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Ask Lacerte: Networking… Who Are You?

January 4, 2010

The following post previously appeared in The CPA Technology Advisor.

“Who are you?” 

Despite this bringing to
mind a favorite song from the Who it is a great question for all of us to ask
when it comes to business.  When I
answer that question, I have to include all the people that have affected and
are affecting my life.  In short, I
am me plus my network.  What about
you?

This issue discusses
among other things the network community for accountants.   While you may or may not think of
yourself as a networking mogul, you, in no doubt, are where you are due to the
network you have surrounded yourself with.  People along the way influence what career you choose, where
you settle, whom you work with and the customers you have.  One of the most powerful things about
the network is that it is always working for you even when you are busy doing
other things. 

When I left Intuit to
start PayCycle, I knew the network would be helpful but I didn’t know how
helpful.  With the germination of
an idea, I started buying coffee, breakfast or lunch with people that I knew. I
would explain the idea, get feedback and ask for suggestions with respect to
the idea and other folks that might be helpful.  One thing led to another, and soon I had a group of 40 angel
investors that were interested in investing, a handful of customers, some
awesome co-workers and the beginning of a company.  I continued to nurture the network and good things continued
to happen including attracting venture capital and some big companies such as
Microsoft and Intuit as partners. 
All of this was in the first 30 months of “hanging a shingle”.  And it taught me something very
important: don’t underestimate the power and importance of the network.

Malcolm Gladwell’s “The
Tipping Point” is a great book that explains the power of the network.  The best reminder of this in the book
is in the opening chapter.  We have
all heard of Paul Revere but did you know that there was another rider warning
of the British invasion.  The
problem is that the other rider went to a number of towns and shouted at the
top of his lungs while Paul Revere when to a bunch of towns and informed folks
in his network to spread the word. 
Because of his network, many were prepared to fight and win.  Because of his network, we all know who
he is.

In the book, Gladwell
identifies three type of people that make a difference in the leveraging of the
network: Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople.  Connectors are people that know everyone.  Mavens are people that know a lot of
people but also know a lot of things. 
They are the ones that can tell you where to go eat in any city they
have visited.  Then there are
salespeople, that are constantly promoting things they like to the people they
know. 

As you grow your
business, it is important and critical to identify those individuals that are
Connectors, Mavens or Salespeople. 
It is important because these people are the ones that create the
tipping point in the business.  And
it is important to make sure you take care of them.

In my experience, there
are lots of ways to take care of and feed your network.  The easiest thing to do is to literally
“feed” them.  A good friend of mine
suggested long ago that I buy every meal of someone in the network.  The reason being that people would
always think positively of their meetings with me and would be interested in
helping me grow my business.  While
I don’t buy every meal, I do buy a lot and use the rule of thumb that if I
asked for the meeting, I buy. 

The other way to “feed”
the network is to provide information. 
The value of your network is based on the value of the information
exchanged.  In order to get
information you need to share information.  So when you are “working” your network, you must be prepared
to share something.  The thing that
is interesting to me is that as you have more meetings, you have more
information and are more “valuable” to your network.  And more importantly, the opposite is true: your network is
more valuable to you.

Much is being said these
days, good and bad, about social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and
blogs. While much of the talk focuses on the usefulness (or lack thereof) of some
of the discussions that are occurring, I think that is only part of the
equation—like focusing on the value of mavens and not the connectors and salepeople.  What I see are people expanding their
networks and building relationships like never before possible, and with people
they do not even know (yet). And because these networks expand and share
information so fast, they can be immensely valuable for keeping informed,
getting help, and hearing what others are saying about you and your clients.
These days, by just typing the letters “RT” (Retweet, for those of you not yet
on Twitter) you too can be a connector to thousands of others for far less than
the cost of a lunch! If you haven’t already, I urge you or your firm to get
started (shameless networking plug: be sure to “follow” us at @billcom!).

It is probably worth
mentioning that the network is all about helping those in it.  As an accountant, your network of
businesses and people is vast.  You
can help your customers in so many ways. 
You can introduce them to potential customers, employees, resources and
new ideas.  As part of doing that
you can add value in a way that is “priceless”.  Ultimately, the sum of the parts will be worth much more
than the services you provide. 
Never mind that helping your customers in this way can be one of the most
fun things to do. 

So “Who are you?”

Rene

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