When you work virtually, does that mean you can’t or shouldn’t look for new clients in real life or network in person? NO WAY! In fact, I personally didn’t network in person for my whole first year, because I didn’t want to end up with clients that only wanted to work with me in person. This belief was extremely limiting.
Yes, I partly didn’t network in person because I had little ones at home and didn’t have childcare to be able to go out and do that, but I realize now that was just a big bad excuse. What started out as just wanting to find a tribe of local business owners in order to not feel so isolated, turned into me actually landing several discovery meetings, and they continue to roll in. So, be open to additional opportunities, and just be sure to communicate up front that you prefer to work with your clients virtually. Unless, of course, you welcome the change of pace going into someone’s office. That’s ok, too. The main idea is to not limit yourself; even if you only take the discovery meetings for practice, it’s time well-spent.
So where can you find clients in real life?
Every town or city generally has a Chamber of Commerce and they hold monthly, if not weekly networking events. Cost to join is relatively low, and often you don’t even need to be a member to attend events. Your fee for that event may just be a little more expensive. So it’s a good way to try it out before you join. Our local Chamber has weekly Coffee + Connections meetups, which I think are $10 for members and $15 for non-members. Monthly they have a larger “mixer” event.
Business Network International is, well, and International Networking group, with chapters (often multiple chapters) in most cities. There are annual dues (very affordable) and you must commit to attending meetings weekly. But what makes this unique, is that there is so much more than networking. There is education and community, too. Each chapter has one position open for each profession, so there is never competition within a chapter, which makes it appealing for many. But that also means there may not be a bookkeeper position open for long. Your first meeting is free, when you go as someone’s guest or to a newly forming chapter. I got a new client just from attending one meeting when our local chapter was starting to form.
Most areas require new businesses that form to put out a statement in the classifieds announcing their Fictitious Business name and filing. You can keep an eye on these and send postcards, emails, or make phone calls congratulating them on their new business ventures and let them know how you can help. I know several accountants and bookkeepers who have had great success with this.
Referrals has a broad range of options, so we’ll break it down and discuss several facets.
Your best referral source is always your current client base. But you have to ask! Your clients will not know you are accepting new clients unless you say so. One way you could ask for a referral is, “Hey, I just love working with you and clients like you, so if you have any friends in business who you think could benefit from having me in their corner, don’t hesitate to let them know. We’re accepting new clients right now.”
Also, be cognizant of the language you use when you talk to your current clients. If when they ask you, “How’s business? How’s it going?” and you reply with “Oh, busy, busy, always busy,” then they’ll automatically assume you don’t have the space for new clients so you may be missing out on some amazing referrals! Your clients don’t want to bog you down to where you won’t be able to give them the attention they need.
Centers of Influence are generally other businesses that service the same clients as you: think Insurance Agents, Bankers, Lawyers, even CPAs. It is even easier to have an in if you already share a client or two. Once you meet one (maybe at a networking event), set up a time to meet with them and do a sort of discovery. You want to make sure you both have a good idea of the type of client you like to work with so you can make quality referrals. Ask, “What is your ideal client, so that when I come across a business owner that I think may fit that description, I can send them your way. I am only interested in sending you quality referrals.” and when you say that, it’ll be understood that you expect the same. Don’t refer just for the sake of referring. Deal?
If you have the extra time to become involved with a local charity, non profits are always looking for assistance of some sort—and you don’t necessarily need to be doing finance related stuff for them. I work with two non-profits: a local Friends of the Library and a national non-profit. One I assist with membership duties, and the other I sit on the Finance Committee, assisting with accounting. Both have been great networking opportunities.
Lastly, don’t forget about your own circle of friends and family. But just as you want to make quality referrals with the Centers of Influence, make sure your family and friends know exactly the type of business or business owners you are looking to work with as well.
Conventions are a great place to hang out/attend if you serve a niche market. Do you work with Carpenters, HVAC, or plumbers? Go to one of their trade shows. Do you work with online entrepreneurs? Find an in-person convention that they’re all likely to be at, like Amy Porterfield’s Entrepreneur Experience. Figure out the type of client you serve, and start brainstorming some ideas of where you can show up and start meeting people. This is sort of like hanging out in online Facebook groups, but with in-person connections!
So that’s it. Remember to set the expectation with your in-real-life prospects if you intend on only working virtually. But don’t discount the value in meeting new people, even in person. Find whatever works for you and don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.
How else do you network in person? Have you had success with any of these methods? I’d love to know, so comment below!
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