron, ABC, is president of Cytron and Company, known for helping companies and organizations improve their bottom line through strategic public relations, communications, marketing programs and top-notch client service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.